If you're overwhelmed, start here.
Updated: Jan 15
Tough day? No time to nap? Do this instead.
Do you ever struggle to have enough energy to get through your day? If you find yourself feeling overwrought, shut down, suffering from brain fog or struggling to get into gear – despite having a million things to do – this is for you.
It’s great if you haven’t slept well the night before, or have had to be “on the go” for longer than you’d like. You can basically use this anywhere, anytime. It’s great if taking a nap is off the cards. And it is MIRACULOUS.
This tool is a crucial one in your resilience resource list. You can use it every day to keep your system in good shape. But even if you ONLY do it when you’re feeling rough, it will still serve you EXTREMELY well.
So what is this wonder-fix that will change your life and wellbeing forever?
It’s simple: put your feet up!
Full inversions (headstands, headstands etc) should only be practised if you’re in good shape, but the technique I’m suggesting (full instructions below) works for almost anyone.
You can do this if you’re pregnant, bleeding, or if you have a bad back or neck injury (as long as you're careful). You can even do this with your kids. Bonding down time!
I’ve been using this for so long now I actually can’t remember where I learned about it. I very likely picked this up through yoga but I couldn’t tell you the specific teacher or form.
Do This When...
I do this when I’m kind of out of my body. I can’t think straight, or communicate effectively. It’s often the first thing I do when I get in after a busy trip out (like school run + shopping + errands) or in the middle of a full on day of packing, cleaning, hosting or at an event.
Basically any time when I’m on my feet and switched ON for long periods of time, without the usual brain and body breaks which normally pepper my day.
Why This Works
When you get your feet higher than your torso, you’re assisting blood to return from your lower limbs into your thoracic cavity: and that’s where your vital organs are!
There are loads of benefits of inversions, but, if you’re tired, here’s the key thing: it gets your circulation moving, puts more oxygen into your blood, clears toxins which make you sluggish, and triggers a powerful shift in your nervous system from fight or flight to rest and renewal.
When you’re on the (over) go, your body is relying on adrenaline.
One of the side effects of this is that it pushes blood into your limbs (so you can run the hell away from this madness!) and away from your vital regions. This is fine if you have to deal with a short-term emergency… for example, a grumpy wild boar in the vicinity: you’ll either escape or before long the boar will be upon you and it will all be over.
Either way, in our “natural” non-modern environment you wouldn't have been in this emergency mode for terribly long, which is a good thing. It isn’t a feasible default setting. You can’t spend all day every day in Emergency Mode. Except here’s the thing: many of us do.
Do this to:
1: Trigger Rest and Renewal
If, because of a daily level of chronic stress, you do get stuck in emergency mode for long periods of time, you’ll start to feel far from ok.
You feel less present. Your breathing is more shallow. Your vital organs become chronically undersupplied with oxygen, which leads to a build up of toxicity and chronic health issues.
You’re also secreting a lot of cortisol, which primes your body for action and has a negative effect on many areas of functioning when there’s too much of it. (For example if you exercise with high cortisol levels you’re far more prone to injury).
When you put your legs up, your ParaSympathetic nervous system takes over and switches you into Rest and Renewal Mode. You’ll start yawning. You’ll find your breathing gets slower and deeper. Your mouth might start watering. And you’ll start to feel human again.
2: Activate the Organs of Detoxification.
If you don’t sleep well, one of the things which makes the next day hard is that your system is overloaded with waste products from the hard work your cells spent all of yesterday doing. It’s in our deep sleep cycles that the liver in particular goes to work to clean the blood and replace toxins with life-driving oxygen.
This is why, if you haven’t slept well, exercise, vitamin C and green foods are so useful: they all assist detoxification and cellular oxygenation. It’s also why you feel “hungover” after a late night.
Inversions help move blood out of your legs and into your thoracic cavity, where all your vital organs are. The increased blood flow ‘wakes up’ the organs of detoxification which makes it much easier for them to do their job.
Inversions also help the lymphatic system, the other key component in detoxification.
3: A Surge of Energy
A few years ago I spent a couple of months in Goa getting up at 6am and walking two miles along the beach to practice yoga. First things first: before starting the class our teacher had us hanging upside down for 5 minutes in specially made inversion straps (I still have and use mine now!) He said it was better than coffee for getting you going in the morning, and I’m inclined to agree!
Inversions increase blood flow to the brain and your spine, making it much easier for your central nervous system to do its thing and get you going again without the “forcing” effect of Emergency Mode. Even when you do legs-up-the-wall (rather than a headstand or handstand), you are still encouraging blood flow to the brain and you’ll still get this energising effect.
If you get tired easily or struggle with sleep or stress, this is an antidote.
It’s basically the only thing that works when every other recovery trick in the book doesn’t. I’ve done this in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep after I’d been overdoing it during the day. Despite going to bed early, my body stays “on”, cortisol levels high, unable to relax and go into Renewal.
This happened a couple of weeks ago after a marathon house-clean. After an hour and half of tossing and turning in bed I gave up and put my feet up against the wall at the top of my bed: I was asleep half an hour later and slept soundly for the rest of the night.
My brother used it during a visit last summer. He, like me, gets nervous system shut down from too much busyness and between us we were solo parenting our four kids. We were both feeling pretty stretched, but he had the added disadvantage of being away from home and off familiar ground.
We were preparing dinner and he had done his usual self soothing practices and nothing was “bringing him back”: he couldn’t think straight or make effective eye contact. He said he couldn’t carry on prepping dinner as he was, and asked if I had any tricks, and I told him this one: inversions.
To my considerable surprise, this was his response (he turned 50 two years ago and has never been a fitness fanatic, but has, apparently, been fostering a quiet yoga addiction for some time):
He was amazed.
Despite practicing inversions regularly as part of his practice he hadn’t made the connection and wasn’t using it in his daily life as a recovery tool. He felt completely different after just a few minutes of standing on his head. Now, he tells me, he makes sure to do it every day.
Here’s what to do:
It's not rocket science, but I’ve provided detailed instructions below and some ideas to inspire you to do this wherever you find yourself.
Basically, if you get your feet higher than your hips, you’re doing a gentle inversion!
Put in your earbuds. Sit back, relax and enjoy. 5 minutes will make a difference, spend as long as feels good.
You might want to lie down for a few minutes afterwards (or just go into a nap) or you can just spring up and get on with your day.
Classic Version: Floor and Wall
This method allows your legs to relax AND takes the pressure off your back for maximum rejuvenation by ensuring your bum is as close to the wall as possible.
Find a clear bit of floor without any furniture against the wall. A closed door is a good option if you don’t have this.
Sit sideways on the wall, bed-head or sofa back. Get your bum as close to the wall as possible.
Keeping your hip against the wall, swivel round so that your legs go up and your back lies down.
Relax and enjoy.
Other Variations: Furniture and Taking It Wild
You can do this pretty much anywhere. Use the instructions above to make sure your bum is close to whatever is supporting your legs.
If you haven’t got a clear bit of wall or door:
On the sofa or your bed with your legs against the wall
If you don’t want to do the full “legs up”:
On the floor with your calves resting on the sofa or a chair.
On the floor with your legs on a gym ball (prop the ball against something so you don’t have to hold it in place with your legs).
On the sofa with your legs draped over the arm/some cushions
Or take it wild:
In the park with your legs against a tree
On the beach with your legs draped over a rock
In a field with your friend propping up your legs!
So go ahead and give it a go. I dare you, set a five minute timer right now! I bet you could do with it, right? Let me know how you find it, and feel free to share pics!