The Benefits of Legs up the Wall (& how to make it feel better if it isn't your favorite pose)...

If you've ever been to a Restorative Yoga Class or really any gentle (or sometimes even not so gentle) yoga class you may have been asked to come into Legs Up The Wall or Viparita Karani. Many people cheer when the teacher calls this pose because it feels so good and restful! But what are the real benefits of this posture? And what do you do if it isn't your favorite? Read on!

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Inversions are one of the hallmarks of the physical practice of yoga because they are so unique to the discipline. What other movement form asks you to hold yourself upside down for an extended period of time? There are some key benefits to Legs Up the Wall. Here are just a few:

  • Reduction of fluid, swelling and pain in the legs - If you've been flying, have a job that requires a good deal of standing during your day or other health challenges you may find you have pain and swelling from time to time in the legs. The reversal of the effects of gravity on the body in Legs Up the Wall encourages better return circulation and drainage of excess fluids that may have collected in the lower extremities.  
  • Relaxation - As compared with more active inversions such as headstand, Legs Up the Wall greatly encourages the relaxation response in the body. We're more able to breathe fully, deeply and slowly in this well supported position encouraging a sense of well being, taking the nervous system out of "fight or flight" mode and lowering the heart rate. Some study is now being done into how this position may also influence the vagus nerve which is being found to be a key pathway in the body for regulation of all major systems and mind/body connection.
  • Stretches the back body line - If you have tight hamstrings or a generally tight back body line, you aren't alone. This position can help lengthen this area which may generate some relief in low back pain or other spinal issues. The softening of pelvic muscles and the difference in the effect of gravity on the body may also help ease spinal tension experienced during our usual relationship with gravity throughout the day (i.e. being upright).
  • Safe and relatively easy way to experience the benefits of inversions - Headstand isn't for everyone. Legs Up the Wall is a simple way to gain the benefits of an inversion practice without the safety concerns of other more active inversions.

Obviously, these are some great benefits! But what if you're like me (yep, like me) and this isn't your favorite pose? Here are some modifications that might help:

  • Don't have your butt right up at the wall - If you come into this pose and that tight back body line we just talked about is screaming for mercy, try backing away from the wall to relieve the tension. If that isn't enough you may want to place a bolster between you and the wall or even try putting your legs up on a chair instead.
  • Put a blanket or cushion under your low back - If you have low back pain you may find that the weight of the legs moving down into the hip sockets does not feel good on your back or sacrum area. Try padding things up a bit more than you normally would with a blanket or some other cushion to relieve the pressure.
  • Ask your teacher to tie a strap around your lower legs - If you find this pose less than relaxing it may be because your muscles are trying too hard to hold your legs in position. If you have your teacher tie a strap around the lower legs while you're in the pose you may find that the muscles can relax and if the feet start to fall apart from each other the strap will do the work of helping you stay put. A much more relaxing experience!
  • Know when to say when - Not every pose is for every body. As you will often hear us say in class, "Your body, your practice". If you've given it the ole college try and it just isn't working for you, don't be afraid to come out of the pose, especially if there's pain. Your teacher can always give you some other options to work with.

Do you love Legs Up the Wall? Or could you live without it in your practice? Let me know in the comments! 

 

Disclaimer: Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Please consult with your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The information provided in this blog is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.

Nature Meditation(s)

Spring has finally sprung for real here in New Hampshire! Everything is blooming, the trees are getting those tiny little bright green leaves that give us a hint of things to come and everything and everyone is coming back to life. This is one of my favorite seasons and the perfect time to get outside and enjoy all of Mother Nature's beauty. And it's a perfect opportunity to practice meditation. Here's how…

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Permission to Rest!

We're finally drawing to the end of winter weather here in New England and as I watch ya'll come into the studio I can tell it's taken its toll. Everyone seems to have been sick in the last couple of months (myself included!). Energy is low all around, even with the stirrings of spring. What to do to get yourself back in the swing of things so you can head outside and start to enjoy everything the warmer weather and the new season provides?

REST!

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A breathing technique for controlling stress and anxiety

I continue to hear from many of you that controlling stress and anxiety and taking care of yourself are a main focus for 2018. You are not alone! This is one of the wonderful things about marking a new year; we get to rededicate ourselves to something important. 

Here's a simple breathing technique that might help. We tend to think that in order to help ourselves the solutions need to be complicated or involve a complex sequence of steps. The truth is that it can be as simple as conscious breathing. That's not to say that you'll never be stressed out again if you do this technique! As we all know, life happens! But what we can do is make sure our toolbox is full and our practice is steady so we can reach for the right tool in that moment of anxiety.

Here's how it works:

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Lay on your back with one hand or both hands on your low belly just as you see above. Do your best to breathe through your nose, but know if you're a bit congested you can always breathe through the mouth. Close your eyes if comfortable and focus on your breath. As you breathe in, direct the breath down into the hand on your belly and allow your belly to expand so it lifts your hand up to the sky. As you exhale, let it all fall back toward the earth. Continue like this for several breaths. It may take a few tries to get your belly to relax enough to really fill with the breath. Don't get frustrated, just keep going. 

That alone is a wonderful practice and could be complete in itself!

If you'd like to take it a step or two further, try this:
Shift one hand to your rib cage. Now when you inhale, expand the belly just as you've been doing but then continue that expansion into your ribs and the hand that's there. Feel the ribs move out into your hand. On the exhale, reverse the process. Ribs draw in first, then the belly deflates.

Repeat that several times.

If you'd like to go one last step further, shift a hand to your heart center or center of the chest area, just above your breastbone. Now breathe into the belly just as you have, the ribs just as you have and then see if you can find one last little sip of air under your collarbones. Again you'll exhale in reverse, so the chest releases followed by the ribs and then the belly. Do this for several breaths.

When you're finished, let the breath return to normal for several breaths before you roll onto your right side and come up to sit. Take a moment there before moving on.

This is called three part breath and is a wonderful way to help calm mind, body and spirit when life is a bit tense. You can do this in bed before you go to sleep or even when you first wake up in the morning. If you notice you get a bit light headed at first it should pass, but just let the breath work go if it gets uncomfortable and try again at another time. 

When you finish the practice, pause to notice the difference in your body, mind and perhaps even spirit.