Free Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow

Monday, July 8, 2013

Restorative Yoga Pose #1- Legs Up The Wall

Today I want to introduce my first restorative yoga pose- legs up the wall.  I consider this to be the mother pose of all other restorative poses because it's benefits are profound and it can done just about anywhere.  This pose is a gentle inversion which uses gravity's pull as the main therapeutic tool.  The body loves to go upside down.  Think about it, gravity is pulling us in one direction most of the time.  When we flip that upside down, everything gets a little break from the pull.

Time: 5-20 minutes

The following are some basic variations of the pose and at the bottom of the post I have put the benefits and cautions.

Most basic:

 These first two pictures are the most basic versions of the posture.  The only prop you'll need is a wall and some floor space.  This posture can also be done on the bed.
* In all of the postures you will notice I have a small hand towel over the eyes.  This is an easy and effective way to block out the outside world and allow you to go deeper into relaxation

This version is the same as the one above but I have added a blanket (pillow) under my head and towels under my arms for extra luxury.

* For all versions of Legs Up the Wall it generally is more comfortable to get the butt and legs as close to the wall as possible.  This may take practice and the distance for comfort varies for everyone.  

 Leg Variations:
 Sometimes it is helpful to add different leg variations while doing the pose.  These can either add a nice stretch or give the legs a break during a long hold (or both!).

This wide legged stretch is good for the inner thighs

 With the soles of the feet together, ankles resting on the wall, and the legs out at diamond shape this version is good for the hips.

With Props:

Adding a bolster and a blanket can  give  extra support as well as adding a mild back bend to the posture.  In this version the bolster is about 3 inches from the wall allowing the tailbone to slightly curve over the edge.  The blanket is folded long and placed perpendicular to the bolster to support the back.  Extra support, such as a towel, can be added under the neck if needed.

Legs in the air:
 Don't have a wall? Don't fret, you can still do the posture with only a bolster, cushion, couple of folded blankets, or pillow as your prop.  Sit up on the prop and recline back onto the floor.  The prop should be comfortable and support the legs while they "hang" in the air. this version does require some core strength as well as some leg strength.  While some people find this version more difficult others find it easy and very soothing.

~ The Heart.  Ultimately this posture is excellent for the heart.  It sends blood rushing back into the abdomen and chest, nourishing all the internal organs.  However, this posture is especially beneficial for those with hypertension or other heart issues. Personally I believe that people with hypertension and or heart issues benefit greatly from this pose not only because of the physical nourishment that the heart gets but also the mental and emotional benefits of slowing down and being restful.
~ The Lymph System.  The lymph system is unique in the body in that it does not have any mechanism of it's own for movement throughout the body. Therefore it relies on physical activity and inversion for movement.  Obviously physical activity is the main mode for movement of lymph fluid in the body, but why not put gravity to work while you rest?  By inverting the legs upside down, gravity pulls all of the lymph fluid  that has drained into the lower regions of the body throughout the day back into circulation.
~Swollen tired legs, edema and varicose veins.  For years I worked standing for 6-8 hours on hard marble floors and I developed varicose veins.  This pose is God sent for tired legs. 10-20 minutes can make the legs feel rejuvenated and ready to go. With any kind of swelling, be it from edema or varicose, the inverting of the legs helps the swelling go down and has both short term and long term benefits if practiced regularly.
~Calms the mind.  This posture has a nourishing effect on the whole system.  Because it is an inversion all of your energy (prana/qi) goes to an areas in the body called the dantians.  The areas are located below the belly button - lower dantian, in the center of the chest - middle dantian, and between the eyebrow center - upper dantian.  Dantian is also known as "energy center" and during rest or meditation energy accumulates in these 3 areas having profound restorative and rejuvenating effects on the whole system.
~Menopause, Stress, and Exhaustion.  I want to be clear about this. These are three separate complaints but  I grouped them together because the mechanism of relief is the same.  Legs up the wall helps balance the nervous system and therefore relieves nervous exhaustion.  This in turn mitigates the effects of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).

Contraindications and Cautions:
~People with glaucoma or other eye issues should avoid inversions.
~Do not practice this pose if you feel any pressure in the head.
~Pregnant women should not practice this pose if they are at a high risk of miscarriage or if you feel at all uncomfortable. Pregnant women can practice for shorter amounts of time (5-10minutes).  You will feel lightheaded and dizzy long before the baby loses any oxygen, so move out of the posture if any symptoms occur. 
~Menses. Most of the time it is contraindicated to do inversions during menses.  I would suggest a modified version, like stone hedge or instant Maui postures, where the legs are not fully extended in the air during menstrual cycle.

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