The Oxford English Dictionary committee recently revealed that the most commonly used noun in English is "time." Probably when we use this word in daily conversation, it is to express our belief that we do not have enough time in our lives. We fill our calendars with tasks and appointments. The consequence of living this way is that we are stressed and seemingly have no time to de-stress. Even in yoga classes, the final relaxation pose may be only five minutes long, sadly not long enough in physiological terms to provide our bodies with appropriate rest.
Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) is an elegant solution. Ten to 15 minutes in the pose quiets the mind, lowers blood pressure, enlivens the legs, and generally relaxes the body. It can be done at the end of an active practice to rejuvenate, as part of a restorative series, or by itself during a busy day. Although the pose requires a few props, its soothing effects are well worth the preparation time.
To set up this pose, place the shorter end of your yoga mat against a wall. Now place a bolster—or two firm blankets rolled to form a bolster—approximately 10 inches away from the wall, with the length of the bolster parallel to the wall. Fold another blanket so that it is approximately 28 inches long and 5 inches high and put it at a 90-degree angle to your bolster so your setup looks like the letter T. This blanket will support your back, neck, and head.
To get into Viparita Karani, sit on your heels next to your bolster and face the center of the room with your right outer hip in line with the middle of one end of the bolster. Lean forward as in Child's Pose, place your right arm underneath your chest and parallel to the wall, and simply roll over onto your back. With a little practice you will find the right relationship to the bolster to use this technique, and the process of getting into Viparita Karani will become much simpler.
Once you are there, you should be a sufficient distance from the wall so that your hamstring length allows your tailbone to drop slightly. When this happens, your navel and pubic bone will be on the same plane. Make sure that your pubic bone is not higher than your navel. If that occurs, your pelvis is tilting forward; instead, you want your belly to remain open. If you are in a forward tilt, your hamstrings may be tight. Roll out of the pose and move the setup a bit farther from the wall. Remember, this pose is about opening and relaxing, not about creating a stretch in the hamstrings, so the backs of your legs do not need to be against the wall.
Make sure the bolster supports your lower back ribs and that your legs are straight and leaning comfortably against the wall. You may fasten a yoga strap around your legs to facilitate your relaxation in the pose. Place your arms out to your sides or overhead, palms up, so your arms are opened away from your body but resting comfortably. Stay in the pose for up to 15 minutes, remove the strap, and roll to the side, resting for a few breaths before slowly sitting up. (Avoid this pose if you are menstruating or pregnant or if you have gastric reflux or heart disease.)
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