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Why Hanging Upside Down Is Good for You

Updated on January 29, 2017
Sue Adams profile image

I am a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

The ultimate counter move to all damaging movement behavior.
The ultimate counter move to all damaging movement behavior.

Most actions we engage in focus downwards, towards the front of the body, using mostly the hands and the eyes. We very rarely reach high up, or bend backwards. Constant imbalanced movements and long-held damaging positions require the back, shoulder, and neck muscles to do overtime—to cramp up. That hurts. Something needs to happen to redress the imbalance. So, what is the solution?

Gentle, whole-body traction and bending backwards in an upside-down position provides the necessary counter moves to loosen, relax, and stretch those overworked and painful muscles in order to completely realign the skeleton. But before we go and hang upside down, watch the next video to learn how to relax properly on the floor to become familiar with the concept of giving into gravity.

Relaxing on the Floor with a Passive Stretch

The first step to straighten a crooked, painful spine is learning how to be comfortable lying flat on the floor on your back (not on a bed) to allow the body to stretch itself out in a completely passive state. Follow the indications on the picture below to enable you to fully relax. If your neck or middle of the back areas are uncomfortable, use props in the form of cushions, bolsters or bits of pool tubes rolled up in a towel to support any over-curvature (painful spots) in the spine. This stretch is effortless. While breathing properly, simply allow gravity to do the work for you. So how do we breathe properly?

How to be comfortable when relaxing on the floor.
How to be comfortable when relaxing on the floor.

Breathe the Pain Away

The second thing is to learn how to breathe properly to boost blood circulation towards dormant parts of the body while relaxing. Remember, you are breathing in (hopefully) clean, fresh air and breathing out toxins. That is why the out-breaths should always be longer and deeper than the in-breaths. Just follows these simple guidelines:

Once you are comfortably relaxed, lying on the floor, with or without supports according to your personal needs, close the eyes.

  • breathe in through the nose or 4 counts
  • hold for 6 (this allows the good oxygen to spread all around the body)
  • breathe out for 8 through the mouth. Any soreness you feel in your lower back, neck or shoulders, will diminish on each slow out-breath whereby you allow the body to relax further and sink deeper into the floor. In practice, we say: “Breathe the pain away”. If it is too sensitive, slowly roll sideways off the mat, get up and move. Later you can rearrange your position with appropriate supports and try again.

For How Long?

How long you stay in the above passive stretch is entirely up to you. It could be only a few minutes the first time round, or it could be an hour-long siesta. Stay there for as long as you are comfortable. So far so good—you are now acquainted with the benefits of gravity. But before you are ready to try hanging upside down, look at a very important side issue: how sitting on chairs can seriously damage the body.

Beware of the Chair

Learning to relax on the floor is good preparation for hanging upside down, the jewel of body healing practice. But why does a body get so stiff and painful in the first place? The underlying cause of all stiffness in the hamstrings, pain in the neck, shoulders, back ache and damaged disks, is the harm we incur from prolonged sitting on chairs. The next video "Are You Chair Shaped" explains how sitting on chairs all day can seriously damage your health, almost to the point where chairs should carry a government health warning:

"Prolonged sitting on chairs causes stiffness in the joints and chronic pain."

If you Must Sit on Chairs All Day...

Of course, no amount of happy relaxing on the floor will provide any permanent cure unless you improve your posture and modify your seating position.

If you have to spend hours on end sitting on a chair, at least make sure to use appropriate support placed behind the sore back to avoid vertebrae getting pushed out of place by poor sitting habits.

Use back support to slouch or to keep the spine straight.
Use back support to slouch or to keep the spine straight.

Degree of Stiffness in the Hamstrings

The angle determines the degree of stiffness in the hamstrings.
The angle determines the degree of stiffness in the hamstrings.

Hanging Upside Down

Kids love it, adults need it. The ultimate solution that will soon put all those vertebrae back into place, cure stiffness, and prevent all back pain, stiff neck, and shoulder problems, is hanging upside down on a gravity inversion table. Regular use of this tool is a must for anyone who is sitting all day—and that is the majority of us.

Hanging Upside Down. Kids love it, adults need it.
Hanging Upside Down. Kids love it, adults need it.

How Does it Work?

A gravity inversion table allows the constant downward pushing force of gravity to work to the body's advantage for a change. If your body was stiff like a pencil balancing horizontally on your finger, the point of pivot would be the pelvis. Just like lying on an old fashioned vegetable scale, your body is balanced around its center of gravity (the pelvis) as its axis. A gravity inversion table is as sensitive as an old fashioned scale. The degree of incline is controlled by very subtle up or down arm movements. Lift the arms fully overhead to gradually go deeper, eventually to the full upside down position.

The next video shows an advanced routine on a gravity inversion table. Beginners can perform partial inversion as shown at the very beginning and the very end of the video.

Get Rid of Pain - Hang Upside Down

Benefits of Hanging Upside Down

  1. Decompresses and realigns the vertebrae
  2. Maintains your height
  3. Improves posture
  4. Adds to flexibility
  5. Strengthens abdomen
  6. Relieves stress
  7. Relaxes tensed muscles
  8. Improves circulation
  9. Heightens mental awareness
  10. Improves productivity
  11. Improves your mood
  12. Combats depression
  13. Makes you need less sleep
  14. Prevents "shrinking" in old age

Prevent Shrinking in Old Age

We don't actually shrink with age. Gravity merely folds us downwards, like an accordion.
We don't actually shrink with age. Gravity merely folds us downwards, like an accordion.

They say that people get shorter as they grow older. What really happens over time is that the spinal and cervical curves get deeper and deeper. A bit like an accordion, the apparent "shrinkage" is merely a gradual folding of the skeleton. This can easily be prevented by regular traction opposing gravity: hanging upside down.

Mental and Brain Health

Because the blood supply to the brain is being boosted, hanging upside down improves brain function and also works psychologically. Regular gravity inversion makes you more productive. It allows you to work longer hours with better concentration.

A short "hang" can help resolve psychological and mood problems. For example, I put a very angry and upset client of mine who was going through a bitter divorce on the gravity inverter for five minutes. When he got up again, he was literally elevated. He smiled to me and said: "Oh well, I guess it takes two to tango." With renewed energy and a more positive attitude, problems are easier to face and to resolve.

Caution

Some of you believe that it's bad for you to get a red face with blood flowing into your head. On the contrary; more blood supply and oxygen to the brain is, up to a point, a good thing. Go slowly and not all the way down at first. If you get a head rush, slowly come back up until you can control the degree of inversion that you are comfortable with.

How long and how often?

Five or ten minutes, 3 times a week, or whenever you feel tired, sad, angry, upset, or depressed.

Advanced Gravity Inversion

Sorry it's out of focus. Get a sixpack in no time by doing upside down sit-ups.
Sorry it's out of focus. Get a sixpack in no time by doing upside down sit-ups.

Ever Heard of Gravity Inversion?

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Which Gravity Inversion Table to Chose?

After decades of using a Teeter Hang Ups gravity inversion table, I moved to Spain in 2001. Rather than carrying the thing on the plane, I decided to leave it in London with my son and his family who enjoy using it as much as I do.

The plan was to simply purchase a new Teeter inversion table once I had settled in. Of course the technology had somewhat advanced by then. I was happy to discover that the current Teeter Hang Ups 970 LTD inverter was wider than the previous one. That meant I could perform more moves on it without knocking my elbows on its sides as with the previous version. Great news!

Teeter EP-970 LTD
Teeter EP-970 LTD

Whether you want to improve your posture, reduce back pain, or simply minimize stress, I recommend the Teeter Hang Ups EP-950 Gravity Inversion Table. As explained in this article, it elongates the spine, increases the space between the vertebrae, and relieves the pressure on discs, ligaments, and nerve roots. Less pressure means less back pain, as well as fewer headaches and neck problems. I have been using this particular model for many years now and it still works as good as new. When friends come over to try it out, it can easily take the weight of larger people. So what are you waiting for? Get one for the price of 2 trips to an osteopath!

 

Hang Upside Down on an Aerial Yoga Swing

Then, if you want to go further and be sure to stay in great shape, you can get a yoga swing to perform playful acrobatics in mid-air to your heart's content. While the gravity inversion table is designed to gently lengthen and straighten out the spine, it is only a beginning towards ultimate health in the skeleton. On an aerial yoga swing, you can perform additional positions and movements that are much more varied than those on the gravity inversion table. On an aerial yoga swing, you can safely move your body like a child or a young monkey in the jungle. The pleasure you get from a yoga swing is very much like moving when you were a child but with more awareness as demonstrated in the next video.

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    • profile image

      Bill 6 days ago

      I've been inverting to 90 degrees for an hour just about every day for four years. I started it mainly to straighten my spine (without have to pay a chiropractor). My back has been better. But the real surprise is that my sore knees -- from more than 40 years as a runner -- have improved dramatically. There is nothing else I can think of than can account for the improvement; it's quite remarkable. I run 25 to 30 miles a week, and, right now, it looks like I can keep doing that indefinitely.

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 5 months ago from Andalusia

      Hello Kristine,

      How nice that you found me, and thank you for the kind words. At the top of this page, below my name is a red link: "contact author". Yes, it would be nice to catch up after all these years.

    • profile image

      Kristinekelliher14@icloud.com 5 months ago

      I am over the moon to have found Juliette Kando again! I did classes in London when I was pregnant with my 1st baby Hannah now 23yrs! Juliette is amazing woman teacher and a source of info i have never found again. I ex love her to contact or if there are links I cd contact her? She had designed an amazing chair which I regret I never bought , wondering if still available? Great to see inversion table as it really works! Juliette Kando had big influence on my life . If by chance Kando sees this ,. I would love to hear you

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      You may be right there Peach, or just relax at a very small angle of backward tilt.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      if you have high blood pressure and diabetic, better don't learn from the panda

    • wordswithlove profile image

      Neetu M 2 years ago from USA

      Sue, indeed that is what I do! Still, I have such a fidgety personality (constantly moving without much purpose even) that being still is a challenge for me. The only thing I can do for hours without moving is writing because then I am in my element! :) But I do my inversion religiously simply because if I don't, I will suffer from the horrible pain of sciatica sooner or later. Got to pick and choose, right? :)

    • Sue Adams profile image
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      Juliette Kando 2 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi WordswithLove,

      If you get bored, why don't you put some slow music on, close your eyes, and do some meditation, or gentle exercises to fully enjoy the sensation of hanging upside down. It's all to do with "living in the present moment". You can also concentrate on the subtle changes going on in your body while gravity is inverted.

    • wordswithlove profile image

      Neetu M 2 years ago from USA

      Hanging upside down is a great idea! I do it everyday to keep my herniated disc from acting up. I discovered the inversion table a few years ago when I had dreadful sciatic pain. It was dreadful doing it when the pain was bad, but if I do it regularly at least a few times a week, it helps prevent the worst attacks. The only problem is I get bored hanging upside down!

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 3 years ago from Andalusia

      Be careful of what? Sure, take it slowly, do not go completely upside down at the first go. Listen to your body.

    • firstday profile image

      R Beggs 3 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Great stuff. I was talking to my husband about doing this. He does yoga daily and I told him even when he stands on his head it is not the same as inversion. I have heard of people using iron boards if they don't have a table. Be careful though even with an inversion table.

    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 3 years ago from Tumkur

      A useful hub. So much pain is taken and homework is done in preparing this hub. Pictures are suitable. All essential points are covered. sub-tittles are proper. Congrats to you

    • firstday profile image

      R Beggs 3 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Great article…it all makes sense.

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 3 years ago from Andalusia

      That's exactly the right way of going about it Peggy. Do you have a Gravity Inversion Table then?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I saw this on G+ and came over to read it. Sounds good! I think I will start slowly and perhaps work up to more gradually. Will also share.

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 4 years ago from Andalusia

      That could only happen if you forgot to tie your feet in and suddenly swung all the way upside down which is impossible because at the beginning, you use a safety strap which prevents the gravity inversion table from tipping too far back. But you do need an experienced friend or instructor to get you started. Mind you, I never had help, just read the instructions and carefully experimented until I became familiar with the equipment.

    • profile image

      calculus-geometry 4 years ago

      I like to do this with my inflatable fitness ball, as the image with the boy shows. The inversion table contraption looks easy to use, but I'd be terrified of it collapsing and me breaking my neck!

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 4 years ago from Andalusia

      Please try again Jason. Your message didn't quite come through. Gentle, not all the way at first, Gravity Inversion helps cure sciatica. But also look at some other floor exercises to ease the pain and regain strength and flexibility in your lower back. The Hub "Get Rid Of Lower Back Pain With Chiropractic Counter Moves" is also helpful for your condition.

      Be well,

      Sue

    • profile image

      jason 4 years ago

      Hi there folks,

      iv had sciataca for about a

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 4 years ago from Andalusia

      Sorry Amoda,

      I don't know where you can get a giant bolster. The one on the picture was made by myself a long time ago. You can make one by using a piece of wide plastic drainage tubing (about 8 to 10 inches in diameter) lined on both inside and outside with foam (glued on). Outside foam 4 inches thick, inside 2 inches thick. Cover inside and out with cotton fabric.

      Alternatively you might Google some "tumbletots" equipment for kids to play with but those are usually covered in plastic which is not as nice as cotton covers.

      Another alternative is to use a "peanut ball" to relax the spine in an inverted hollow position.

    • profile image

      Amoda 4 years ago

      Hello, Doe you know where I can get a Giant Bolster in the UK?

      thank you,

      Amoda

    • profile image

      Dr. Jones 4 years ago

      Hi all,

      I'd like to offer my professional, medical opinion. Inversion tables are very good for bad backs, and can be used at any age. I recommend it for everyone.

      Dr. Jones

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 5 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi Meg,

      Yes, the gravity inversion table, if used with proper caution, could benefit someone with arthritis. Remember my motto: "No Pain, Just Gain!"

    • profile image

      Meg 5 years ago

      Would it be suitable for a back with arthritis?

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 5 years ago from Andalusia

      Hello Michael,

      If you could practice gentle gravity inversion, perhaps not all the way down at first and under proper supervision, possibly by a qualified masseur who could help to place the disc back into place, followed by remedial strengthening exercises, I am sure that it could ease the pain and improve the condition.

    • profile image

      Michael 5 years ago

      Can this help ease pain or even improve the outcome from a herniated disk?

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 6 years ago from Andalusia

      Yes, Kohku and super cool, don't just talk about it, do it, get one, you'll never regret it for the rest of your lives.

    • profile image

      super cool 7 years ago

      hello kohku i agree what your saying about gravity invertor i think you should google it!!!but i agree in many ways!!!

    • profile image

      kohku 7 years ago

      Having read some of your other Hubs Sue, I am beginning to like what you are saying and shall seriously consider getting a gravity invertor.

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 7 years ago from Andalusia

      That's very good news Claudette.

    • profile image

      Claudette 7 years ago

      I had a chronic back pain and recently bought a gravity inversion table. Now my back ache is gone and I and have suddenly become very popular. My friends have tried it and they keep coming back for more because they love it so.

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 7 years ago from Andalusia

      Hi mega1. Old people use the gravity invertor, my mum used it at 82! But she didn't go all the way down. No, you don't have to lose weight before using one. Our inverter has a maximum weight capacity of 300lbs/136kgs. If that is not enough you can get bigger ones that feel more sturdy. But like I said in the article, if you are new to this, get someone to coach you gently, easy does it. You don't have to go all the way upside down to begin with but you'll soon want to. If there is a history of blood clotting or stroke I would consult a physician first. Otherwise, yes, it's great and definitely cures bad backs.

    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 7 years ago

      How would this be for us "seniors"? say over 50, well over 60? how about over 80 even? I know it would depend on the body condition one has, but what about benefits for seniors - are there any? Would it be dangerous? Could it help ease back pain? What if you're overweight? Would you have to get back to a normal weight first? Can you recommend a website that can answer all this? Sorry, to deluge you with questions, but this looks like it would feel so good!

    • Sue Adams profile image
      Author

      Juliette Kando 7 years ago from Andalusia

      Thanks for you comment creativeone59.

      Yes, advoco, off the side of the bed for starters and later on, if you are interested, they sell inversion tables in Churriana. Or you could try mine first.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thanks Sue for very good hub on help for your back. creativeone59

    • advoco profile image

      advoco 7 years ago from cadiz

      Good one. It makes a lot of sense to me. I'll start with hanging off the side of the bed though. Nice b/w photos.