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On the Ropes: Stillwater Yoga inversion classes deepen experience

Contributor Grace Huseth tries inversion yoga.

Looking for a fresh perspective on yoga? You might just find it by hanging upside down.

Traditional yoga classes of stretches and balancing poses can be flipped with the aid of wall ropes. No, the ropes don’t offer a Cirque du Soleil aerial experience, but they do deepen stretches and introduce practitioners to inversion poses.

On one of the coldest mornings in January, I tried my first inversion yoga pose at Stillwater Yoga Studio. I was hooked – not only securely to the wall, but by all the blood flowing benefits of inversion.

“Yoga is all about an experience and observing where your consciousness is,” said Stillwater Yoga Studio director Kathleen Pringle. “All yoga is for the mind, but in Iyengar yoga, the body is used as a portal to look at the more subtle effects.”

Yoga poses performed with ropes are common in Iyengar yoga studios. In short, Iyengar yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of modern yoga, who emphasized precision and alignment in poses. Common yoga poses like downward dog become transformed when ropes allow for an extra back bend and for fuller shoulder rotation.

With Pringle’s gentle instruction and eye for slight adjustments, beginners like me are able to hang in rope sirsasana, or rope headstand, completely relaxed. Once upside down, my consciousness turned to my breath in a way I had never experienced before. When inverted, there is a pause at the end of each exhalation due to the diaphragm flipped from its natural state, an extra note offering unique peace.

Inversions also aid in blood flow back to the heart and the increase of oxygenated blood to the brain, sensory organs and face to benefit clearer thinking. It’s also credited with strengthening the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous system and endocrine systems of the body.

Pringle has been practicing yoga for more than 40 years and opened up her Midtown Promenade location 17 years ago. Over the years, the rope wall has served for a variety of poses, as well as physical therapy the yogi way.

“Alignment in the joints focuses the attention on what’s going on in the body. It’s basically educating yourself on your habits, helping you adjust and create more space in your own body by becoming conscious of what your patterns and habits are,” Pringle said.

Since Iyengar yoga stresses body alignment, the practice attracts many in the medical world, including physical therapists and physicians. Those with injuries, whether it’s a spinal injury or a herniated disk, can adapt poses with the ropes so they can get the benefits without pushing their limits – unless it’s necessary.

A few years ago, Pringle suffered from a frozen shoulder. She had painful restriction of motion in her shoulder that progressed from stiffness to a calcified joint. When an orthopedic surgeon suggested she go under general anesthesia and have the arm manipulated for her, she turned to yoga instead. Pringle said the pain she endured in each session was nothing in comparison to the relief she felt afterwards. Today, Pringle works with other clients suffering from frozen shoulders by using back bends, poses that open the chest and hanging from the ropes.

“We teach how the body should be for the best health of the organs and how it impacts the mental state,” Pringle said. “Similar to how smiling releases different chemicals in the brain to make you feel happy, we put people in postures to create different physical, organic, emotional psychological impacts.”

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