So, if you know me, you know I love yoga asana, which are the poses and physical expression of yoga. I appreciate and practice other parts of the big Yoga, but asana is my most active practice. To help spread and de-mystify yoga a bit, I’m going to try (emphasis on try) to share a yoga pose a week. I plan to explain how to get in and out of the pose, what to do while in the pose, and explain the benefits of the pose a bit. Most of this will come directly from me and what I’ve learned over nearly 15 years of practice and almost 3 years of teaching (which, by the way and as a form of disclaimer, isn’t very long at all). I’ll also provide a link or two with other teachers’ versions of the pose.
First up, Legs up the Wall. In Sanskrit this is known as Vipirita Karani. I love Legs up the Wall. This is my go-to pose whenever I need a little recharge in the middle of the day, if my legs and hips are a bit tired from a run or picking up a 36-pound 3 ½-year-old, or if my yoga practice is really leg-heavy.
How-to: This is the hardest part. Really. Place the short end of your yoga mat (or a blanket or towel if you don’t have a mat; although a sticky mat is best since it won’t slip) against a wall. Check to make sure there isn’t anything sticking out of the wall that would be uncomfortable to rest against. Now sit sideways with your right (or left) hip right up against the wall. No space. Get cozy with the wall. Place your hands behind you. Slowly lower your back toward the floor. As you do this, start to lift your legs up the wall. As your back goes down and your legs up, start to swivel your hips so that your legs can rest against the wall and your back along your yoga mat.
Wiggle around a bit. Ideally the backs of both legs are fairly fully touching the wall. If you’re hamstrings are tight, however, you may have to back your buttocks from the wall a bit to accommodate the tightness. In this case, just your heels may be touching the wall.
Get your back and hips comfy. Notice if there’s any pinching anywhere and gently move to elongate your spine to help relieve the sensation. Play with a couple of different arm positions to find what feels best. Maybe the arms are outstretched like a T or overhead like a cactus. Or perhaps the hands rest gently on the belly. Breathe.
Once there: Close your eyes. Alternate pointing and flexing your feet and then let your legs get heavy into your hip sockets. Notice the backs of your hips touching the mat (or blanket, or floor). Feel rooted there. Take some deep breathes into your belly, letting the belly fully expand. As you exhale, invite the back of the body to ease into the floor a bit more. Try to stay here for five or 10 minutes. Maybe set a timer?
How-to get out: Slowly bend your legs, bringing your knees into your chest. Pause there for a minute. Keep your eyes closed. Let your legs and body adjust to not having the legs up the wall. Start to rock side to side very slowly. Eventually roll all the way to one side, coming into a fetal position. Pause for few breaths. Gently and with care, press yourself upright.
Benefits: As I mentioned up above, this is one of my go-to poses and perhaps one of my all-time favorites, as well. It can help reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs. I also find it helpful in re-setting—so to speak—tender SI and hip joints along the back of the body. Legs up the Wall also calms the sympathetic nervous system which has a big hand to play in our fight-or-flight response.
When not to do this pose: Yes, even in yoga you need to be careful. Judith Lasater—an expert in restorative yoga—doesn’t recommend this pose if you have a hiatal hernia, have sciatica, or are menstruating. Other sources, however, believe that it’s okay to do the pose at that time of the month–and if you’re pregnant–as long as the back and pelvis are grounded on the floor—as I’ve described here—and not on a bolster.
Please let me know if you have any questions. And enjoy!