The best athletes know that recovery requires just as much serious attention as the rest of their training. It’s during rest that we grow stronger, as the body super-compensates by adapting in response to the stresses applied in training. This is true for adaptations of all kinds—building strength and speed through sports training, working on strength and flexibility for yoga asana practice, even learning to memorize a script or maintaining focus for meditation. By paying as much attention to rest as you to do applying positive stress, you’ll maximize your likelihood of adapting in a useful, healthy way.
Legs Up the Wall (viparita karani) is a gentle yoga pose that can jump-start your rest. Perfect for virtually everyone, it requires only a wall (or a closed and locked door) and a few minutes of your time.
As I demonstrate in this video, coming into the pose is the toughest part. Start by sitting with one hip very close to the wall, then swivel yourself around so that your head faces into the room and your heels rest on the wall. Depending on the state of your hamstrings, you may be able to shimmy your rear end very close to the wall, or you might prefer to keep some space between your bottom and the baseboard. Just take care that your knees aren’t encouraged to hyperextend here.
With the legs comfortably elevated, let your back relax and spread your arms into a position that feels good: off to the sides of the hips in an inverted V, off to the sides of the shoulders in a T, alongside the ears in a Y position, or hands clasped overhead like the A in the YMCA dance. Choose a stretch that feels great across the chest without being too strong.
Now stay and breathe. Turn your focus to watching your breath—not making it to anything in particular, just observing its entry and exit. This helps shift you into resting mode, moving away from the “doing” mindset of training, working, studying, and into the “being” mindset that will allow you to rest, rejuvenate, restore—and grow stronger.