What Is Legs Up The Wall Pose (And Should You Try It?)
This relaxing yoga pose will have your body feeling like new in a matter of minutes.
By Leigh Weingus•
Whether you’re a regular yoga practitioner, practice once in a while, or simply follow a few yoga instructors on social media, you’ve probably heard of—or tried—the pose known as Legs Up the Wall.
Typically done toward the end of class—or earlier in a restorative yoga class—Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani in Sanskrit) is one of those poses that almost everyone can do regardless of skill level. Once in the pose, you’ll begin to experience the soothing feeling of your blood traveling out of your feet, a welcome change for anyone who spends most of their life upright.
But what is Legs Up the Wall Pose, exactly, and what are its health benefits? How long should you hold it, and is there anyone who should avoid it completely? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Legs Up the Wall Yoga Pose?
“Legs Up the Wall is a passive inversion in which your upper body rests on the ground while your lower back and pelvis are supported by an oblong folded blanket, blanket stack, or bolster, and your buttocks and legs are resting against the wall,” explains Peloton yoga instructor Anna Greenberg.
Legs Up the Wall has been practiced since the 17th century. Its original purpose (and still one of its main purposes today) is reversing the body's energy flow. Because of gravity, our energy and blood flow typically have a downward trajectory, but when we lie on the floor and let our legs rest against a wall, we’re able to reverse that energy.
There are other inversions in yoga, such as headstands, handstands, and Downward Dog. But Legs Up the Wall is a restorative inversion that can be held for a long time, making it extra beneficial to the body.
“Legs Up the Wall is especially nice after a long day of sitting, standing, or traveling. You can do it anywhere for a refresh if you’re feeling stiff, stale, or stressed,” Anna says. “It’s also a wonderful way to finish a yoga practice—you can even do this position in place of Savasana, as it’s incredibly relaxing and restorative. There is no rule as to how often you should do it either. Do it whenever the mood strikes you.”
What Are the Benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose?
There are a handful of benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose, according to Anna. These include:
1. Reducing Swelling and Fatigue In the Feet
Swollen feet are a common issue, and can often happen after you spend too much time standing. The effect of Legs Up the Wall Pose can be felt almost instantly as the blood begins to drain from your feet. A few minutes in this pose can lead to significantly less swelling.
2. Relieving Tension and Stress
Most of us know from experience that yoga is a calming practice, but to further prove this point, researchers studied the impact of yoga on nurses in Japan. The study found that nurses who practiced restorative yoga (which included Legs Up the Wall) had lower levels of occupational stress after four weeks.
3. Gently Stretching the Lower Back and Hamstrings
Legs Up the Wall is mostly a passive pose, but when you’re in it, you will feel a bit of stretching in your lower back and hamstrings as you work to keep your legs upright.
4. Improving Circulation
Spending time in any kind of inversion, whether it’s a handstand or Legs Up the Wall, is great for circulation because it puts your feet and legs above your heart, improving blood flow.
5. Aiding with Digestion
Because Legs Up the Wall relieves stress and improves circulation, it may also help with bloat and any other digestive issues you might be dealing with. After all, the gut and the brain are known to have a strong connection.
6. Relieving PMS Symptoms
If you struggle with sleep around your period or at any point in your cycle, Legs Up the Wall can help. One study found that keeping up a regular yoga practice (and this practice included Legs Up the Wall) reduced sleep disturbances in people who suffered from PMS.
“This pose truly is a wonderful and restorative posture that benefits your whole body and being,” Anna says.
Legs Up the Wall Pose: How to Do It
Here’s a step-by-step guide to doing Legs Up the Wall Pose safely and correctly.
1. Place Your Chosen Support a Few Inches Away From the Wall
This can be a blanket, a blanket stack, or a bolster. Technically you don’t need any props at all, but to make this pose as restorative as possible, most people prefer to use one.
2. Sit Between the Edge of the Prop and the Wall
Your goal is to get one side of your body as close to the wall as possible, so sitting on the edge of your prop (rather than sitting on top of it) can be helpful.
3. Scrunch As Close to the Wall As Possible
Press the side of your body against the wall. Make sure your knees are bent and your feet drawn in toward your hips to help you wiggle closer.
4. Swing Your Legs Up the Wall As You Turn to Lie On Your Back
“I think of this like a side saddle mount to the wall,” Anna says. Once you’re up, you’ll be centered on the prop with your legs and seat against the wall. “The blanket support should trap you perfectly so you are almost suctioned against the wall, which should feel very supportive,” Anna adds.
5. If the Positioning is Off, Modify It
If your body is still slightly off the wall once you’re in position, you can bend your knees, place your feet on the wall, lift your pelvis up, and scoot your tailbone closer so that you’re snug between your support and the wall.
“This pose is also known as ‘Bottom of the Lake Pose, because the way the support of the wall catches you should create a soft, relaxing, pooling feeling in your groin and belly as the blood flow reverses,” Anna says. “You should be able to breathe deeply and completely relax here.”
Don’t have a prop? Don’t let that stop you from trying Legs Up the Wall. “It will be slightly less supportive without a prop, but still wonderful,” Anna says. “You can even do Legs Up the Wall without a wall by simply putting a blanket or block under your sacrum and lifting your legs up.” Just remember: “With all of these variations, make sure to keep your ankles and knees relaxed, so that even though your legs are technically lifting, the direction of energy feels more like your legs are setting down into your hips.”
How Long Should You Hold Legs Up the Wall Pose?
You can hold Legs Up the Wall for anywhere from two to 20 minutes, according to Anna. “It’s safe to stay in this shape for as long as you’d like,” she says. “If you feel pins and needles or a tingly sensation in your legs and feet, you can simply reset by bending your knees in towards your chest and re-extending your legs when you’re ready.”
Legs Up the Wall should never feel uncomfortable, she notes. So if the way you’ve been doing it feels a little off, she suggests trying a different version or modification of the pose. “To accommodate tighter hamstrings, you can bend your knees or scoot yourself further away from the wall so your legs are at an angle instead of flush to the wall,” she says. “You can also do the pose with no support under the sacrum by placing any type of support underneath your sacrum that feels good, such as folded blankets, a bolster, or a block.”
You can also rest your legs on a chair, which Anna says is even more supportive for the lower back if there’s tension. If your legs tend to flop out to the sides, you can place a strap loop that’s hips-distance wide around your outer feet or shins to keep them aligned. Or a sandbag on the feet can feel very grounding and relaxing to help ground your femur bones into your hip sockets.
As with any yoga pose, Anna cautions that it’s important to listen to your body, “If it feels like it’s time to exit the shape, exit the shape. If you are craving a longer hold, stay as long as you’d like.”
Who Shouldn’t Do Legs Up the Wall Pose?
People who are more than 20 weeks pregnant or have glaucoma or hypertension should take extra precautions when doing Legs Up the Wall or avoid it all together.
“If you’re more than 20 weeks pregnant, you’ll need to modify Legs Up the Wall by elevating your torso on an angle so you are not laying flat on your back,” Anna says. “You don’t want to lie flat on your back for an extended period of time from that point onward due to pressure on the vena cava [a vein that carries blood to the heart]. There are also pregnancy-safe restorative postures that offer similar benefits such as Single Leg Drain.”
If you have glaucoma or hypertension (also known as high blood pressure), you may still be able to do Legs Up the Wall—but you should check with your doctor first. “This is due to increased pressure from being in an inverted shape for an extended period of time,” Anna says.
Legs Up the Wall is one of the most restorative, relaxing yoga poses you can do. It can calm your nervous system, decrease stress, and help your body feel refreshed. It comes with so many benefits and is so easy to do; you can literally do this pose anytime, anywhere, even if you don’t have a wall. Why not give it a try?