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Long day at work? Tired after a big hike or long run? Relax into Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) to refresh tired legs and calm your mind.
Although “wall” is in the name, you can practice Viparita Karani anywhere that you can prop up your legs. While traditional teachers claim the pose can do everything from make “grey hairs and wrinkles become inconspicuous” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 3.82) to destroying old age and death (Gheranda Samhita 3.36), most modern teachers agree that while the benefits may not be that extreme, Viparita Karani can ease a range of ailments, including anxiety, headaches, and insomnia. It’s a perfect pose to help you unwind before going to bed.
Experimenting with props in Legs Up the Wall Pose can be delicious, says Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga Center. “Once you are in the pose, you may want to bend your knees, keeping your feet flexed. Place a block or sandbag on the soles of your feet, and then carefully straighten your legs. If it’s hard to reach your feet, ask a friend for help. Next, place a folded blanket under each arm and rest your hands on your belly. This will let you feel as though you are floating, yet supported. Finally, place an eye pillow over your eyes.”Section divider
Viparita Karani (vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee)
viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted
karani = doing, making, actionSection divider
Legs Up the Wall Pose basics
Pose type: Inversion
Targets: Full body
Benefits: Legs Up the Wall Pose is calming and relaxing. It improves circulation (both lymphatic and venous), reduces swelling in your ankles and feet, and helps you manage stress.
Other Legs Up the Wall perks:
- Activates the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates the stress response (sympathetic nervous system)
- Helps lower or regulate blood pressure
- Calms the mind (which may help alleviate anxiety symptoms)
- Can help you wind down for bed and improve sleep
- Helps alleviate tension headaches
- Sit on the floor facing a wall. Lower your shoulders and head to the floor, lying on your side. Then roll onto your back and stretch your legs up the wall, with your feet hip-distance apart or whatever distance feels comfortable.
- Adjust your position by scooting your tailbone toward the wall. It doesn’t need to touch the wall.
- Find a comfortable position for your arms at your side, with palms turned up; relax your arms and shoulders. Relax your legs against the wall. Release all effort. You might feel your femurs sink into your hip sockets. Feel the spine lengthening. Settle into the pose and breathe for at least 10 minutes.
- To come out of the pose, bend your knees and roll to your side. Remain here for a few breaths before using the strength of your arms to slowly push yourself back up to seated.
If your legs feel like they are splaying apart, loop a strap around your shins or thighs (see variation below) to secure them hip-distance apart.
Explore the pose
Legs Up the Wall is usually considered a restorative pose and sequenced either near the end of an active practice or during a restorative class.
There’s a tendency to tense the legs and try to hold them up against the wall. Instead, let the wall hold you. Your buttocks don’t need to touch the wall. Inching them away from the wall works well for most bodies, although find what feels comfortable for you.
If you feel discomfort in your lower back, come out of the pose and try coming into Legs Up a Chair (see variations below), which places even less pressure on your low back. Positioning a folded blanket under your pelvis makes this pose even more comfortable.Section divider
These tips will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- Place blankets under your head and hips to receive the full benefit of this pose. Fold one blanket into a large square, and then fold it again into thirds, placing it under your hips about 12 inches away from the wall. Fold a second blanket to be used for cushioning your head in half, and place it about 3 feet away from the wall.
- As an inversion pose, many benefits come from inverting your notion of “work.” The benefits derive not just from inverting an action but also from inverting the whole notion of action. When you relax with your legs up the wall, you are practicing the polar opposite of activity, which is receptivity.
Legs Up the Wall Pose with support
Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips and place a folded blanket, block, or bolster under your sacrum (the flat part of your low back). Bring your legs straight up, trying to find a balancing point where your joints are stacked and you can keep your legs up with the least amount of effort possible. Putting a looped strap (or a belt or even a sweatshirt with the arms tied together) around your shins or thighs can help you can relax your leg muscles fully.
Legs Up a chair
If you have low back strain, rest your legs up on a chair or the couch instead of on a wall. (You might need to turn the chair sideways if the back of the chair gets in the way of your feet.) You can use a folded blanket beneath your legs for extra cushioning or if the additional height feels better on your back.Section divider
Why we love this pose
“Legs Up the Wall was the only thing that would help me sleep when I first moved to Manhattan. Everything in the city, at the office, and in my life felt a lot more intense than I liked. For months I simply couldn’t quiet down at night. And then I tried yoga,” says Renee Marie Schettler, Yoga Journal‘s senior editor. “My first restorative teacher, a lovely woman with a kind soul and German accent, taught me how to hold myself in the posture. Or rather, she taught me how to let the pose hold me by taking me through all the areas I didn’t need to hold tension but instinctively did—my legs, my hips, my abs, my shoulders, my neck, my forehead, my hands. Though I feel as graceful as a baby giraffe coming into it, I quickly learned how to find a version of the pose that worked for me. And because I would almost fall asleep each week in her Friday night class, I figured that may translate to a home practice. There are teachers who resent when students actually fall into sleep during class. I consider it a hallmark of a restorative posture doing its work.”Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Viparita Karani actually requires no preparation and no counterbalance. You can come into it at any given moment during the day without having more than a moment’s notice. However, it can make it easier to relax if you first stretch your back body in a forward bend. Any hip stretch you do prior to the pose will help release even more tension in the pose.
Counter posesSection divider
Viparita Karani is an inversion that passively stretches the hip extensors, such as the gluteus maximus, and opens your chest, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher. It has similar effects on the autonomic nervous system as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose).
In the drawing below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
Your hips flex and your knees extend to rest the legs against a wall. The abdomen is passive. The backs of your legs passively stretch and your hip flexors relax.
Viparita Karani has cardiovascular effects that are similar to other inversions, including increased return of blood to the heart and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system by the carotid and aortic baroreceptors. As such, it is a useful alternative to Headstand or Shoulderstand if you have cervical spine problems.
Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga by Ray Long.
Put Legs Up the Wall Pose into practice
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.