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Master Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose for Better Recovery

A deeper look at the classic recovery pose.

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After a long day at work or an even longer run, putting your legs up the wall is a tried and true way to refresh tired legs and calm your mind.

Although “wall” is in the name, you can practice this pose, known in yoga as Viparita Karani, anywhere that you can prop up your legs. Most modern yoga teachers agree that legs-up-the-wall can ease a range of ailments, including anxiety, headaches, and insomnia. It’s a perfect pose to help you unwind before going to bed, and elevating your legs above your heart can help with the circulation of lymph and fluid (the jury’s still out on if it helps with blood or lactate circulation).

Experimenting with props in Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose can be delicious, says Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga Center. “Once you are in the pose, you may want to bend your knees, keeping your feet flexed. Place a block or sandbag on the soles of your feet, and then carefully straighten your legs. If it’s hard to reach your feet, ask a friend for help. Next, place a folded blanket under each arm and rest your hands on your belly. This will let you feel as though you are floating, yet supported. Finally, place an eye pillow over your eyes.”

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose basics

Sanskrit: Viparita Karani (vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee)

Pose type: Inversion

Targets: Full body

Why we love it: “Legs-Up-the-Wall was the only thing that would help me sleep when I first moved to Manhattan. Everything in the city, at the office, and in my life felt a lot more intense than I liked. For months I simply couldn’t quiet down at night. And then I tried yoga,” says Renee Marie Schettler, Yoga Journal‘s senior editor. “My first restorative teacher, a lovely woman with a kind soul and German accent, taught me how to hold myself in the posture. Or rather, she taught me how to let the pose hold me by taking me through all the areas I didn’t need to hold tension but instinctively did—my legs, my hips, my abs, my shoulders, my neck, my forehead, my hands. Though I feel as graceful as a baby giraffe coming into it, I quickly learned how to find a version of the pose that worked for me. And because I would almost fall asleep each week in her Friday night class, I figured that may translate to a home practice. There are teachers who resent when students actually fall into sleep during class. I consider it a hallmark of a restorative posture doing its work.”

Pose benefits

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose is calming and relaxing. It improves circulation and can help reduce swelling lower extremities by redirecting lymph and other fluids from your ankles, knees, and pelvic organs to your upper body and head. It activates the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates the stress response (sympathetic nervous system).

Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose: Step-by-step instructions

  1. Sit on the floor facing a wall. Lower your shoulders and head to the floor, lying on your side. Then roll onto your back and stretch your legs up the wall, with your feet hip-distance apart or whatever distance feels comfortable.
  2. Adjust your position by scooting your tailbone toward the wall. It doesn’t need to touch the wall.
  3. Find a comfortable position for your arms at your side, with palms turned up; relax your arms and shoulders. Relax your legs against the wall. Release all effort. You might feel your femurs sink into your hip sockets. Feel the spine lengthening. Settle into the pose and breathe for at least 10 minutes.
  4. To come out of the pose, bend your knees and roll to your side. Remain here for a few breaths before using the strength of your arms to slowly push yourself back up to seated.

Beginners’ tip

If your legs feel like they are splaying apart, loop a strap around your shins or thighs (see variation below) to secure them hip-distance apart.

Variation: Legs-up-the-Wall Pose with a strap

Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Try putting a looped strap around your thighs so you can relax your leg muscles fully.