A number of years ago I was on a bike adventure riding between Bryce and Zion National Parks. In the distance way up high on some sheer cliffs I saw a couple of hammocks hanging as if floating onto the rock. Climbers, I later learned, carry light weight hammocks, attach them to the rock and actually sleep perched onto the cliff. Not something I’ll do in this lifetime, but hang I will and do.
Pilates fuzzy boots and aerial yoga inspired me to hang a pink parachute hammock
from the ceiling in my living room. Huge hooks mounted right into the studs easily support my body allowing me to swing, stretch, and hang upside down. In Pilates, one of the most blissful acts is to hang in the fuzzy boots. It helps the spine stretch, provides the benefit of reverse blood flow, and allows your hip sockets to release.
Turning the body upside to promote a healing effect is nothing new. It’s why yogis do shoulder stands, handstands and other upside down postures. From the standpoint of pure physics, inversions counteract the effects of gravity. All day long gravity is pressing down on your body, including the spine and intervertebral discs. When we turn upside, the spine is decompressed and surrounding muscles are lengthened.
You don’t have to be completely upside to experience the benefits of hanging. Simply having your torso below your waist you can feel the effects, even at -5 or -10 degrees. For those with back problems, fully hanging upside can overly stress discs and facet joints, and create too much slack within joints. An inversion table allows you to control how far over you will go. You lay down, securely fasten your legs, and tilt the machine backwards. You can move upside down in small increments from as little as a few degrees to fully upside down.
The intervertebral disc is the largest organ in the body without blood supply. Most lumbar discs are the size of a watch face and have no arteries going to them. Discs rely on the surrounding bone for nutrients. These nutrients percolate into the disc much like coffee going through a filter. Some studies suggest that pulling the bones apart through inversion therapy may help this process by drawing more fluid into the disc. This allows greater nutrient flow and improves disc hydration and height. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Back Pain
Inversion tables are primarily devices that you purchase for home use. Some physical therapists or exercise professionals may also have them. Try before your buy. And talk to your doctor before doing inversion therapy. You shouldn’t invert your body if you have certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, detached retina, or glaucoma. Inversion therapy can also exacerbate laxity of the joints or spondylolisthesis.
But if you’re back is fine, hang away wherever you can: with your kids at the monkey bars, off the limb of tree, or from your very own living room hammock. Your back will feel better and you’ll gain a whole new perspective on life too.