The spine: Benefits of hanging upside down
Reversing gravity has a funny way of making people smile. It’s weird. It feels funny. Blood rushes to your head and your whole world flips upside down.
That’s not exactly what you picture when you are seeking to improve my fitness or ability to get work done. However, in my life, inverting has proven to be a vital tool with those exact benefits.
The goal behind inversion is to reverse the effects of gravity. Gravitational forces are hard on the body and when you reverse gravity, you relieve incredible amounts of pressure and disrupt your normal rhythms, which carries with it benefits you cannot get with any other exercise.
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I found this great article on http://www.spine-health.com/ that I'd like to share with you. Here are the [many] benefits of hanging upside down:
#1: Significant Reduction in Back Pain
I used to suffer from back pain on a regular basis. After I began running marathons, practicing yoga, and using a standing desk all day, my back pain slowly dissipated.
However, due to a running injury and the introduction of cycling, my back pain returned. I began inverting as a means to reduce the pressure on my spinal column, relax my back muscles, and rehydrate the discs in my spine.
The end result is that inversion has eliminated back pain when nothing else would. Hanging upside down opens up your back and allows everything to relax, which significantly reduces stress in your back muscles and reduces, or even eliminates, acute and chronic pain.
#2: Reduces Stress
As soon as you adjust to hanging upside down, usually after 60 seconds, you begin to feel the relaxing benefits of inversion. I find that simply hanging upside with my eyes closed is a great time for meditation or just relaxation.
Others have said that inversion feels like a whole body massage. Either way, the benefit here is clear. Inversion puts your mind and body at ease.
#3: Improves Focus, Balance, and Brain Function
When you hang upside down, oxygen-rich blood flows to your brain (which is a little bizarre at first) but after you adjust to it you begin to notice your brain feels more alive.
Since you brain is the largest consumer of oxygen in your body, more blood means more oxygen, which means better brain function.
I personally noticed that after inverting I feel more focused, my balance improves as I adjust to seeing the world from different perspectives, and I can think more clearly.
My first experience with improved brain function occurred after my first aerial yoga experience, when I inverted for only a few minutes. The benefits here are clear and immediate.
#4: Improves Leg & Core Strength
One of the greatest benefits of inversion is being able to exercise without interacting with the ground. While inverting, you can do upside down squats, crunches, or even push-ups.
If you are an experienced weight lifter, you will quickly notice how much harder it is to fight gravity in the opposite direction, which makes the workout that much more beneficial.
Inverted crunches are especially appealing because your back has little to no pressure applied to it as you curl up and back down. You will easily feel the powerful effects with just one set of ten repetitions.
#5: Improves Joint Health
Inverting reverses the pressure of gravity, which can aid your joints and ligaments just as much as your muscles.
The joints in your spinal column can fully open up and decompress the most when you are upside down, as opposed to sitting, standing, or even lying down.
If you have suffered from any pain in your joints, especially in your back, consider using inversion to decompress and improve your overall health.
#6: Better Flexibility
For years I have practiced yoga with the intention of greater flexibility in my core, hips, and back. Inversion is the quickest and easiest method I have ever seen to improve flexibility in all of these areas at once.
Beyond feeling more relaxed after inverting, your muscles will also be more flexible, which feels great.
#7: You Can Get Taller!
Ok, this is cool! As your back decompresses, it creates more space in your spinal column. If you invert twice a day (5 to 15 minutes per session), you dramatically increase your chances of increasing your height permanently!
Dr. Robert Lockhart, who I mentioned earlier, claims that he has grown 1.5 inches due to inversion, while the rest of his friends and colleagues have only gotten shorter.
Amazing? I think so.
#8: Better Posture
If you take advantage of the core strengthening exercises while inverting, you will certainly notice an improvement with your posture.
Since I have been using a standing desk for years, it wasn’t as obvious to me right away, but others I have heard from have said their posture improved very quickly.
#9: Clears Skin & Reduces Wrinkles
With an increase of oxygen-rich blood flowing to your head and face, you may also notice clearer skin and fewer facial wrinkles.
I can’t speak to this benefits on a personal level, but I have read multiple stories where this has been the case. And, it makes sense. The more healthy blood you have in your head, along with the reversal of gravity, the more likely it would be that your complexion would improve.
#10: Improves Your Lymphatic System
Your body drains waste through the lymphatic system, kind of like a sewer. Inversion (along with exercise, massage, and other methods) helps your body remove the waste with greater ease, which keeps you healthy and feeling your best.
RELIEVE BACK PAIN
Relaxes muscles, rehydrates discs, realigns & reduces pressure
Releases tension in shoulders, neck & back
IMPROVE JOINT HEALTH
Decompresses, strengthens & enhances shock absorption
Improves functional fitness for an active, healthy lifestyle
IMPROVE FITNESS AND BUILD CORE STRENGTH
Inverted exercises help build a strong core, which is essential to back health
RELIEVE BACK PAIN
Unlike surgery, mechanical traction, and other invasive forms of treatment, using a Yoga Swing is a gentle, passive way to target pain at the source and care for all weight-bearing joints. This progressive form of traction allows each joint to be decompressed by the same weight that compresses it while upright. To put it simply, inverted decompression creates an ideal stretch that improves spinal health and targets back pain by helping to 1) rehydrate discs, 2) reduce nerve pressure, 3) realign the spine and 4) relax tense muscles. Best of all, decompressing on a Yoga Swing takes only a few minutes and feels great!
1) Rehydrate discs
Clinical studies show that when inverted the separation between the vertebrae increases, this allows for absorption of moisture into the soft tissue of the discs, increasing the nutrient content as well as plumping the discs for better shock absorption and flexibility.
When you are sitting, standing, exercising, or doing other weight-bearing activities, fluid is squeezed out of your discs and into adjacent soft tissue, just as moisture can be squeezed out of a sponge. As a result, your discs lose some of their height. To prove this fact, measure yourself in the morning and then again at night. You will lose half-an-inch to three-fourths-of-an-inch in height by the end of the day. (To see this change you can measure your true height or measure your waist. Height loss can be seen in the size of the waist because although you are shorter your body mass is the same and therefore the 'column' of your body increases in diameter).
When you are lying down the compression in the spine is reduced enough to allow the discs to slowly reabsorb moisture and nutrition over the many hours you sleep. However, the discs may not always maintain their full height capacity, creating a total accumulation of height loss of up to two-inches in a life-time.
In fact, the only time in your life when you are giving your discs a break is when you are inverting. The Nachemson study  provides some insight: A number of volunteers permitted a pressure sensor to be surgically implanted inside the third lumbar disc. The pressure inside the disc in the standing position was set at a base line of 100% and all other body positions compared to it. Interestingly one of the most compressive activities for the discs is sitting. The muscles in the stomach and back relax, but the pressure in the spine increases. If you are sitting in poor posture the pressure in the lumbar can climb as high as 250%. The real surprise occurred while lying down. The pressure inside the disc only lost 75% of standing body weight - it never went below 25%! This residual compression seems to be due to the hundreds of ligaments and muscles that encase the spine, holding it in compression like a mass of rubber bands. This study further indicated that the amount of traction force required to overcome the compression was a large number, approximately 60% of your body weight.Inversion to an angle of about 60o is the only practical way to offset that much gravity force while remaining relaxed. (Hanging by your arms will not create the same effect since it requires muscles to be engaged, plus the weight of the legs are much less than that of the torso and therefore the traction gained is not enough to bring the pressure to zero).
2) Reduce nerve pressure
The height of the discs relates to the size of the passageway for the nerve roots to exit from the spinal column, so a plump hydrated disc creates maximum clearance, helping to alleviate any pressure or pinching of the nerve root.
A bundle of nerves called the spinal cord run through the spine column; these nerves control communication from the brain to the rest of the body. Nerve roots exit between the vertebrae along the length of the spine in the passageway created by the discs. Damage to the discs or de-hydration/degeneration of the discs can result in nerve root entrapment, or what is commonly called a pinched nerve. Since the nerves extend into the body there can be pain that radiates into extremities. Through the increased hydration to the discs during inversion the discs plump in height, effectively increasing separation between the vertebras and reducing the pressure and pinching on nerve roots.
3) Realign the spine
So many of our daily activities lend themselves to misalignments and possible permanent postural changes; sitting at the computer with rounded shoulders, carrying a heavy bag always on one shoulder, even wearing high heels. Also, many of our most popular sports are one-sided and rotational, like golf, squash, tennis, which puts significant stress on the spine as well as develops muscles on a single side of the body.
Misalignments mean that the body weight is no longer supported by an alignment of bones, and therefore the soft tissue of the body must resist gravity. Misalignments are not always felt on the inside but left alone they can cause visual changes to your posture, and those changes can be degenerative. If you want to test this as home, take an empty aluminum can and place pressure on the top. The can will be able to maintain its shape even with great force applied because the sides are in alignment, but add a small dent to the can and it will crumble under half the amount of pressure.
When a vertebra is bumped out of alignment the ligaments and muscles that support the spine can hold it in misalignment through the compression that they generate. Since these ligaments and muscles are engaged even when lying down, creating pressure as much as 25% compared to 100% standing, it can be difficult for the spine to naturally come back into alignment. When inverted to 60o the pressure in the spine drops to zero, as shown in the Nachemson medical study, with the pressure off of the vertebrae and with some gentle stretching the vertebra has the opportunity to move back into alignment.
4) Relax tense muscles
Muscles are gently stretched as circulation is increased, helping to reduce tension.
Stress and tension can cause pain and muscle spasms in the back, neck and shoulders, as well as headaches and other problems. Tense muscles can be attributed to misalignments of the spine, over stimulation of nerves, or poor removal of toxins by the lymphatic system and a lack of oxygen rich circulation.
A study conducted by physiotherapist L.J. Nosse  found that EMG activity (a measure of muscle tension), declined over 35% within 10-seconds of inversion, the effect was found to start at the very shallow angle of 25 degrees. It is suggested that the stretch to the muscles while inverted allowed the circulation to enter the sore muscle, bringing oxygen rich blood inversion therapy also stimulated the lymph system to clear the muscle of the toxin build-up. The user therefore would feel a decrease in pain and the stiffness in the muscle would subside. As noted in previous sections, using a Yoga Swing also encourages re-alignment of the spine and decreases pressure on nerve-roots.
Dr. John E. Sarno, of the New York Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine claims that in more than 90% of the patients that he sees for back pain either there is no structural abnormality or the 'abnormal' x-ray does not really explain the nature or location of the pain. He calls the disorder the 'tension myositis syndrome' and describes how the tension causes muscle pain in this way: The muscle tenses and this reduces blood flow in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, back, or the buttocks. This produces pain by allowing the accumulation of waste chemicals, much the same process that causes leg muscle fatigue after a long run because of lactic acid build up. When the muscles goes into spasm in the lower back, it often leads you to believe (mistakenly) you have a disc problem.
According to the book Better Back, Better Body  by Joanne Broatch: Much back pain is caused by muscles that are cramped, tense and in spasm. Using a Yoga Swing can help relieve this kind of pain [by relaxing muscles and clearing muscle congestion]... Using a Yoga Swing for inversions [stimulates] the flow of lymphatic fluid which flushes out the wastes and carries them to the blood stream. And the lymphatic system needs all the help it can get. Unlike the cardio-vascular system, the lymphatic system has no pump. Only the alternate relaxing and contracting of the muscles moves the lymphatic fluid through the capillaries and the one-way valves pointing towards the major lymphatic ducts in the upper chest. Even in healthy relaxed muscles, the lymphatic fluid moves very slowly... Where muscles are in spasm, the fluid does not move, the carbon dioxide and lactic acid remain in the muscles and you experience pain. Inverting, or tipping the body so that gravity works with, not against one way valves, helps the relaxed, expanding and contracting muscles to push the fluid up to the chest where it is then dumped into veins of the cardio-vascular system to be cleansed.
Roger Jahnke, OMD writes about the lymph system from a holistic perspective in his article The Lymph , describing gravity as one method of lymph propulsion:
"Because gravity exerts such a substantial force and because lymph has so far to climb to get to the thoracic duct's entry into the sub-clavian vein, any inversion of the limbs or even the prone body position allows for a free flow of lymph unencumbered by the effects of gravity. Elevation of the lower limbs is often prescribed for health problems characterized by a pooling of interstitial fluids."
Also, for centuries yoga practitioners have recognized the concept of turning the body upside down to find relaxation. The head stand position is a form of "postural exchange" (reversing the direction of gravity). Not everyone wants to do headstands, so inversion on Yoga Swing Hang Ups equipment creates an easier alternative with the added benefit of joint decompression.
IMPROVE JOINT HEALTH
Decompression aids in joint lubrication by altering the pressure and suction forces within the joint, helping to stimulate the synovial fluid that nourishes the cartilage and enhances shock absorption.
Mobilization and gentle loading of ligaments can help to increase the collagen content of the tissue, which results in increased ligament strength. Strong ligaments and muscles are vital for proper joint support, and help to protect against injury. Even the Army has utilized Yoga Swing EZ-Up Gravity Boots to mitigate joint fatigue injuries. Just as you brush your teeth ev