The benefits of Legs up the wall pose

The benefits of Legs up the wall pose

Posted on Jan 24, 2023

The benefits of Legs up the wall pose

It's hard to believe that propping your legs up against a wall while you sleep will have any positive effect on your health, mental or otherwise. Yogis have known for millennia that sometimes the simplest poses have the biggest impacts. This ancient posture has many benefits, especially in today's stressful and hectic world, including lowering blood pressure, improving immunity, providing a welcome break, and increasing longevity. Here's a complete guide to doing Viparita Karani so you can reap its many rewards. 

The name Viparita Karani, which appears in yogic texts as far back as the 17th century, provides insight into the purpose of the posture. The term "legs up the wall pose," from the Sanskrit viparita, meaning "inverted," and the Sanskrit karani, meaning "in action," conveys the idea that this common posture is meant to invert and rebalance fluids, blood flow, and energy. Viparita Karani is a mudra as well as a yoga posture, so it does more than just help reverse the flow of fluids; it also helps reverse the flow of prana, or "life force energy." 

Viparita Karani is a mudra (a symbol or gesture used to direct and enhance energy in the subtle body) aimed at preserving a strong and healthy life force (or subtle energy) for as long as possible. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other yogic texts, Viparita Karani helps restore harmony to the body by rebalancing the flow of energy in the body's nadis (energy channels) and chakras (concentrated "wheels" of energy located along the spine). 

“Grey hairs and wrinkles become unnoticeable after six months of regular exercise. A person who does it for three hours a day will be able to defeat death.” - Hatha Yoga Sutras 

While we can't guarantee that this posture will keep you young forever or keep your hair from turning grey, it may help reduce oxidative stress, which in turn may help reduce inflammation and, who knows, maybe even slow down the ageing process a little bit. 


Here are three advantages of the legs-up-the-wall posture: 


1. Promotes healthy lymphatic and glymphatic function and enhanced immunity 

Viparita Karani, like other inversions, is thought to benefit the brain and upper body by increasing circulation and oxygen delivery to these areas. It also encourages the lymphatic system to move more freely. Inverted postures like these are crucial for sending fluid to the nodes on the neck, armpits, stomach, and groyne, where it can filter and break down bacteria and other potentially harmful cells. Unlike the circulatory system, which uses a "pump" to move blood, the lymphatic system uses gravity and motion to move lymph. 

Resting with one's legs elevated has the additional, underappreciated benefit of stimulating the glymphatic system. This system is responsible for'sweeping away' the bacteria that the lymphatic system has filtered, making it an important second step in the process of getting rid of harmful pathogens in the body. What's the secret to making it all function that much better? Relax. When the body is at rest, the nervous system and the immune system are able to function at their peak. 


2. It promotes the parasympathetic nervous system's "rest and digest" mode

When you lie on your back, your breathing naturally slows, which sends a message to your vagus nerve that it's okay to begin relaxing. The vagus nerve is a sizable nerve that travels all the way from the brain to the digestive system via the neck, chest, and diaphragm. As the body goes about its business, this nerve is constantly gathering information to relay to the brain, where it can have an effect on how we feel. 

Is your heart racing and your breath coming in short bursts? When the vagus nerve picks up on stress, it sends a "stress!" message to the brain, which then prompts the body to release cortisol. Leaning against the wall with your legs propped up? Once the nerve detects that you're feeling relaxed, it relays that information to the brain, instructing the body to switch from its "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system state to its "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system state. 


3. It reduces swelling in the feet and ankles as well as pain in the muscles. 

As a result of being in constant motion or sitting for long periods of time, the joints and spinal column can become compressed and drained of fluid, resulting in an increase in aches and pains. Practicing Viparita Karani, even for just a few minutes, can alleviate the weight and fatigue in your feet, legs, and hips, and ease the strain on your lower back. This position can be helpful for alleviating the pain and swelling associated with swollen ankles and feet. 


Who should practice this?

Although most people can benefit from the gentle and safe Viparita Karani posture, there are times when it's best to avoid it or use a variant in which you're not lying completely flat on your back. Pregnancy, glaucoma, and uncontrolled hypertension all fall into this category. In the event that you are unable to assume this position, a restorative and supported Savasana, wherein the body is propped up with cushions and blankets, is an excellent alternative. Small elevations, like those provided by a cushion or yoga blocks, can have a significant impact on stimulating the glymphatic system. 


Instructions for the Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose 

I highly recommend incorporating Viparita Karani into your day if you have even a 5- or 10-minute break at work. Taking a break to practise this posture is a great way to reset your mental gears and refocus your energy, just as the physical and energetic benefits of the pose would suggest. While regular morning practise is recommended by the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, evening practise can be just as beneficial for relieving stress and calming the mind. 

One way to get started is to lean a yoga mat against a wall with its shorter edge touching the surface of the wall. 

Put in anywhere from five to twenty minutes of your time (start with just a couple of minutes if you have never practised before). 

You can stretch your legs up the wall by sitting on the mat with your side against the wall and then rolling over to lie down. 

You can adjust your distance from the wall to ensure your legs have enough room to stretch out comfortably. 

Relax and concentrate on your breathing, bringing your attention up from your feet on the inhale and down to them on the exhale. 

If you find yourself stuck in this position, try rolling to one side and hugging your knees into your chest. 

Once you've had a moment to reflect, move into Child's pose and then slowly return to a seated position.