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Legs-up-the-Wall Pose: The Complete Guide

Viparita Karani calms your nervous system and relaxes your breathing, while refreshing your legs and giving your entire body a reset.


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Feeling stressed? Settle into Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) and let it all melt away.

Claudia Cummins, author of Inside Out and Upside Down, uses the pose to regroup when life starts to feel overwhelming: “I linger here for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, sometimes a half an hour or more, until the pose has drawn every last drop of angst and agitation from my soul. And when I can bear to pull myself back to reality, I roll over and slowly sit up, refreshed and renewed. Invariably, I feel better able to manage life’s challenges with clarity and balance.”

The sense of renewal that Claudia describes comes from that redirection of blood and lymph fluids from your lower body to your upper body and head in this mild inversion. Viparita Karani can feel especially lovely before bedtime if you’ve been standing or sitting for a long period of time.

But just because you get into the physical position doesn’t mean that you will instantly drop into a relaxing experience, says Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga Center. “A calming breath exercise may help. Inhale deeply for four counts, then exhale for eight counts. Longer exhalations slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system. Repeat five times, and then breathe naturally,” says Lee.

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Legs-up-the-Wall Pose basics

Sanskrit: Viparita Karani (vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee)

viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted

karani = doing, making, action

Pose type: Inversion

Targets: Full body

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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
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Legs-up-the-Wall Pose: Step-by-step instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Adjust your position by scooting your tailbone toward the wall. It doesn’t need to touch the wall.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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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.

Be mindful!

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.

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Legs-up-the-Wall Pose variations

Photo: Eleanor Williamson Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose with a strap

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.

Photo: Eleanor Williamson Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose with a block

Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips and place a block at low or medium height 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. Stay as long as you would like. Then slowly bring your legs back down to knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Remove the block, and slowly lower yourself to the floor.

Photo: Eleanor Williamson Photo: Eleanor Williamson

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.

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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.

Preparatory poses

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Counter poses

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

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Your body in Legs-up-the-Wall Pose | Anatomy

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.

Leg Up The Wall Pose: Viparita Karani
Illustration: Chris Macivor

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. 

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Put Legs-up-the-Wall Pose into practice

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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.