Yoga Break: Viparita Karani

If you’re in need of a quick stop-drop-and-yoga pose or an interesting morsel of yoga wisdom to chew on throughout the week, Yoga Break is your stop. And, to kick off this week, we’re going to lie back with our legs up the wall. Viparita Karani not only feels relaxing, but as we’ll also see, it’s got some pretty great health benefits as well.

If I’d tried this pose as a kid, my dad would have put a stop to it right away (“You’ll get footprints all over the living room walls!”), but thankfully I didn’t discover the luxury of Viparita Karani until I was out of the house. In Sanskrit, viparita means “opposite” or “inverted” and karani means “doing” or “action”. Admittedly, any posture where the body is inverted could technically be considered viparita karani, but usually when we refer to this pose in the yoga world, we’re talking about putting our legs up a wall…or a door. Or the side of a bookcase. Be creative with your space!

To start with, grab a folded blanket or cushion (you could even use a towel) and head to the nearest wall. You can play around with the distance your blanket is from the base of the wall, but it’s a good idea to start at least several inches away and then move closer or further away as needed. Take a seat on your blanket (you may need to sit sidewise at the beginning) and lean back on your elbows. Swing or walk your legs up the wall, and then let the upper half of your body come slowly to the floor so that your torso, neck, and shoulders are relaxed. Once your legs are inverted, you can adjust the placement of your towel, even sliding it slightly higher up towards your sacrum and low back for support. This is the part where you’ll want to take stock of how your body feels: are your hamstrings yowling? Is there not enough stretch happening through your legs? If you need a less intense stretch, feel free to move the towel (and consequently your bum) further from the base of the wall. For a deeper stretch, move the towel or cushion closer. It’s all about what feels good for your body, and it could very well change from one day to the next.

That’s it! That’s Viparita Karani! Once you’ve found your sweet spot, hold the pose for anywhere between five to twenty minutes, remembering that you can always place another folded blanket or towel under your neck for support. This is a great pose to use for meditation and relaxation, and while I was living in Korea I somehow got into the habit of reading books before bed with my legs up the wall. One thing I’ll add is that I sometimes experience tingling in my feet if I keep my legs in the inversion for too long. When that happens, just bend your knees and windshield-wiper them a bit to get things flowing again. If the tingling persists, it’s probably a good idea to come out of the pose.

According to Yoga Journal, Viparita Karani boasts a whole host of physical and mental benefits, including relief for menstrual cramps (although as an inversion, some yoga teachers would actually recommend avoiding this pose during menstruation), headaches, varicose veins, sore feet and legs, PMS symptoms, anxiety, mild depression, and even insomnia. This is a wonderful posture to practice right before bed or anytime you need to recenter and calm the mind, so give this Yoga Break pose a go and let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

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