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When less is more

Ever experienced ‘heavy’ legs? Or perhaps a feeling of swollen feet and ankles? Perhaps when you have been standing – or even still - for a long time, like standing in a queue or commuting when there are no seats available on the train. There are times when we can experience these sensations of having swollen ankles and feet at the end of a hot summer’s day, or because of tiredness or jetlag. There could be other reasons of course. A way to relieve these symptoms is to do a very simple pose often referred to as ‘legs up the wall’ (as in the picture).

How to get into it

There is no gracious way of getting into the pose, I must warn you. We lie on one side, in a curl, with tailbone and sole of the feet against the wall, and then we roll onto our back and stretch the legs upwards towards the ceiling. The arms need to be comfortable and relaxed, so either at about 30-40 degrees from the torso, or out at shoulders height or up and over the head. The chin is drawn in to make the back of the neck long. And then we can close the eyes – breathe in the posture – and let gravity do the rest. This pose allows us to experience the body in a different relationship with gravity.

What are the benefits

This asana is a good alternative to those who - for a number of reasons - are unable to do inversions. It is a calming and restorative posture that encourages lymphatic drainage, improves circulation by allowing the blood to flow back to the heart to be re-oxygenated. Working with gravity the posture encourages the back to straighten, the shoulders to drop down on the mat and help to relieve lower back pain. By staying in this posture for a few breaths, elbows off the mat will eventually rest on the floor, opening the front of the chest across the shoulders. The stretch at the back of the legs will encourage the hamstrings to lengthen and the back of the knees to breathe freely. Gravity will tend to pull the navel towards the spine as we exhale more slowly and empty the abdomen and the lungs. In this pose, the ribcage remains supported giving the lungs the freedom to expand fully, allowing a deeper inhale, prana to move around the body, with so little effort on our part. The posture is ideal for the 3 three part breathing to promote a sense of relaxation. To come out of the pose, we bend the legs and roll on one side.

When do we practice it

Of course, we can get into the pose at any time – there is no preparation to be done for it. In the context of a yoga class, the pose is typically practised at the end; it is like the dessert at the end of a lovely, refreshing and nutritious meal. It feels like the reward we gift ourselves at the end of the practice and one more opportunity to lie still.

Final words

Like every other pose in yoga, if we experience any discomfort anywhere in the body at any point in this pose, then one should come out and lie in the post of rest (savasana). As someone with an eye condition and hypertension, I find this posture very relaxing and it does not create any discomfort for me as the head, neck and spine are aligned and the heart is at the same level. A sidenote: if we use a bolster or blocks under the tailbone, we start to create a deeper pose - like an inversion - where the heart is slightly raised above the head (as in viparita karani), generally not recommended for anyone with eye conditions or suffering from heart conditions and hypertension, lower back or abdominal issues.

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