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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.”
Legs Up the Wall Pose basics
Sanskrit: Viparita Karani (vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee)
Pose type: Inversion
Targets: Full body
Why we love it: “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.”
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Legs Up the Wall Pose is calming and relaxing. It improves circulation and can help reduce swelling lower extremities by redirecting lymph and other fluids from your ankles, knees, and pelvic organs to your upper body and head. It activates the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates the stress response (sympathetic nervous system).
Legs Up the Wall Pose: Step-by-step instructions
- 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.
Teaching Viparita Karani
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.
Variation: Legs Up the Wall Pose with support
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.