By Linda Anastasia Ransom and Sharon Story
Restorative Yoga Poses
Most often, we begin our yoga classes or personal practice with warm ups and more active poses, followed by a brief restorative practice. In this blog post, we will include a sampling of restorative poses, including variations. Watch future blog posts for additional restorative poses to add to your practice. Restorative yoga can a part of your daily practice, or an occasional separate practice. We hope that this blog post might inspire you to include one or two restorative postures in your daily practice, or to devote one entire practice each week to restoratives.
A restorative yoga sequence typically involves five or six poses, supported by props that allow you to completely relax and rest. Held for five minutes or more, restorative poses include light twists, seated forward folds, and gentle backbends. Most restorative practices are based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar.
In restorative yoga, we do not skimp on the props. Restorative yoga poses are sometimes referred to as “active relaxation.” By supporting the body with props, we alternately stimulate and relax the body to move toward balance.
Start out with a few minutes of gentle movement before settling into a restorative pose or practice. A little stretching helps warm the muscles and create space in the body to prepare it for relaxation. Movement will also give your body a chance to shed any restlessness and quiet the mind before settling into a place of stillness.
We can reap the benefits of restorative poses anytime we feel weak, fatigued, or stressed from daily activities. It might be a particularly stressful day at the office, a time we need help to unwind, or when life throws us a challenge we did not see coming. Restoratives are especially beneficial for times before, during, and after major life events. In addition, you can practice the poses when ill, or recovering from illness or injury, a time when you might otherwise not have a physical yoga practice. Restorative poses help relieve the effects of chronic stress in several ways:
- These movements help support a healthy spine. The use of props provides a completely supportive environment for total relaxation. Restorative sequences are designed to move the spine in all directions. Some are backbends, others are forward bends, and additional poses gently twist the spinal column both left and right.
- Restorative practice also includes an inverted pose, which reverses the effect of gravity. Because we sit or stand most of the day, blood and lymph fluid accumulate in the lower extremities. When we change the relationship of the legs to gravity — as simple as placing the legs on a bolster or pillow — fluids are returned to the upper body and heart function is enhanced. Restorative yoga alternately stimulates and soothes the organs. For example, by closing the abdomen with a forward bend the abdominal organs are squeezed and blood is forced out. When you follow a forward bend with a backbend, the abdomen opens, and fresh blood returns to soak the organs. This enhances the exchange of oxygen and waste products across the cell membranes.
Yoga teaches us that Prana, the masculine energy, resides above the diaphragm, moves upward, and controls respiration and heart rate. Apana, or feminine energy, resides below the diaphragm, and moves downward. It controls the function of the abdominal organs. Restorative yoga balances these two aspects of energy. We alternately stimulate and relax the body to move toward balance.
Supported Bound Angle
- Bolster (you can substitute stacked blankets)
- Blankets – three or more (one double fold, two long roll)
- Yoga strap
- Optional blocks
- Optional sand bag
To Set Up: Sit in front of the short end of your bolster with it touching your tailbone. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Use your arms to support you as you gently lie down. Your bolster should support you from your sacrum to your head. If there is discomfort in your lower back, adjust the height of the support. You can increase the height of the bolster by adding blocks beneath the bolster, and you can decrease the height by using a single-fold blanket instead of a bolster. Take your time to find the right adjustment for your body.
Once comfortable, place a double-fold blanket under your neck and head, ensuring the entire neck is supported by the prop. Your forehead should be higher than your chin, your chin higher than your breastbone, and the breastbone higher than the public bone. The head should not be too high or too low. Your torso should be at a forty-five degree angle to the floor.
Place the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall to the sides. Put a long-roll blanket under each outer thigh to completely support the weight of your legs. Once you determine the right prop adjustments for your body, roll to one side, using your arms to help you come to sitting. Now is the time to adjust props and add variations to make this pose truly your own.
Make a big loop with your yoga strap. Drop it over your head, and position it around your hips. Run the belt low across your sacrum and over your inner thighs. With the soles of your feet together, wrap the free side of the loop around your feet. (Be careful the buckle does not press against the skin.) The tail of the belt should be pointing toward your hand so you can secure the belt once you are lying down. Keep it loose as you come into the pose and, once in the pose, tighten to the point where it holds your legs in place, but do not overtighten or cut off circulation. Place an eyebag over your eyes and relax into the pose, breathing deeply. Stay here for at least five minutes.
A sandbag can be used to hold the feet in place if you do not have a belt, or if you like the feeling of weight on the feet. Blocks may be used to support the outer legs, or you can use a blanket to create a long roll, cover your feet and tuck the ends of the blanket roll behind the knees. This will help support the legs and keep your feet warm as well.
You can also position two more long-roll blankets or folded blankets to support your forearms. This can relieve any stretch on the nerves of the neck and arms, and the additional support gives the feel of floating.
Babbling Mountain Brook Pose
Babbling Mountain Brook Pose is a gentle way to open the chest cavity. Additionally, there is added support under your knees and behind your neck. Your body is gently draped in a wave-like pattern over the props. Envision water flowing over stones in a mountain brook. With the help of the props, this pose allows for an opening in three areas we often protect: the throat, the heart, and the belly.
- Bolster (you can substitute stacked blankets)
- Blankets – three or more (one double fold or two single fold, one long roll)
To Set Up: Sit in front of the long side of two stacked single-fold blankets, or double-fold a blanket. The center line of the blanket is best placed just below the shoulder blades. Lie over them to make sure the height and placement feels just right. Take the time you need to make this determination and adjustments as needed. Roll to one side and sit up slowly.
Place a bolster under your knees and position a long-roll blanket to support your neck. When this pose is properly set up, your neck should be completely relaxed. Lie back with the three props in place. Do a body scan to make sure you are comfortable. The arch of your neck should be completely supported. Your head tilts gently backward, and your throat is open and relaxed. The bolster under your slightly-bent knees protects your lower back and enhances relaxation. Place your arms straight out from your shoulders, at approximately ninety degrees if possible, but find what is comfortable.
Close your eyes and place an eyebag over them. Breathe deeply. Stay in the pose for at least five to ten minutes.
Sidelying Relaxation Pose
Sidelying Relaxation Pose supports your body, giving space for your shoulder and maintaining a neutral spine.
- Bolster – at least one, ideally two (you can substitute stacked blankets)
- Blankets – three or more (one folded to fit your mat, one or more single fold, one rolled)
- Two folded towels
- Optional eyebag
To Set Up: Fold a blanket to fit the width and length of your mat, and place it over your mat. Sit on the floor with your props nearby. Place one or more single-fold blanket under your head and a bolster or blanket between your knees. Place a rolled blanket in front of you and hug the roll to your front body. If you have an additional bolster, it can feel reassuring to rest it against your back.
For comfort, add a folded towel under the wrist of the arm you are lying on, and another under the ankle of the leg you are lying on. Be sure that your neck, spine, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are all gently flexed.
Close your eyes and add an eyebag if you desire. Breathe deeply. Stay in this pose for at least five to ten minutes, or longer if it feels comfortable.