Legs Up the Wall is a rejuvenating inverted pose that brings relief to the legs, feet, spine, and nervous system. It is a gentle way to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation and renewal. This pose is recommended for all yoga students, no matter their level of experience.
Its Sanskrit name, “Viparita Karani” (VIP-uh-REE-tuh kah-RAH-nee), literally translates to “inverted action.” When you take time out of your day to reverse the forward motions of doing, acting, and accomplishing, you allow your brain and body to settle into a state of pure being. Settling into this state, then, conditions the mind for deeper meditation, serenity, and self-awareness.
Because of its calming benefits, Viparita Karani is often done at the end of a yoga practice, before the final relaxation pose (Savasana) or meditation. However, it can also be practiced on its own, as an everyday restorative pose.
Benefits of Viparita Karani
Ancient yoga texts claim Viparita Karani will destroy old age. Many modern teachers agree to its other benefits, including relief from:
- Mild depression
- Muscle fatigue
- Digestive problems
- High and low blood pressure
- Respiratory ailments
- Urinary disorders
- Varicose veins
- Menstrual cramps and premenstrual symptoms
In addition, Viparita Karani also helps to promote balance and well-being throughout the systems of the entire body, including a:
- Strengthened immune system
- Balanced hormonal system
- Calmed nervous system
- Stabilized digestive and elimination systems
- Regulated respiratory system
Some yoga traditions also recommend Viparita Karani as an important post-coital pose for women to increase the possibility of conception.
Yoga is the process or practice by which transformation is achieved.
This pose stretches the back of the legs, and relieves fatigue and cramping in the legs and feet. It can be a great pose for relieving swollen ankles and calves caused by pregnancy, travel, and long periods of standing. It also stretches the front of the torso and back of the neck, and can be useful for relieving mild backaches.
Women who are menstruating should consult with their teacher before practicing inversions, such as Viparita Karani. Do not practice this pose if you have glaucoma or other eye problems, or a serious back or neck injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
There are two ways to practice Viparita Karani: Using props as a supported pose, or without props. Both options will provide the same benefits, but the supported version may be more relaxing for some people. Both versions require a wall or sturdy door upon which you can rest your legs.
- If you are practicing the supported version, set a bolster or firm, long pillow on the floor against the wall.
- Begin the pose by sitting with your left side against the wall. Your lower back should rest against the bolster, if you're using one.
- Gently turn your body to the left and bring your legs up onto the wall. If you are using a bolster, shift your lower back onto the bolster before bringing your legs up the wall. Use your hands for balance as you shift your weight.
- Lower your back to the floor and lie down. Rest your shoulders and head on the floor.
- Shift your weight from side-to-side and scoot your buttocks close to the wall. Let your arms rest open at your sides, palms facing up. If you're using a bolster, your lower back should now be fully supported by it.
- Let the heads of your thigh bones (the part of the bone that connects in the hip socket) release and relax, dropping toward the back of your pelvis.
- Close your eyes. Hold for 5-10 minutes, breathing with awareness.
- To release, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs down to the right side. Use your hands to help press yourself back up into a seated position.
Modifications & Variations
Viparita Karani can provide a multitude of benefits to your mind, body, and spirit when practiced regularly. It's important, though, to feel comfortable and relaxed throughout the duration of the pose. Be sure to make whatever changes you need to reduce discomfort when practicing it. Here are a few suggestions:
- It's not necessary for your sit bones to touch the wall. However, you should be in a position where you can release the need to “hold up” your thigh bones. Those with more flexible bodies can use a higher support or move closer to the wall; those with stiffer bodies should try a lower support or move further away from the wall. Try various heights of support and placements against the wall to determine the most comfortable and supported position for your body.
- For greater support under your neck, place a small, rolled towel beneath the back of your neck.
- For an added stretch to your thighs, hips, and groins, spread your legs wide into a “V” shape.
- For a deeper release to your groins and hips, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet together. Let the outer edges of your feet slide down the wall, bringing your heels in toward your pelvis.
- To assist with releasing low back tension, have a friend or teacher drape a sand bag across the soles of your feet or your heels when you're in the full pose. Be sure to keep your ankles flexed and your feet flat! The extra weight will help to relieve tension in your back and will help the heads of your thigh bones release more deeply.
- For extra support on your thighs, wrap a yoga strap around your thighs when you're in the pose, just above your knees. This will help keep your legs in place, which will allow them to relax more easily.
Viparita Karani is a “feel-good” pose — that is, it should feel good, even for beginners! If you have any discomfort, be sure to make whatever adjustments you need to make. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Breathe consciously throughout the pose. Continually bringing your awareness back to your breath will help relax your mind and body even further, preparing your body for a deep, renewing state of health and well-being.
- It might feel awkward getting into the pose the first few times you try it. Don't worry about that, and take your time getting there correctly. Once you're in the pose, you will gain all the benefits!
Invert to Renew
Regularly integrating Viparita Karani into your week can be an easy way to relax and restore your body, mind, and spirit. It can feel great after a long day, after traveling, or after spending a lot of time on your feet. Try doing this pose for five minutes on the days when you don't feel like doing a full yoga practice — you may be amazed at the rejuvenating power of this simple pose!