Feature Pose: Legs Up the Wall
Sanskrit: Viparita Karani
Karani: 'In Action'
- alleviates headaches
- relieves lower back pain
- eases menstrual cramps
- energy booster
- promotes a restful sleep
Just as the name suggests, Viparita Karani inverts the repetitive actions that occur in our bodies on a daily basis; sitting and standing, most notably.
With the legs up the wall, gravity is now assisting the body in moving the buildup of fluids from your feet and legs to your upper body. When these fluids build up, they can promote swollen ankles, tired knees, tense muscles, and congestion of organs held within the pelvis. It is therefore very important that we make an effort to help the body move these fluids around.
When we take this inverted shape, there are also benefits to the cardiovascular system. Your cardiac muscle works hard to pump blood from your feet and legs back to the heart. In this shape, this process now works with gravity, giving blood circulation a boost to the upper body. This circulation boost also affects your digestive, reproductive, and brain health.
Due to the nature of our society, we sit for long periods of time, whether this is at a desk, in the car, or on the couch at home. Legs up the wall can gently stretch all of the muscles along the back of the body, from your heels all the way up to your neck. Think calves, hamstrings, hips and lower back. With practice and over time, you may notice pain and tension decrease in these areas, as you start to create some space in your tissues.
Think it sounds too good to be true? Just wait!
Perhaps the most important benefit of this pose is that it can support the body and mind when dealing with STRESS.
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on all of our body structures and functions. Resting on your back with your legs elevated helps to calm both mind and body. Legs up the wall increases activation of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), or our 'rest and digest' system, especially when combined with deep breathing (one technique mentioned below). If you are stressed, fatigued, or jet-lagged, this pose will be very refreshing!
One lesson that can be learned from this posture is that we can get positive results from doing less, not more. The next time you want to start a yoga practice, but aren't sure where to begin, why not try this for 5 minutes? That's it. It's that simple.
I know what you're thinking, "Sounds good, but how am I going to get my legs up the wall?"
What you'll need:
- yoga mat (optional)
- 2 blankets
- bolster (optional)
- eye pillow (optional)
Bring your yoga mat perpendicular to a wall, preferably a relatively blank wall (no distractions). Set up your first blanket so that it will rest under your hips and lower back, and use your second blanket to support your neck and head. Bring your right hip up beside the wall, prop yourself up on your forearms behind you, and then swing your legs up onto the wall as you rest your back, neck and head down on your blankets. Find a place to rest your arms and hands, some options include; on the low belly, by your sides, or outstretched in a T-shape.
Take a moment here to check in. Are you too far away from the wall, or too close? Can you breathe comfortably? Does it feel better if your legs are straight, or are you more comfortable with a slight bend in the knees? Your comfort here is key, so take the time to adjust anything that you need to. If you have an eye pillow, you might place it over your eyes, or you can simply turn the lights down or off.
Once you settle in, start to notice your breath. As mentioned earlier, you might start to deepen your breath. As you inhale, slowly count to 4. As you exhale, to 8. Repeat this pattern of breath for 5-10 repetitions and then allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm. Longer exhalations slow your heart rate and help to calm the nervous system, by way of increasing activation of the PNS.
You can stay in this posture for 5-20 minutes, or as long as feels good.
The longer you stay here, you might notice a tingling sensation in your feet. If this occurs, you can slowly walk your feet down the wall until it resolves, or stay. Whatever you feel comfortable doing. Remember, your comfort is key.
To exit the pose, slowly walk your feet down the wall and hug your knees in towards your chest. Stay here for as long as you'd like and then roll over onto one side. Stay here for 3-5 breaths, or longer if you'd like and then make your way up to a comfortable seated position. Sit tall and spend a couple of minutes with your eyes closed, quietly noticing the effects of this practice.
This pose may not be right for you if you have hip, neck or back injury, glaucoma, or a history of cardiac or stroke issues. As always, please consult with your healthcare practitioner prior to starting your yoga practice.