By Maggie McCracken
Inverting—positioning your body so that your feet are higher than your heart—holds a number of health benefits. Seniors are especially likely to benefit from inverting, but everyone can enjoy improved circulation, reduced foot and leg swelling, a rush of oxygen to the brain and perhaps even relief from back pain if they include regular inversions in their yoga practice.
However, going upside down can be scary. It's important to know how to get started safely. Before attempting any inversions, be sure to check with your doctor, particularly if you have elevated blood pressure. Ladies will also want to refrain from inverting during their period.
Once you've been given the go-ahead, you're ready to go upside down! Work with a yoga teacher if you're new to an inversion practice. Here are a few basic inversions ranging from beginner to advanced to get you started.
Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)
Viparita karani might not even look like a yoga pose at first glance. It's a very simple asana that can be practiced by almost anyone who's in good health and it's often associated with restorative yoga, a type of practice that involves meditation, slow movement, rest and deep breathing to reduce stress.
To get into viparita karani, all you need to do is lie with your butt against the wall. Slowly bring your feet up so they're at a 90-degree angle with your upper body. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Keep your arms wherever it feels comfortable.
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
If you've been practicing yoga for a while, you may be ready to attempt the shoulder stand. It's important not to try this one if you have any neck issues and safety is always a priority. To help avoid injury, never turn your head or move your neck while you're in this pose.
To get into the pose, start by lying on your back. Use your core muscles to lift your legs and feet into the air, bringing your hips along for the ride. Anchor your hands right against your hip bones and rest on your elbows. You don't need to go up too high if you don't want to, but the eventual goal is to have your feet, hips and shoulders in the same line. Avoid collapsing your upper body and neck by taking care to keep your chin away from your chest.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
Believe it or not, most yoga teachers are instructed to teach their students to handstand successfully before moving on to headstand! You can switch the progression if you really want to, but the idea behind this is that you build muscle in the shoulders before putting any weight directly on your head in order to protect the neck.
If you feel ready to attempt a handstand, you may want to begin with a wall behind you. Balancing straight up is pretty difficult and requires a lot of practice—pretty much everyone starts out using a wall for support.
You're going to begin in downward-facing dog with your hands a few inches away from the wall. You shouldn't be starting from a standing position and using momentum to get into the pose. Instead, you should be using your core muscles to get your feet above your head.
Start building these muscles by doing repeated kicks upward. Pick one leg to lead and then use the other to push off from the floor. Use your abs to bring your leading foot closer and closer to straight above your head. Then repeat these exercising with your other foot leading.
After you've built up enough core strength, you'll have the ability to bring your legs up over your hips. Attempt to get your shoulders, hips and feet in a straight line, resting your feet on the wall behind you for as long as is necessary.
Finally (or perhaps next-to-last if you've chosen to try headstand before handstand), it's time to move into shoulder stand. Make sure you build up a good muscle base in your shoulders before attempting this pose. This will help keep weight off your neck so that you can practice safely and avoid injury. This is another position you'll probably want to do against a wall, at least to start.
Start off in a tabletop-like pose with your knees on the floor and your elbows beneath your shoulders, clasping your hands together and resting them on the floor in front of your elbows. Move up onto your toes while you simultaneously put your head down in between your elbows—kind of like a downward-facing dog, but with your elbows and head on the floor instead of your palms. Just like you'd do in a handstand, use your core to pull your feet above your hips, one at a time.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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