A Daily Practice to Improve Well-Being
For many people, when they think of yoga, they imagine perhaps a contortionist, twisting and bending the body in seemingly unnatural and painful ways. However, yoga, quite simply means union, specifically uniting the mind, the body, and the breath. Yoga does not even necessarily require asana (Sanskrit for posture), as it is not merely just a physical practice. However, there are very gentle and soothing ways to position the body that can promote overall well-being and have profound physiological benefits…”Legs Up the Wall” is one of them, and it is one of my favorite restorative postures!
Restorative Yoga specifically promotes relaxation, relieves stress and tension, and is just a wonderful way to find your bliss, as it soothes body, mind, and spirit. The postures of restorative yoga are passive, so the body is not moving, and the they are held anywhere from just a few minutes, up to potentially 20 minutes, depending on the pose. Many times, especially in a studio setting, props are used to enhance the experience and provide extra comfort and support. Legs Up the Wall is just one of many restorative postures…
Benefits of Legs Up The Wall
If you’re curious as to what Viparita Karani (the Sanskrit name for this pose) can do for you…read on to learn about the benefits!
- Relaxation: The nervous system benefits profoundly from this posture, especially when combined with controlled breathing, as everything is encouraged to slow down in the body, such as a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, which promotes greater relaxation, which may in turn, help minimize anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
- Stretches the lower back and hamstrings: Due to the angle of the body in this pose, the curvature of the lumbar spine is reduced, which causes elongation and stretching of the muscles in the lower back. The closer the hips are to the wall, the more stretch will be created in the hamstrings. This also helps relieve tension in the lower back, as pressure is released from the spine (which is enhanced even more when using a cushion or practicing this on a bed).
- Pelvic Floor Relaxation: In this posture, the muscles of the pelvic floor naturally release (again, this is even more so when a cushion is utilized under the pelvis).
- Promotes Venous Drainage/Increases Circulation: This position of the legs causes blood to return back to the heart due to gravity and also promotes drainage in the case of any excess fluid build-up. This is also very nourishing for the brain, as the blood supply to the brain is increased.
- Decreases Swelling/Cramping in the Feet & Legs: The inversion of the feet and the legs is one of the best ways to treat pain and reduce edema (swelling) in the lower extremities, and is widely recommended by medical professionals. It is especially beneficial after flying, long car trips or days at a desk, or standing for long periods of time.
One of the best things about this posture is that there is really no reason not to do it every day, as it can be done just about anywhere, and most comfortably in a home setting, especially after a long day. I recommend doing this every night, just before bed, especially because of its promotion of relaxation and the decrease of both heart rate and blood pressure-it’s a natural way to treat insomnia and encourage a more restful night’s sleep!
Getting Into the Posture
This pose can be approached either from the floor or from a bed, so choose what is most comfortable and easiest for you…
Using a wall: If you choose to use a wall, the best way to start is to create a cozy space around the wall first, perhaps by sliding a mat all the way up to the edge of the wall to give your body some cushion and extra support, and maybe even using a pillow for your head (neither of these are necessary, but definitely add to overall comfort). It’s possible that you may also want to place something under your hips, a bolster if you have one, or some sort of cushion or pillow to provide extra support. Once your space is set up, position yourself so that your hips are as close to the wall as possible and then begin walking your feet up the wall until your body takes on somewhat of an “L” shape.
Using a bed: This will be fairly similar to using a wall, however, there will not be any need for a mat, as you will have plenty of support and comfort from the bed itself. A pillow under your head may be nice, but again, not necessary. And you can again use a cushion under your hips if it helps. Getting your hips as close to the wall or headboard of the bed as possible, begin to walk your legs up the wall to take on that form of an “L” shape, just as when on the floor. This is a great option just before bed and is a wonderful nightly ritual!
Once in position: Now that you have what you need to feel comfortable and supported and have taken on the position, just really try to relax and focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe slowly in through the nose, allowing the belly to fill, as both it and the ribs expand. Pause for a moment and then slowly and completely exhale all the air from your lungs, allowing the belly to fall back down as the ribs also come back in closer to the body. After the exhalation, pausing once more. Continue on in this way. You may want to place your hands on your belly to feel the rise and fall with each inhale and exhale, or you may be more comfortable with your arms out along your sides. There really is no right or wrong way. If it feels right for you, allow the eyes to close and sink into a deeper sense of relaxation.
Other things to note: Try to stay in this posture for a minimum of five minutes, to really benefit from the effects. However, it is best not to stay in this pose for any longer than 10 minutes. I usually aim for about seven minutes; since blood does drain down from the lower extremities, at some point you will want to exit this posture to allow blood to start flowing to the lower extremities again. If having your legs completely straight up the wall with the hips touching the wall is too intense for you or you do not have that kind of flexibility in your hamstrings, you may scoot away from the wall a bit and find a slight bend in the knees. The best thing to do is just make sure you feel completely comfortable and are able to relax, which will ensure you benefit optimally from this posture!
You may soon discover this is one of your favorite ways to relax!
“Yoga is the dance of every cell with the music of every breath that creates inner serenity and harmony.” -Debasish Mridha
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