Want to learn more about Legs Up the Wall Pose, aka Viparita Karani? In this post, I share the benefits of Legs Up the Wall plus a complete yoga pose breakdown, contraindications, modifications and more.
I love Legs Up the Wall Pose! It’s super-accessible (most people can find a variation that works for them) and it is a great restorative and rejuvenating pose. Because your back is supported by the ground and your legs are supported by the wall, you can fully relax in this pose. This encourages deep and steady breathing, which helps calm your nervous system.
This pose can make a good substitute for Savasana, especially for beginners who find it difficult to relax. But it’s also a great substitute for anyone, no matter where they are in their yoga journey. Legs Up the Wall Pose provides many of the benefits of Savasana, plus a few more of its own.
- Viparita Karani Quick Facts
- Legs Up the Wall Benefits
- Precautions & Contraindications
- Misconceptions & Myths About Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Viparita Karani Pose Breakdown
- Modifications & Variations
- Yoga Poses Related to Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Related Posts & Videos
- Gear & Resources for This Pose
- A Final Note About Viparita Karani
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Viparita Karani Quick Facts
|English||Legs Up the Wall Pose|
|Meaning||Viparīta mean reversed or inverted.|
Karani means doing, making, or a particular type of practice.
While Viparita Karani is often used to refer specifically to Legs Up the Wall Pose, it actually refers to any practice where you are upside-down. In this post, when I talk about Viparita Karani, however, I am referring to Legs Up the Wall Pose, unless otherwise noted.
Legs Up the Wall Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Viparita Karani include:
- Allows your muscles to relax.
- Can help calm the nervous system, which may help relieve anxiety.
- May help relieve fatigue.
- The position allows many to relax deeply, which releases tension and stress.
- A great passive pose to help lengthen your hamstrings.
- Passive chest opener.
- Relieves tired legs and feet (after a run, flight, long walk/hike, bike ride, etc.).
- Stretches glutes, hamstrings, and, if legs are apart, hip adductors.
Sciatic Nerve — The wall supports your legs, which helps your legs to relax. This makes Viparita Karani a good to practice if you have tired legs and it also helps to remove strain due to sciatica. See Modifications section below for more.
Relaxes Lower Back — Because your lower back is fully supported in Viparita Karani, your lower back and abdomen can relax.
Relaxes Neck and Shoulders — Because there is no pressure on the shoulders or the neck in Legs Up the Wall, you can focus on relaxing your neck and shoulders and finding length for your spine.
Relieves Menstrual Cramps — The pose is known to help relieve menstrual or premenstrual cramps.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people! If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- If you have back pain, be cautious placing a cushion or bolster (or other prop) under your lower back. Don’t prop yourself up so high that it causes excessive arching or pain.
- If you have a hiatus hernia, issues with eye pressure or retinal problems, heart problems, or neck problems, approach the pose with caution.
- Do not practice if it creates unwanted pressure in your head.
- It is widely recommended to not practice this pose after the third month of pregnancy or if you are at risk for miscarriage. This is because when you are pregnant and lie on your back there is pressure on the vena cava, the vein that carries blood to your heart. However, according to Cleveland Clinic, lying on your back for “short periods of time ― even if you were on your back for an hour or two ― probably does no harm to your child.”
As always, do what feels good and don’t do what doesn’t. Listen to your body and please discuss any concerns you have with your health care professional.
Misconceptions & Myths About Legs Up the Wall Pose
More Than Legs Up the Wall
Although Viparita Karani is most commonly used to describe the asana also known as Legs Up the Wall Pose in English, it can actually refer to any inversion.
When discussing the historical meaning of Viparita Karani at Estes Park, Colorado in 2005, Mr. Iyengar said:
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that all inversions are Viparita Karani. Even Sirsasana is considered Viparita Karani. But one sentence says when the buttocks are slightly down below the trunk, [this] is Viparita Karani. Some say half way between Halasana and Sarvangasana is Viparita Karani. [Others say] it is not Viparita Karani at all. No one knows what Viparita Karani is.”
So, all inversions, including Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), Sirsasana (Headstand), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) can be considered Viparita Karani poses. When you read about the historical benefits of the pose, they are generally referring to all inversions done for an extended period.
Viparita Karani – A Full Body Mudra
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other Hatha texts, Viparita Karani is listed as a mudra used to direct the Kundalini upwards within the body.
It doesn’t mean a hand gesture mudra like many of us are familiar with, but rather, it is your whole pose that is the mudra, or seal, for your energy. Being inverted is said to take advantage of gravity to help draw your energy down into your heart and mind.
Is Legs Up the Wall Meditation?
Often this is practiced as a restful pose, with students using the wall, blankets, straps, or chairs in many combinations so they can be inverted, with minimal effort, for an extended period of time.
Mr. Iyengar has referred to a deep Viparita Karani practice as “natural dhyana”. Dhyana is the seventh of the Eight Limbs and is often translated as “meditation”.
Will Practicing Legs Up the Wall Make You Immortal?
Going upside-down, or practicing a Viparita Karani pose, is mentioned in the 13th Century text, Vivekamartanda, which describes the practice of Viparita Karani as a means to yogic withdrawal, or Pratyahara (the fifth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga).
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika goes further, and in Chapter 3, Verses 81–82, it says that practicing Viparita Karani daily conquers death.
Mr. Iyengar, again in 2005 in Colorado, said:
In those days they were saying statements like that. Can I conquer my own death? The Hatha Yoga Pradipika also says that Mayurasana allows you to digest poison. [Don’t] drink poison and do Mayurasana to see if it works. This is poetic language.
You have to allow it a certain margin. You have to understand the inner meaning, not the surface meaning. Conquering death means that you will be free of diseases so that your life is prolonged. Death is delayed, so you have conquered death. That is the effect of this asana.”
Viparita Karani Pose Breakdown
How to do Legs Up the Wall Pose / Viparita Karani
- Set up your mat so the short edge is touching a wall.
- If you are using them, please gather your props. See the Modifications section for suggested options. The most common prop use is to place a folded blanket, or yoga bolster, under your lower back.
- Lie down on your side with butt and legs touching the wall, where the floor and wall meet.
- Turn onto your back and, as you do, bring your legs up the wall.
- You can have your legs in a V-shape, or bring your legs together. Work to keep your legs straight and connected to the wall. Note: If you have weak or tight hamstrings it will likely not be possible for you to have straight legs AND have your legs fully touching the wall. See Modifications below.
- If it is possible to have your buttocks touch the wall, do so. Place your hands on the ground overhead like you are setting up to press up in Urdhva Dhanurasana and push away from the wall to help shift your buttocks towards the wall more. Remember, you may not be able to bring your butt all the way to the wall — and that’s absolutely fine.
- Place your arms on the side of your body, or hold your elbows overhead, so you can rest your arms on the ground.
- If your arms are at your sides, tuck your shoulder blades towards each other slightly and broaden your collarbones.
- Close your eyes and allow your entire body to relax. This pose is a restorative pose and your only work here is to be inactive and allow your body to settle.
- Focus on your breath to help relax and stay in the pose for 5–15 minutes to get the most benefit.
- This is Legs Up The Wall Pose, or Viparita Karani.
- To come out, bend your knees to your chest and carefully roll onto your side. Stay there for a few rounds of breath and then transition into Child’s Pose or Savasana if you like before getting up.
Another option for coming out of the pose is to bend your knees, press your feet into the wall, lift your hips, and push yourself away from the wall until you can rest your back and hips on the floor. Then rest your legs on the bolster and pause. When you’re ready, turn onto your side and sit up.
Modifications & Variations
Props for Viparita Karani
The most common props used for Viparita Karani are a bolster or yoga blanket placed under your hips. When entering the pose, rest your bottom hip on the prop, with the prop along the wall (as in the photo above), and then enter the pose as described in the step-by-step guide included in this post.
There are different options for how to hold your arms in Viparita Karani. Try them out and see how each of them affects you. What you want today may be different from what you want tomorrow.
- Arms along your sides, like in Savasana.
- Arms straight out to your sides with your palms up.
- Cactus arms — upper arms straight out from shoulders, elbows bent 90 degrees, and back of forearms on the ground (aka Stick ‘Em Up arms).
- Holding your elbows overhead with your arms on the ground.
- Resting your palms on your belly or one hand on your heart, one hand on your belly.
For sacrum or SI joint pain relief
Set up for the pose with a yoga bolster, a folded blanket, yoga block, or even a cushion under your hips so that your sacrum is fully supported by the prop. I prefer a really firm yoga block (cork or wooden ideally) if my SI joints need a little bit of care and release but experiment to see what works for you.
When entering the pose, rest your bottom hip on the prop, with the prop along the wall (see the photo above). Turn onto your back and, as you do, bring your legs up the wall.
Once you get your legs up the wall, relax your legs so they get heavy into your hips. This will help ‘release’ your pelvis, creating a little space on either side of your sacrum.
If you have tight hamstrings
It can be difficult to rest your legs against the wall. To make the pose more accessible move your hips away from the wall. The decreases the flexion at your hip, which decreases the stretch to your hamstrings.
If you have a yoga strap, you can make a large loop with it and slip it around your legs so you can stretch them out and press into the strap for support.
If you can’t keep your legs straight for 5+ minutes
Grab a chair and set up at the wall with the chair back touching the wall. Instead of having your legs up the wall, rest the backs of your legs on the seat of the chair, with your hips flexed roughly to 90 degrees.
If you want more support for your shoulders
Place a folded blanket under your shoulders. Make sure your head is off the blanket to protect your neck and open your chest more.
To deepen your relaxation
By using a yoga strap around your thighs, you can relax more fully without your legs falling away from each other. Place the strap around your thighs — just above your knees — or around your calf muscles. Try both options and see which allows you to relax more.
To get into the pose with the strap, do one of these:
- Place the strap around your legs before you swing your legs up the wall.
- Hook the strap around one leg and once you bring your legs up the wall slide the other leg to hook into the loop.
If you are pregnant
Use a yoga strap around your ankles so that you can take your legs into a V-shape. You may need to tie two straps together to do this. This wide-leg version creates more space for you to relax.
Of course, you don’t need to be pregnant to do this variation. It’s a good one for everyone!
If you feel unsteady
Bend your knees and place your feet on the wall. Push gently with your feet and slide your upper body away from the wall a little until you can bring your pelvis down to the ground and rest your feet flat on the wall.
This variation can also help prevent tingling in your legs while practicing Viparita Karani.
If you want to change it up
There are different leg variations you can do, including:
- Bringing your feet together as in Baddha Konasana (Cobblers Pose)
- Taking your legs wide like in Prasarita Padottanasana or Upavista Konasana
- Doing an inverted Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
- Experimenting to find a leg variation that works for you
I also like to practice this in the middle of the room, letting the weight of my legs really root down into my hips. Just remember to open your legs without pushing them. This is meant to be a relaxing pose.
If you want an intermediate version
Do the pose in the middle of the room resting on a cork or wooden block (or other firm prop). This helps strengthen your abdominals, hips, quads, and hip flexors.
Your options are endless
A quick Google search will show you that this pose can be done with many different props — you’ll find lots of variations involving chairs, bolsters, straps, blankets, weights, blocks, and more.
Yoga Poses Related to Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Parivrtta Sukhasana / Seated Twist
- Vajrasana / Thunderbolt Pose
- Indudalasana / Standing Side Bend
- Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Supta Padangusthasana / Supine Hand To Big Foot Pose
- Supta Dwi Hasta Padasana / Supine Two Hands to Foot Pose
- Hanumanasana / Full Splits
- Adho Mukha Vrksasana / Handstand
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Vajrasana / Thunderbolt Pose
- Post: Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold Pose
- Video: A 40-minute class to open your legs, back and feet.
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Sustainable Cork Yoga Mat by Corq
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
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Good for the planet and great for your practice!
A Final Note About Viparita Karani
It is said that spending time in any inversion will bring your to a meditative state.
Even if the world tends to view sitting still as a waste of time, we know that being still and sitting with our thoughts is a great way to settle our minds and expand our possibilities for adventure in life.
Your meditation practice doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. So next time you need a break from the world, why not lie down with your legs up the wall, and OM.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Legs Up the Wall Pose. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!