The legs up the wall yoga pose is about as relaxing and restorative as a yoga pose can get and is certainly a yoga pose that many people enjoy after a long day on their feet.
But what are the benefits of legs up the wall stretches and poses? How long do you have to keep your legs on the wall for the legs up the wall yoga pose to help?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss the benefits of legs up the wall poses and stretches for runners, yogis, weightlifters, and everyone in between.
We will also explain how to do the legs up the wall yoga pose and how to modify the legs on the wall stretch if you have limited mobility and poor hamstring flexibility or if you want to progress this relaxing legs elevated stretch.
We will cover:
- What Is The Legs Up the Wall Stretch?
- How to Do Legs Up the Wall Pose
- How to Modify Legs Up the Wall Stretch
- What Are the Benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose?
Let’s get started!
What Is The Legs Up the Wall Stretch?
Before we discuss the benefits of the legs up the wall pose, let’s briefly describe what we mean by the “legs up the wall“ or “legs on the wall“ stretch or pose.
Technically, although athletes of any sport and everyday people may naturally gravitate towards putting their legs up the wall when they feel tired or swollen without having an understanding that this is indeed an official yoga pose, Legs Up the Wall is a yoga pose.
Also known by the Sanskrit name Viparita Karani, the legs-up-the-wall yoga pose is performed exactly as it sounds like it would be:
You lie on your back on the floor, keeping your head and torso on the ground while your legs are up a wall inverted so that your feet are pointing towards the ceiling.
How to Do Legs Up the Wall Pose
As the name describes, legs up the wall pose simply involves lying down with your torso and head on the ground and your legs up a wall.There are different ways to modify this pose, but here are the basic steps for how to do the legs on the wall stretch:
- Find an area of the wall that is free and clear from a bookshelf or other obstacles so that you can put your legs up on the wall without hitting anything.
- Lie on your back with your butt just a few inches from the wall. The more flexible you are, the closer you can position your butt to the edge of the wall.
- You can roll up a towel or use a small pillow under your head or neck for increased comfort, and it is recommended that you use a yoga mat or lie on a comfortable surface that will provide enough support to your spine without causing your bony prominences to dig into a hard floor.
- Lift your legs by drawing your knees up towards your chest and then straighten them up into the air so that your feet are up towards the ceiling and your knees are straight.
- Allow your heels and the back of your legs to rest along the wall.
- Allow a natural curve in your lower spine, or deliberately think about pressing your lower back into the floor if you want to work on engaging your deep core muscles and practicing a posterior pelvic tilt.
- If possible, use this time to relax your mind and practice diaphragmatic breathing, deep belly breathing, box breathing, or other breathing exercises that can help engage your deep core muscles and activate your parasympathetic nervous system to relax your body and mind.
- Stay in this position with your legs up the wall for anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on your goals and how you are feeling.
One important safety note is that it is important to move out of this pose slowly before getting up suddenly.
Move into a seated position if you have been holding the legs up the wall pose for an extended period of time before you pop up and try to stand or walk.
You may experience orthostatic hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure).
If you have blood pressure issues, are pregnant, have glaucoma, or deal with POTS or orthostatic hypotension, you should not do this pose.
How to Modify Legs Up the Wall Stretch
If your hamstring flexibility is poor, position your body further away from the wall so that your legs don’t have to be at such an upright (90-degree) angle.
Beginners can also modify the legs up the wall pose by using a doorway instead of a wall.
If you put your legs up along the side of a doorway, you can do one leg up the wall (or doorway opening) at a time, which reduces the stretch on your hamstring and can be an easier pose to get into.
What Are the Benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose?
So, what are the legs up the wall pose benefits? Why would you want to do the legs up the wall stretch?
Here are some of the potential benefits of putting your legs up a wall (whether doing the official Viparita Karani pose or just laying your legs up the side of a wall).
#1: Legs Up the Wall Stretches the Hamstrings
One of the primary benefits of the legs up the wall yoga pose is that it helps stretch out your hamstrings.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles—the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris—that run along the length of the back of your thigh from their attachment at the ischial tuberosities (sit bones) at the bottom of your pelvis to the back of your knee.
The hamstring muscle group works in opposition to the quads on the front of your thigh. This means that your hamstrings work to bend the knee and extend the leg at the hip.
Because the glutes are also hip extensors, the hamstrings work with your glutes to propel you forward when you run and walk and upward when you jump.
Unfortunately, many static postures and dynamic movements like repetitive running, walking, cycling, and sitting for long periods of time cause the hamstrings to get excessively tight and stiff.
A lack of hamstring flexibility can end up causing postural problems such as a posterior pelvic tilt because the tight hamstrings pull on the base of your pelvis where they attach to the sit bones (ischial tuberosities).
If your hamstrings are tight, you may also experience low back pain.
Therefore, consistently stretching your hamstrings may help improve hamstring flexibility and maintain the appropriate mobility in your hips and knees.
The legs up the wall pose stretches the hamstrings and lower back muscles if you consciously think about pressing your lower back into the floor and straightening your legs towards the sky.
#2: Legs Up the Wall Pose May Reduce the Risk of Injuries
By helping stretch the hamstrings, a potential legs up the wall benefit is reducing the risk of injuries.
#3: Legs Up the Wall Pose May Reduce Stress
A consistent yoga practice may help reduce stress, and if you practice diaphragmatic breathing or deep belly breathing while putting your legs up the wall, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
This is the “rest and digest“ nervous system that helps reduce blood pressure, slow heart rate, calm your breathing, reduce cortisol levels, and promote digestion.
#4: Legs Up the Wall Pose May Aid Circulation
One of the main legs up the wall pose benefits is aiding the circulation of lymph and the venous return of blood to the heart back to the heart.
Because we spend most of our day with the feet, ankles, and lower legs in the “dependent position,“ which means that the feet are below the level of the heart, gravity has a tendency to pull excess fluid into the feet and ankles, which can lead to swelling.
Inverting your legs up a wall can help facilitate a decrease in ankle swelling or fluid accumulation in your lower legs at the end of a long day or hard workout.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, this can be a major benefit of putting your legs on a wall if you have circulation issues such as venous insufficiency.
For more of the best yoga poses for strength, check out our guide to yoga for runners here.