Legs-up-the-Wall | Yoga Pose

Legs Up the Wall Yoga Pose

Viparita karani (vip-par-EE-tah car-AHN-ee), or legs-up-the-wall pose, is a restorative inversion that can ease the mind and relieve painful symptoms such as tension and cramps. Many people enjoy this pose using props — you may want to have a pillow, bolster, or folded blanket nearby.

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ADJUSTMENTS/MODIFICATIONS:

  • This pose may be enjoyed using props like a pillow, bolster, or folded blanket under your hips.
  • To stretch your inner thighs and groin muscles, let your feet fall out to the sides so your legs make a wide “V” shape.
  • If you neck is sore, place a rolled up blanket under your neck or a pillow under your head.

CONTRAINDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS:

Although this is a mild, restorative posture, it is still considered an inversion. While many teachers recommend legs-up-the-wall pose as a therapeutic posture, please check with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Glaucoma
  • High Blood Pressure

TIPS:

Use a blanket or pillow under your hips to release any tension in the lower back.

Place a blanket on the soles of your feet for a grounded sensation.

No wall? Place a block or blanket under your hips and stretch your legs up to the sky, finding a place where your legs feel almost weightless.

STEP BY STEP:

  1. Find an open wall space. Start seated beside the wall, with shoulder and hip touching the wall. On an exhale, gently lie down on your back and pivot yourself so that the backs of your legs press against the wall and the bottoms of your feet face upward. You may need to wiggle around to find your way into this position.
  2. With your sitting bones pressed up against the wall, or slightly away from the wall, rest your back and head on the floor; this will form an approximate 90-degree angle with your body.
  3. If you find this position uncomfortable in any way, or just wish for extra cushion, you can use your prop here. By pressing the bottoms of your feet into the wall, lift your hips slightly, and slide your prop underneath your hips.
  4. Let the back of your head feel heavy with your neck in a neutral position. Soften your face and your throat. Let your hands rest face-down on your belly or face-up along the sides of your torso. Close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose.
  5. Stay here for anywhere from five to 15 minutes. To come out of the position, push the bottoms of your feet into the wall and lift your hips slightly. Remove your props. Gently roll to one side for a few breaths before returning to your seat.

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PREPARATORY POSES:

Viparita Karani is usually a restorative pose, performed near the end of a practice, but it can easily be practiced as a pose by itself. Preparations include:

  • Bridge pose | Setu bandha sarvangasana
  • Standing forward fold | Uttanasana

FOLLOW-UP POSES:

  • Savasana

SANSKRIT:

  • Viparita: reversed/inverted
  • Karani: doing/action
  • Asana: pose

 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Offers relief from symptoms of arthritis, headaches, high/low blood pressure, and insomnia.
  • Eases symptoms of PMS and menopause.
  • Relieves tired, cramped feet and legs.
  • Gently stretches the hamstrings, legs and lower back.
  • Relieves lower back pain.

ENERGETIC BENEFITS:

  • Calms the mind.
  • Eases anxiety and stress.

MANTRA:

“RA MA DA SA SA SAY SO HUNG”

A well-known mantra used to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself, this mantra connects us with the healing abilities of the earth and universe at large. Reciting this mantra can help strengthen the immune system while calming the nervous system, easing you into a calm state of healing. It also represents the strengthening and healing of the mind and emotions.

MUDRA: SURYA MUDRA

Surya mudra (gesture of the sun) represents life, rejuvenation, and health. Bend the ring finger to the palm and place the thumb on top of the ring finger.

Benefits:

  • Helps the digestive organs and relieves indigestion.
  • Holistically boosts metabolism.
  • Gives revitalized energy and strength to the nervous system.
  • Sharpens the center within the thyroid gland.
  • Relieves symptoms of anxiety.

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Yin Yoga Poses

article migration image yin yoga poses jpg

This article is an exploration of 10 Yin yoga poses. Yin is a style that is practiced by holding poses for a long time in a relaxed state. Yin stands in contrast to other contemporary styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa or Hatha, which generally move the practitioner from pose to pose quickly. Yin yoga ‘asana’, the Sanskrit word for poses, are practiced by following the three principles that Bernie Clark explains in Yin Yoga with Bernie Clark.

Three Principles of Yin Yoga

  • Principal 1: Play with your edge
  • Principal 2: Stillness
  • Principal 3: Hold for Time

Play With Your Edge

Yin is a lunar practice, which tends to be healing and cooling. Unlike solar practices such as sun salutations, yin does not call for heating postures, breathing styles, or sequencing. Therefore the muscles are typically not warm throughout a Yin practice. Entering into poses with cool muscles requires special attention to the first edge.

The first edge is found by gently getting into the shape of a pose and noticing where the body naturally wants to stop. Yielding the natural limitations of the body prevents injury. There should be no pain at the first or any other edge, yet there may be some discomfort. Discomfort without radiating pain is a sign that the connective tissue around the joints is stretching. Reasonable discomfort is a gateway to more flexibility and greater range of motion. Props can add additional comfort and accessibility to yin yoga poses.

You may experience strong physical sensations during a Yin practice such as heat or discomfort. Finding the first edge is a method of exploring the strong sensations and sitting with them. When yoga asana is briefly mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, they are prescribed to be Sthira sukham asanam, or done with steadiness and ease. Steadiness points to the second principal, stillness, which is explored later in the article.

About 30-60 seconds into a pose, or if and when the body shows signs of being able to go deeper, it is safe to move to the second edge (or third or forth). It is important that the body, not the ego, give the signal to deepen. This humble practice never asks the yogi to prove or force anything. There is no need to try to “achieve” or to look a certain way. Gentleness, acceptance and honesty are critical in a yin practice. If the body starts to tighten, it’s a sign to slowly come out of the pose.

Stillness

Classical yoga was practiced as a means to still the mind for meditation. Sitting still in yin yoga poses lets the contemporary yogi dip their toes into the waters of deep meditation. One exception to stillness is when the body opens to a new edge. With the awareness that the body is ready to deepen, Yin yogis consciously move deeper and return again to stillness and breath. Another exception to stillness is the awareness of pain. In response to pain, it’s time to come out of the pose slowly.

Hold for Time

The third principal is to hold the poses for time. Poses can last anywhere from one minute to longer than 15 and in general are done for 5-10 minutes. Using a timer tells you how long you are staying still, which can be a way to gauge stillness from practice to practice. A timer can also ensure that both sides of the body get the same amount of time, which results in feeling delightfully balanced. The breath can continue to deepen the longer a pose is held. The lungs can expand seemingly forever. Counting breath is an interesting way to observe the expansive nature of the breath, which becomes possible during long holds. Profound experiences become accessible only when conscious and deepening pranayama is practiced.

Breathing expansively while remaining still presents the practitioner with what is rarely otherwise observed: the quiet inner dance of consciousness, an inner world so rich and mysterious, it is invisible most of the time. Holding (still) for time never seemed so tempting.

What Do You Need to Practice Yin Yoga?

  • Yoga mat or as an alternative, a thick blanket or carpet.
  • Yoga blankets and bolsters or as an alternative, towels and pillows nearby
  • Blocks or (or books if you have none)

Optional items

  • Sand timer
  • Soft music
  • Candles

10 Yin Yoga Poses

1. Chest and Shoulder Expansion

Sit cross-legged, your right side adjacent to the wall, reach your right hand back so the palm is flat against the wall at about shoulder height. Scoot your right hip in closer to the wall if you feel you can safely tolerate more stretch. Once the shoulder feels settled, bend the arm so you have the palm directly above the elbow at the height of your gaze. Sit and breathe for several moments. If you feel you can safely deepen, allow the left hand to come beside and slightly behind your left hip and press fingertips into the floor. Lift and open your chest. Slowly drop the left shoulder down and perhaps the chin and gaze point follow. Stay for 1-5 minutes breathing gently.

 

2. Lower Back Pose

Sit on a cushion if you have tight hamstrings or flat on the mat for more open hamstrings. Let the legs extend and relax so that the feet flop out gently to their respective sides. Knees can be slightly bent. Pressing the fingertips downward into the ground beside the hips, lengthen the heart higher in contrast. Then tuck the chin into the chest. Let the upturned palms fall to the outside of the thighs near the knees. Allow the upper spine to round. For your second edge, the hands may move down the legs closer to the ankles. Remember not to strive or do too much. Stay and breathe 1-5 minutes.

 

3. West-Facing Pose

This pose just like the lower back pose, sitting up legs relaxed and extended. Place one bolster over your thighs. Lift though the chest as you inhale and as you exhale fold forward and down, hinging from the hips so as to keep length in the low back. If you are not able to lay upon the cushion, add more props until you can easily lay your chest and face on them. Find your first edge. At this time you may determine to remove or reduce the props so that you can go deeper. Stay in the pose for 1-5 minutes. Note, this pose is called “west-facing” because it is cooling, like the setting sun, which sets in the west.

 

4. Wide Leg Child Pose

On your mat, add cushion beneath the knees using a blanket or towel. Bring the knees as wide or wider than the mat and big toes to touch or towards one another. Press your hips back toward the heels and walk your hands forward as you fold from the hips. Imagine a gentle anchor keeps the hips downward and the low back spreading wide. From there, stretch the arms, chest and head forward and down. If the head cannot touch the floor, put a block or folded blanket beneath it so it can rest. You may prefer to rest upon the forehead or to turn the head to one side and then the other. Let your arms and hands relax into the floor. Notice your edge and deepen if and when it feels right. Come out if the knees start to bother you, moving slowly. Practice for 1-5 minutes.

 

5. Wide Leg Child Pose, Thread the Needle Variation

From wide leg child pose, slightly raise the head and walk the right hand back. Thread the right hand under the left until the right shoulder is on the ground and put the right temple on the floor. Repeat on the left side. Practice 1-5 minutes on each side.

 

6. Lizard

Come to your hands and knees with a folded blanket under the knees for padding. Bring your right foot forward so it is just to the right on the right hand, make sure your shoulders are over the wrists. The right knee stacks over the right ankle so your shin may feel as though it is moving forward in space. If the right knee pops out to the right, redirect it over the ankle, pressing down into the right foot and imagine pressing the shin forward.

If needed, bring your hands up on blocks, lift through the chest, curl the left toes under and squeeze the left leg so the thigh lifts off the ground. This will cause the thigh to rotate internally, which means the alignment is now safe for deepening. Now , bringing the left knee down onto the blanket and then flatten the top of left foot into the mat. You may stay like that or bring your elbows onto the blocks to deepen. You may end up with no blocks, elbows on the mat beneath the shoulders or you may end up staying high on blocks. Honor where the body needs to go and remain for 1-5 minutes before repeating on the other side.

7. Pigeon

Place a flat bolster horizontally across the mat or a folded blanket about halfway down the length of the mat. Place both knees on the bolster. Bring the right knee forward of the cushion in front of the right hip and the foot toward on left side of the mat. Place the palms on blocks beneath the shoulders and bring the left leg back so that the thigh and top of left foot are pressing into or towards the floor. Let the pelvis be supported by the cushion. You may stay upright, opening the chest, or choose to ease yourself down, perhaps deepening to the point where your head rests on blocks or on the floor. Remain in the pose 1-5 minutes and repeat on the other side.

8. Supported Reclined Butterfly

The use of props to recline makes this supportive and relaxing. To do so, place a block the tall way and another the short way so they make an L. Lay a bolster or supportive cushion over the blocks so that it a slanted toward the floor. Place yourself with your back against the lower part of the cushion with the souls of your feet touching. To keep the feet together and to allow the hips to relax, use a strap or a long rolled blanket to wrap the feet.

9. Supported Gentle Fish

Place a block at medium height near the top of the mat. Sit so the block is behind you with the legs extended and relaxed. Lay your back over the blocks so they land between your shoulder blades boosted your heart up. Let your head relax back onto a block, making sure the neck is supported. Allow the arms to pour open and drip into the floor on either side. Breathe into the heart and let the body seep down onto the props. As your edge moves, notice the chest may boost higher. Remain 1-5 minutes.

10. Corpse Pose/ Savasana

Lay on the mat on your back. Let the arms and legs relax. Arms by your sides, feet slightly flop out. If your lower back is uncomfortable place blocks or a cushion under the knees. Stay as long as you wish. Let go of doing and drop into being.

Photos courtesy of author Lara Hocheiser and featuring Blair Smalls.

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