Shimmy on Into ‘Legs up the Wall’ Yoga Pose for the Restorative Break Your Body (and Mind) Craves

Photo: Getty Images/julief514
"Legs up the wall" yoga pose, or viparita karani in Sanskrit, may not be part of your standard sun salutation. But if you're always on the go, go, go, it's well worth adding to your flow.

According to Jessica Matthews,  yoga educator, assistant professor of integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University, and author of Stretching to Stay Young, legs up the wall "is a seemingly simple, yet surprisingly beneficial, pose because it provides a physical reprieve for the lower extremities, countering the amount of time spent sitting, standing, and physically moving on your feet." What’s more, it’s all about “not doing,” she says, and this kind of resting with intention can help offset all the rise-and-grind busyness you've become accustomed to.

Sticking your legs straight up in the air and just being might feel weird at first, but trust me, you’re going to want to put your phone down and take this self-care op.

Cool, cool—and how exactly do I do this glorious pose?

Legs up the wall is an inverted pose, meaning it's in the same family as headstands and handstands. But considering you get into the pose by lying on your back, scooching your butt towards the wall, and positioning your legs vertically up the surface to form an L-shape with your torso, the risk of falling on your face is much, much lower.

If traditional legs up the wall isn’t doable for you, Matthews recommends doing this pose against a chair. In this modification, your legs bend at the knee to form a 90-degree angle (your lower legs and feet rest on top of the seat). “This is an even more accessible and supportive option if extending the legs up the wall is not comfortable or feasible for you,” she says.

Once you've assumed the position, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. If a pillow under your head makes the pose feel cozier, go ahead and grab one. Matthews also recommends using a folded blanket or two (or, alternatively, a bolster) to elevate your hips when in the pose. Feel free to relax in the pose for five to 15 minutes, checking in with yourself along the way to find the length of time that’s right for you.

What are the benefits of legs up the wall?

A quick Google search is going to send you to some places that proclaim that legs up the wall can cure a whole host of problems. But while the restorative pose may be relaxing for the body and mind, it’s unlikely to treat a medical condition. “Unfortunately, there’s not sufficient scientific evidence to date to substantiate the curative benefits of this one particular pose,” says Matthews.

She does, however, note one backed-by-science physical benefit: Matthews points out that doctors often recommend people put their feet up when they experience swelling, and legs up the wall pose has the same effect: "Generally speaking, an inverted pose orients the body in such a way to encourage venous return and stimulate the lymphatic system," she says. So if you've spent the day walking around only to notice that your pups are dog tired—and beginning to swell—stick 'em up.

Are there people who should steer clear of legs up the wall?

The pose is pretty easy to get into and is safe for most people, says Matthews. However, if you have certain medical conditions, include glaucoma or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before practicing legs up the wall.

One thing worth considering is that some yoga practitioners recommend avoiding inverted poses, including legs up the wall, during your period. "Some teachers and yoga traditions say that inversions should be avoided during menstruation, while others say this particular pose can help to ease menstrual cramps," says Matthews. Currently, there’s not enough evidence either way. If you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor.

When's the best time to do legs up the wall?

Legs up the wall usually pops up in restorative yoga classes at the end of the practice; Matthews says a good spot for it is just before savasana, though you can also make this your final pose.

But really, any time you need a minute to stretch and decompress is a good time for legs up the wall. "You might find this pose to be particularly beneficial when performed before bed to give your feet and legs relief after a long day and create a sense of calm…to promote a more restful night’s sleep," says Matthews. Just make sure you don't dose off—you'll want to roll yourself into bed before clocking those recommended eight hours of zzzs.

To make legs up the wall even more luxurious, try it in your bed (really!). And this is exactly how often you should do yoga to reap the benefits.

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