But are these benefits real, or just the effect of wellness wishful thinking? Studies have proven yoga’s effect on the vagus nerve, the longest of our cranial nerves, which runs from our brains through our lungs to our gut. It’s responsible for both our sympathetic nervous system—the one that puts us in “fight or flight” mode at the first sign of danger—as well as the parasympathetic nervous system, the one that tells us to “rest and digest” so to speak.

High “vagal tone” means your body is good at switching between these states; in other words, you’re able to come down from your constant state of alert once in while. And studies have shown that regular yoga practice increases vagal tone. Though the mechanism is not well understood, yoga practice can lead to “parasympathetic dominance and enhanced cardiac function, mood, and energy states.”

Within the practice of yoga, inversions—any pose where your heart is higher than your head—are believed to stimulate the vagal nerve. While legs up the wall isn’t quite as ambitious as a headstand, is still counts as an inversion. Sometimes if your brain can’t relax, you can get your body can do it for you.

You can do viparita karani anywhere, from a hotel room or a gym to your bedroom or at the base of a tree. It’s the literal opposite of sitting, which can’t be bad, and offers the grounding effect maybe urbanites crave. Personally, I also find that inverting my literal point of view for a few minutes can have the curious effect of changing my perspective about something else I’m thinking about.

To do it, lay a blanket or yoga mat out, or lie on a carpet, and sit sideways against the wall. Swing your legs up against the wall while rotating your hips, and lie back. At this point you may have to wiggle to get your sit bones flush with the wall. Your hamstrings shouldn’t feel strained, so if they do, put a little distance between your behind and the wall. If your lower back needs support, you can put a pillow underneath your lower pelvis, as a variation. If it’s comfortable for your head, the blanket you’re lying on should end at your shoulders, so your head lies directly on the floor; the slight elevation of your heart will enhance the inversion’s effects.

Put your hands over your head and do nothing. Repeat.

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