Going Upside Down: The Benefits of Legs up the Wall
All day every day, gravity is always pulling everything down towards the feet. All of our blood and lymph is interacting with this natural phenomenon. On earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, holding them in place, and in yoga we can use gravity as a highly therapeutic and beneficial variable in our practice.
Legs up the wall, or vipirta karani in Sanskrit, is a conditioning practice for the circulatory system and the cardiovascular system. It encourages improved circulation throughout the body and triggers a relaxation response from the nervous system so that the body and mind can rest, rejuvenate and restore.
When the legs are over the heart, the abdomen, pelvis, legs and feet are given an opportunity to recover from the action of gravity always pulling everything down towards the earth. If practiced regularly, vipirta karani can improve digestion, lower blood pressure, reduce varicose veins, alleviate stress, anxiety and menstrual cramps.
Try this 25 minute legs at the wall sequence at home before going to bed each night for optimum sleep and recovery from the stresses of modern day life.
1. Begin by sitting with your right hip next to the wall knees bent, feet on the floor. Swing your legs up the wall and lie down onto your back. Do not have the lower back too close to the wall. In fact, bring it about a foot away from the wall so that the knees are encouraged to open. Interlace your hands underneath your head. If the interlace of the fingers is not accessible to you because of restrictions or an injury in the shoulders, then bring the arms straight out to a 'T' with the palms facing up. Turn your head to the right, brining the right ear into the right palm. Close your eyes and remain here for 2-3 minutes then very slowly turn the left ear towards the left palm. Relax again and remain here for another 2-3 minutes. Bring your head back to center and switch the interlock of the fingers.
2. Flex the right foot, brining the right toes towards you. Engage and strengthening your ankle and your quadricep muscle. Feel the back of the leg getting long, the knee starting to open and the achilles tendon stretching. Very slightly, turn the right toes in and to the left and the right heel out to the right, so that you are guiding your femur bone down into your hip socket, stabilizing the entire right leg and encouraging the low back to spread on the earth. Stay very active through the right leg, stay very passive through the left leg and through the chest, shoulders, arms and hands. Keep the right foot very engaged, and start to bring the right foot a few inches away from the wall without compromising the straight knee. Maintain for 1-2 minutes. Relax the right leg, bring it back to rest on the wall, and repeat on the left side.
3. Switch the interlock of the fingers. If it becomes too much on the shoulders, extend the arms straight out to a 'T' position, palms facing up. Begin to point the toes of the right foot, stretching the top of the foot and making a fist with the toes. Use the same action and engagement in the leg and the knee that you did in the previous position. Feel the back of the knee start to open, the quadricep strong and engaged, the toes working to point away and towards the wall. Then begin to bring the right foot a few inches away from the wall, keeping the leg super active and engaged. Maintain for 1-2 minutes. Bring the right foot back to the wall and switch sides.
4. Cross the right leg over the left thigh, so you make a '4' shape with the legs. Begin to bend the left knee so that the left foot comes onto the wall. You should feel opening and sensation in and around the hip joint. If the sensation becomes too much, then walk the left foot slightly up the wall, until you find a place where you are able to tolerate the pressure. If you are very open in your hips and feel little to no sensation at all, then move your low back closer towards the wall, and walk your left foot further down the wall, until you find the sweet spot of sensation. Maintain for 2-3 minutes. Then extend both legs back up the wall, and switch sides. After completing the second side, rest with your legs up at the wall for 1-2 minutes.
5. Slowly release your arms down by your sides. Bend your knees so the feet come onto the wall, and taking your time, roll to one side. Rest here, using your arm for support under your head and slowly push yourself up right. Sit for 5 minutes in silence, with your eyes closed, and notice the effects these postures have on your system.