If you've ever been to a yoga class, then there's a chance the instructor asked you to put your legs up against the wall. While it might feel a little silly at first, there's something relaxing about this restorative yoga pose — you can close your eyes and just let the wall support the weight of your legs. I've been a yoga instructor for more than 20 years, and I often suggest Legs Up the Wall to my students as an alternative to Savasana. (You can also use Legs Up the Wall to meditate, as long as it feels relaxing to you.)
Legs Up the Wall doesn't just offer stillness and calm — it also has quite a lot of health benefits. Keep reading to learn more about this position and how to make the most of it.
Legs Up the Wall Benefits
Known in Sanskrit as Viparita Karani, which translates to "inverted in action," Legs Up the Wall flips your body from its normal positioning. In yoga, moving your body in a way that's different from its typical patterns is thought to benefit the mind and body. Legs Up the Wall is a type of inversion (i.e., your body is inverted from its usual upright position) and offers a way to get the benefits of yoga inversions without having to do a more difficult pose, such as a headstand or a handstand.
As for health benefits, Legs Up the Wall pose offers these physical and mental perks:
- Eases pain and muscle fatigue: Our feet, legs, and spine are all weight-bearing structures that work to hold us up, Meredith Witte, MS, exercise physiologist and yoga instructor, says. When we de-load these structures (such as by lying down or putting our legs up the wall), the corresponding muscles can rest, "reducing fatigue and potentially the pain associated with overloading or overworking our tissues," she says.
- Reduces inflammation in the feet, ankles, and legs: Gravity can cause blood and other fluids to pool in the legs, ankles, and feet, Witte says. You can defy this pull by elevating your legs in Legs Up the Wall pose. "This allows for gravity to pull any built-up fluid from your legs down toward your pelvis and torso," she says, making this pose good for workout recovery.
- Increases flexibility in the backs of the legs: The wall passively flexes your thighs and knees, lengthening your hamstrings into a stretched position, Witte says.
- Reduces stress: When you're experiencing stress, the nervous system's fight-or-flight response causes the body to secrete stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, Witte says. Exercise, meditation, and any restorative posture — including Legs Up the Wall — can relieve stress. This particular pose allows your muscles to completely relax and your breath to regulate, giving your nervous system an opportunity to slow down. This helps reduce the levels of stress hormones, leaving you with a sense of calmness.
- Relieves headaches: Studies have found that yoga can relieve tension-type headaches and maybe even migraines, Witte says. That's because stress is often a trigger, and, as mentioned above, this pose can help relieve stress.
- Alleviates menstrual cramps: Studies have shown that yoga can significantly reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the physiological reasons, but a common hypothesis is that yoga increases blood flow to the pelvic area without causing too much stress (as rigorous exercise might), Witte says. Although some yoga traditions advise against doing this pose or any inversion during menstruation, since it goes against the normal flow of menstrual fluid, it's not harmful to your body in any way.
- Refreshes legs after you sit or stand for long periods: When you stand up after doing this pose, your legs will feel refreshed. "Extended time in Legs Up the Wall removes the downward force of gravity, allowing the muscles of your lower body to rest and for any excess fluid to drain," Witte says.
- Helps you fall asleep: Witte says that if your body feels comfortable and relaxed, the parasympathetic "rest and digest" side of your nervous system will start to take over, allowing you to feel calm and ready for rest. Try this yoga sequence for sleep that includes Legs Up the Wall pose.
Can Doing Legs Up the Wall After Sex Help You Conceive?
We can't talk about Legs Up the Wall without addressing this! There's a myth that after having sex, raising your legs and hips can help prevent semen from coming out, giving sperm a better chance of swimming to the egg. However, there's no scientific evidence that doing this pose will help you get pregnant, obstetrician and gynecologist Jennie Lowell, MD, says. Gravity doesn't affect sperms' progress toward the egg, so there's no need to put your legs up against the wall after sex. (The best thing you can do to get pregnant is to have sex a few days before or on the day you're ovulating.)
Tips For Doing Legs Up the Wall Pose
You can do this pose anywhere that has a wall — you can even lie on your bed. To get into the pose, sit with one of your hips as close to the wall as possible. Swing your legs up to the wall as you lower your torso down to the floor. Use your shoulders to shimmy your butt all the way up to the wall. There are different variations of Leg Up the Wall, such as separating your legs into a wide straddle or bending your knees and bringing the soles of the feet to touch in a butterfly position. You can also prop your hips up on a folded blanket, pillow, or yoga bolster or place a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your head or neck.
If your lower back or the backs of your legs are very tight, this pose may be too uncomfortable to feel relaxing. If you aren't able to do this pose with straight legs against a wall but still want to reap the benefits, prop your lower legs up on something like a chair, couch, step, or stacked pile of blankets or pillows, so your knees are bent but your legs are still supported.
Whichever variation of Legs Up the Wall you choose, close your eyes and rest your arms out in T-position, on your heart, or on your belly — anywhere that allows you to completely melt into the floor. Focus on feeling your ribs expand and contract with each complete breath. Stay there for as long as you want, settling into this pose for several minutes or up to 20 if it feels good to you.