A Simple Yoga Treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome
Do you sometimes feel an annoying, uncomfortable urge to start moving your legs while sitting quietly on a couch or lying in bed? There is a simple yoga pose that is particularly effective in treating the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a condition that affects as many as 10% of adults to varying degrees. This particular yoga asana—asana is another name for pose—does not require any special flexibility or previous yoga experience. It can be practiced in the evening, immediately or shortly before bedtime, even while watching TV. Sitting in virasana (also called hero’s pose) for 5-7 minutes is likely to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the feeling of restless legs for the night.
The symptoms of RLS can be very mild and occasional, or frequent and almost intolerable. RLS tends to be worse at night and is particularly annoying when it interferes with or prevents sleep. Causes range from other diseases or medical conditions to the side effects of medications, alcohol use, and other hard-to-determine factors. Though medication can address symptoms, many people prefer to try natural treatments for restless legs syndrome.
How to Sit in Virasana
Spread a blanket or yoga mat on the floor when you are ready to sit in virasana. (If you have carpet, this may not be necessary.) Kneel with your knees together and spread your feet apart slightly wider than your hips. Sit down between your feet. The feet should be tight up against the hips, with the heels touching the sides of the hips. Most people will not be able to sit comfortably in virasana with their buttocks on the floor. Add as much height as you need to be able to sit comfortably. You can use folded blankets, yoga blocks, or books. Just don’t change the position of the legs and feet. See that the feet are pointing straight back in line with the shins, not angled in or out.
Sit straight so that you lean neither forward or backward. (There is a tendency to lean forward in virasana.) Don’t settle down or slouch while you are sitting. Your legs should release down as if they are connecting with the earth. Your spine and torso should lengthen upward as if they are connecting with the sky. Keep the center of your chest lifting. Your hands can rest on your thighs or press down onto the soles of your feet to help lengthen the spine.
How to Modify Virasana
There are a couple of modifications of the pose that may be necessary if you have knee pain or ankle pain. If you have knee pain, come up to a kneeling position and place a folded or rolled up washcloth behind each knee, then sit down again. The knee will be more “open” than before, and, hopefully, the pain will be gone. If you have ankle pain, an elevated support under the shins will lessen the extension of the top of the ankle so that it can rest in a more natural position. Place a couple of firm folded blankets on the floor to raise the height of the knees and shins; allow the feet hang off the back edge of the blankets. If you still experience pain in the pose, consult an experienced yoga teacher who can evaluate your pose and make recommendations.
When you are ready to come out of virasana, lean forward to come onto your hands and knees. Swing your legs around to your side and sit back, then stretch your legs out in front of you. You have completed your yoga for restless legs session. Go to bed, and enjoy a good night’s sleep!
A Study on Yoga for RLS
The National Institute of Health reports on an 8-week study conducted in 2012 that used Iyengar yoga to treat women with RLS. There were "striking reductions" in symptoms related to RLS. While sitting in virasana may be helpful for most people as a way to temporarily help with RLS, it may be that a more complete yoga practice would produce even better results. One more reason to make yoga part of your life!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2012 chet thomas