Viparita Karani is often called Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose, but viparita actually means “inverted,” and karani means “in action.” We can interpret that to mean that the pose inverts the typical actions that happen in our bodies when we sit and stand…
But Viparita Karani offers a paradigm shift in how to approach the notion of “work,” in both yoga and life. The benefits of Viparita Karani derive not just from inverting an action but also from inverting the whole notion of action. When you relax with your legs up the wall, you are practicing the polar opposite of activity, which is receptivity.
Every yoga pose has an organizing principle and a container principle. When you apply the organizing principle, you arrange your alignment so that the energetic circuitry you set up is balanced and unobstructed. Organized alignment creates the conditions for the benefits of each particular asana to arise.
Have you noticed that asanas don’t really exist? When we come out of a pose, that pose is no more. Asanas are impermanent forms or containers that help us focus our awareness. In a faster-moving practice, that experience is fleeting. In restorative poses, such as Viparita Karani, we invert the habit of action, and abide in the container of the pose. The only “work” we are meant to do is to let go and be receptive.
You gotta love Viparita Karani: There is no warm-up for this pose. You really can do it anywhere, anytime. But just because you get into the physical position doesn’t mean that you will instantly drop into a relaxing experience. A calming breath exercise may help. Inhale deeply for four counts, then exhale for eight counts. Longer exhalations slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system. Repeat five times, and then breathe naturally.
Then do nothing. Really. Let your mind float like a kite riding on a soft breeze. Can you be open to what happens when you let yourself rest? Maybe this container will show you something interesting. And if the most interesting thing is that you feel the energy of a fresh start when you sit up, well, that’s worth a million bucks!
Stay in Viparita Karani for 5 to 20 minutes. If you are not used to restorative yoga, you may want to get up after 5 minutes, and that’s fine. Over time, you will be able to stay longer. Eventually you’ll trust the container of the pose to support your process of undoing, leading to more profound rejuvenation.
When you are ready to come out of the pose, bend your knees toward your chest. Roll onto your right side and rest there for several breaths. Then, press your hands into the floor and walk yourself up to sitting, letting your head come up last…Sit quietly for a few minutes and feel the effects of your practice.
Asana practice can be challenging. But when we apply ourselves to learning the poses, finally managing to hold a balance and be precise in our alignment, we usually feel a healthy sense of accomplishment.
But that feeling meets with a Catch 22, as one of the guiding principles of yoga is santosha, or contentment. My students often get stuck trying to understand this, confusing contentment with complacency. They ask me, “If I become content with things as they are, what is my motivation to ever do anything? Isn’t trying to improve a good thing?”
Good questions! Practicing contentment doesn’t mean that you stop striving, but that you live with more acceptance of what is, celebrating the good in each moment. My suggestions for practicing contentment are to reduce, simplify, and appreciate—in that order.
Reduce: The first step toward contentment is to notice how little you really need to be happy. When you schedule fewer things, you create space in your day for noticing the natural contentment that’s always present.
Simplify: Can you simply do the one thing you’re doing right now and nothing else? I often see yoga students fidgeting away on their yoga mats, reorganizing their alignment. Instead, I invite you to be satisfied with your pose as it is. Try organizing the setup of a pose with no more than two or three adjustments, and then simply abide there. Can you allow the pose to unfold for you? You might be surprised at the mental spaciousness that arises from simplifying your actions.
Appreciate: Appreciation is the cherry on the top of contentment. The first two steps are semi-renunciations leading you to an open place where you can recognize the goodness that was there all the time.
Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose by Cyndi Lee