When our bodies are begging for rest, it’s easy to sit on the couch and watch TV. But often what your body really needs is a tension release and a good stretch. One of my go-to moves after a long day is legs up the wall. It’s relaxing, easy to do (yes, even while watching TV) and a great way to wind down before bed.
While many people think of stretching as a way to improve physical health, the benefits of it go way beyond that. If performed consistently, stretching has been shown to increase serotonin levels and improve mental health.
This specific stretch helps calm your nervous system and allows you to focus on your breath, which combats stress and helps ease you into sleep. This is especially welcome this time of year, with the added stress of the holidays and jam-packed days that can make it difficult to wind down at night.
Related: Jumping right out of bed and into the chaos of your life can be jarring. Ease into the day with these simple movements.
What does legs up the wall move do for the body?
Legs up the wall has a lot of benefits for your physical and mental health. This move helps relax the mind and body, giving you time to focus on your breathing and soothe any sore or tired muscles.
It also allows the nervous system to rest and blood to flow in the opposite direction – with the legs above the rest of the body, blood can move from the feet down the legs. Because the angle of your body takes pressure off of the back, legs up the wall may also relieve tension in the low back. Legs up the wall also helps stretch the hamstrings and butt while opening the hips
In cold weather, our bodies tend to tense up. This time of year especially, it’s important to incorporate moves that improve flexibility and loosen up the muscles into our daily routine.
The common mistakes people make when doing legs up the wall
When performing legs up the wall, some of my clients tend to push their bodies too far up against the wall, which puts pressure on the hips and the hamstrings. I also find that people tend to get uncomfortable and give up on the move. However, there are ways to avoid this discomfort so that you can perform the move in the peaceful way it was intended.
Keep these tips in mind:
Place a cushion under your butt for added comfort and support.
If it feels too intense on your hamstrings and hips, don’t press your hips directly against the wall. Scoot your butt back a few inches from the wall to avoid forming a perfect 90-degree angle.
How to modify legs up the wall
It’s common to feel uncomfortable when trying to perform legs up the wall. Some of my clients mention that their legs fall asleep from lack of circulation or that they get headaches from the blood flow. If this is you, there are other moves that can function as a modification of legs up on the wall.
The lying down butterfly pose is similar in that it allows your body to be still while gently stretching your muscles. The move opens the hips and stretches the hamstrings and glutes without requiring you to lift your legs into the air. Lie down on the ground with your arms down by you sides or over your head. Bend your knees out to the sides and bring the bottoms of your feet together into a butterfly position.
How to perform legs up the wall correctly
If you’re ready to relax and ease your mind with legs up the wall, follow these simple steps:
Find a wall and place a mat or cushion against it.
Lie down and scoot your hips toward the wall.
Move your feet up the wall until your legs are staight and your body makes an “L” shape.
Place your arms along your sides or rest them on your chest.
Breathe slowly and focus on stretching your legs and hips and quieting your mind.
Related: Sitting all day and intense exercise are both harder on the body as we age.
4 exercises that will help you perform legs up the wall
If this move feels difficult, don’t worry! These four moves will help you work on flexibility that will make legs up the wall more comfortable, while also providing a similar break for the mind and body.
Standing forward fold
Stand up straight with your feet together. Hinge forward at the hips and bring your chest toward your knees. Reach your fingertips toward your toes (or your knees or shins, depending on your flexibility). Hold for at least 10 seconds.
Seated forward fold
Sit down on your butt with your legs extended straight out in front of you and your back in an upright position. Reach your arms overhead, then hinge at the hips, reaching your chest toward your knees and your fingers toward your toes. If you can’t reach your toes, just bring your hands as far as you can go comfortably. Hold for at least 10 seconds.
Related: Can’t touch your toes? Here’s how to get there.
Knees to chest
Lying on your back, bend your knees and bring them in toward your chest as you exhale. Wrap your hands around your knees while keeping your back flat. Hold for 30 seconds, focusing on your breathing.
Lie down on your back with your feet slightly apart. Rest your arms down by your sides. Keep a small space between your arms and your body, with palms up toward the ceiling. Relax your whole body and focus on your breathing.
More ways to master the move:
This article was originally published on TODAY.com