Edema is a condition in which the extremities, particularly the feet and legs, retain fluid and swell up, leading to a feeling of heaviness and discomfort. Whether the result of pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome or simply a long day on your feet, edema can often be alleviated with simple yoga postures to counteract fluid retention and increase circulation. Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
Standing poses may seem counterintuitive as a treatment for edema, as it is a condition often exacerbated by prolonged standing. However, the stretching and activation of certain muscles in the legs and feet can help improve circulation, preventing or counteracting edema as well as conditions like varicose veins. When performing standing poses such as Tadasana, or Mountain pose, elongate the toes to stretch the sole of the foot, creating a wide base on which to ground your body weight and activating muscles in your feet and ankles.
The yogic version of “putting your feet up,” a common and oft-recommended treatment for edema, is Viparita Karani, or Legs-Up-the-Wall pose. A supported inversion similar to but more passive than a Shoulder Stand, Viparita Karani is an effective and accessible pose for alleviating edema. To perform the pose, use a bolster or several thick blankets to support your lower back and lie on the floor with your torso perpendicular to the wall and your feet and legs against the wall to create a 90-degree angle. Remain here for five to 15 minutes, breathing deeply and keeping your legs firmly vertical but still relaxed.
Because edema is often a result of lifestyle factors, including high-sodium diet and lack of exercise, the regular practice of cleansing, active yoga is a way to prevent the condition. Flow yoga, also known as Vinyasa yoga, involves the performance of a series of yoga postures in a continuous moving pattern. Vinyasa yoga increases the heart rate and turns static hatha yoga postures into a balanced cardiovascular workout. Practice a series of standing postures and inversions in a Vinyasa class and you’ll not only boost circulation, but also work up a sweat as well, staving off the fluid retention and inactivity that lead to edema.
Women who are pregnant or menstruating should consult a yoga instructor before practicing inversions or strenuous yoga to alleviate edema. While yoga can be beneficial to the side effects of pregnancy and menstruation, not all postures are safe or appropriate for women in these conditions.