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Viparita Karani: Inverted Lake Posture

YogiSource.com Staff
©Yoga People, LLC 2017

Viparita Karani on box at 2 heights

Viparita, a Sanskrit word, means inverted or turned around. Karani is action. Viparita Karani is the action of inverting yourself.  It has been translated as the “inverted lake” pose.  This posture is also called Legs-up-the Wall Pose.

Viparita Karani is a passive, supported inverted yoga posititon.  It is an essential relaxing and restorative yoga position.

Yoga expert Brad Priddy tells that we should devote one yoga session a week for the practice of Viparita Karani.  It has many benefits and is for UN-doing providing the perfect antidote for modern Western living. The practice of Viparita Karani is soothing, energizing, cooling to the nervous system, rejuvenating, and will soothe out our mental fluctuations.  It is usually done near the end of a yoga practice session before Savasana (corpse resting pose). 

For some people in some situations where restorative yoga is indicated their yoga session may consist of only this yoga position.  It is usually combined with other restorative poses.

Gather your props. Use a mat, a yoga block, a support to be positioned beneath your pelvis, a blanket and possibly a yoga belt.  In the picture we show a Viparita Karani Box, a wooden yoga prop made for supporting the pelvis in this pose. That is not essential.  You can use a stack of folded blankets, a bolster, or a bolster made higher with one or more folded blankets as your pelvis supporting prop. 

Extend the mat from the wall. If you have a yoga block, position it with its long side against the wall so that it separates the prop to support your pelvis from the wall a bit.  If you do not have a yoga block, improvise with books or even a brick.  Place the pelvis supporting prop against the block so it is firmly supported a couple of inches from the wall.  Cover both the supporting prop and the block with a yoga blanket.

If necessary adjust the height of the pelvis supporting prop.  If you are flexible, use a thick bolster and consider adding height like a thick folded blanket on top of that.  If you are tall and stiffer, position the prop further away from the wall. Use a low support if you lack flexibility.

There are multiple ways to come into the pose.  We recommend the following. 

Lie on one side with one hip on the support and the other facing the ceiling.  Have your legs on top of each other and parallel to the wall, your upper body perpendicular to the wall and your buttocks in contact with the wall.  Now, bend your knees and roll from your side to your back lowering the upper hip down towards the support and swinging your bent legs up the wall.  When you are fully supported by your prop extend your legs up the wall. 

Your buttocks and low back should be supported.  If possible, let the edge of the buttocks hang off the support over the block.  This opens your spine to a nice gentle backbend and releases tension in the abdomen.  Let the backbend be small so your abdomen still feels released and soft. 

If possible, your sit-bones should be in contact with or quite close to the wall. Extend your heels toward the sky.  Your upper body is on the floor.  Spread your arms beside you on the floor, palms up, resting.

In the final supported pose your torso is perpendicular to the wall with the hips lifted up by the pelvis supporting prop.  The back and torso slope down and rest on the floor. 

In the pose your arms spread to the side and your hands are palm up on the floor.  Feel the connection in your body as you allow your hands and heart to open.  Widen your chest area and lift it to feel more heart opening.

Feel the lift of the lower ribs while your abdomen sinks softly.  Feel the floor underneath you and extend your spine maximally.  Flatten the sacrum area.  Your lungs are provided more free space from the opening provided by the small arch created by the bolster and the breathing should naturally deepen.

Keep your perineum and sit bones moving toward the wall.  If you slip you can use your arms to push yourself back against the wall and get in a better position that is supported by gravity, holding you up.

Once you are adjusted in the pose, close your eyes and relax. The tongue goes to the roof of the mouth which is relaxed and nearly open.  Feel your teeth falling apart and your jaw unhinging.  I find that when my jaw lets go, the rest of my body lets go as well.  With a focus on long exhales, gently create long inhales and slow down your breathing. A calm and even breath is what you want. If you have pranayama practice, this is a perfect pose in which to do it.

Hold the pose for five to eight minutes.

Beginner’s Tip:
Try using a yoga belt around your thighs placed just above your knees. Put this on before you go up in the pose. This keeps the legs from falling apart. When using the belt and initially going into the pose you can keep your legs straight as your roll from your side hip to your buttocks instead of bending at the knees as described above.  Initially it may feel awkward going into Viparita Karani, but it gets easier with practice. You could tighten the belt a bit once you are in the pose if that helps or have somebody else do so for you.

This is an important yoga practice that has anti-aging effects. It helps keep you young and vital. It is restorative and has wide health benefits.  It is easy if you are not up to more challenging poses like shoulderstand.  It is therapeutic.  It calms anxiety and helps insomnia, mild depression.  

It stretches the back of the legs, the front torso and the back of the neck. 

The pose provides therapeutic benefits for eye and ear problems.

Particularly when done with a firmly tied bandage wrapped round the forehead and back of the skull Viparita Karani can provide relief for migraine and other headaches.

It regulates blood flow.

More blood flow comes into the pelvis so Viparita Karani helps testicular, semen and ovarian problems in men and women respectively.

Yoga Master BKS Iyengar says that it alleviates arthritis and cervical spondylosis, relieves indigestion, diarrhea and nausea and helps treat kidney disorders.

Women in menopause and perimenopause will benefit from this pose.  Menstrual cramps are alleviated if the pose is done at other times of the month. 

Do not do this pose during menstruation because the upside down position is not optimal for the direction of blood flowing out of the uterus, and is thus unhealthy for the reproductive system to do during menses.  Do this pose for premenstrual syndrome before menses begin. 

Do it during pregnancy to relieve swollen ankles by reversing the circulation.

Varicose veins are relieved from this Legs-up-the-Wall Posture. 

A mild backache is relieved by this pose. This pose restores tired or cramped legs and feet. With more circulation to the face, neck and thorax, Viparita Karani can help with adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid function. Respiration and digestion improve.

Cautions and Contraindications:
As mentioned, don’t do the pose during menstruation. 

To avoid strain in your lower back smoothly raise the legs and lower them without jerking.

Avoid this pose if you have hypertension.   Do Viparita Karani under the supervision of a qualified yoga therapist for treatment of neck issues like cervical spondylosis.  Supervision is also needed for treatment of hernias, glaucoma or other eye problems. 

Those with back injuries should avoid it or do only under supervision.

Many thanks to yoga expert and teacher Victor Oppenheimer for his contributions to this article.

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