In restorative yoga, poses are held for a longer time as compared to traditional yoga poses, so that muscles can relax. In contrast with other yoga styles, restorative yoga has fewer asanas that are performed at a slow pace. They aim to provide physical and mental relaxation. Simple poses held for as long as possible help heal the body and mind. In restorative yoga, the body is fully supported in poses and staying in the pose for up to 10 minutes is recommended. It's all about relaxing and surrendering.
Often props such as folded blankets, bolsters, yoga blocks, straps, cushions, or pillows are used in restorative yoga. They provide additional support, facilitate relaxation and reduce stress. Sometimes, support of the wall, couch, or chair can also be taken. To enhance the soothing effect further, eye bags or eye pillows for face-up poses can be used. Rose water, or aloe vera soaked in cotton as eye bags can be explored as creative options. This rejuvenates tired eyes because of excessive screen time or strain.
How does it work?
Restorative yoga practice provides deep relaxation to the body and the mind. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system and induces a relaxation response. This puts the body in “rest and digest” mode and optimizes energy flow to the organs. The relaxation improves immune function and facilitates deep healing.
While restorative yoga still involves stretches, each stretch is fully relaxed with the help of props. This allows tension release and focus on the breath can be achieved. Restorative yoga releases habitual stress patterns that are stored in the body as areas of tension. As a result, mobility and flexibility are improved. Headaches, body pains, or discomforts are reduced. We often think we need to “work hard” for flexibility, with a strong, dynamic asana practice. However, we can achieve more opening by softening and relaxing. The difference lies in the approach. The practice also regulates blood pressure and heart rate.
At an emotional level, restorative yoga enhances a refreshed feeling. Sinking into the restful poses calms the mind and reduces stress. It improves sleep quality and concentration. Awareness during the practice helps cultivate empathy, compassion, and understanding with self and others.
The practice is recommended for people who feel exhausted, emotionally drained, or close to burnout. Restorative yoga is an excellent practice for people suffering or recovering from injuries, illness, and chronic fatigue. Since no muscular effort is required here, patients with fatigue or illness can practice it with comfort. For healthy people, restorative yoga once a week can help to balance hectic lifestyles and give a break from a fast-paced life. Restorative yoga can be practiced in the comfort of our home and is an ideal practice for beginners.
Restorative yoga can be practiced as often as we like. It can be practiced every day or twice a week whenever feeling stressed out. It can be combined with other styles of yoga. For example, after a practice of dynamic suryanamaskar, or a few fast-paced asanas, restorative yoga is a great way to cool down.
The practice of a few supported asanas can be short and sweet. Bound angle pose (supta baddha konasana), seated forward bend (paschimottanasana), child’s pose (balasana), legs up the wall (viparita karani), and corpse pose (shavasana) are some examples of restorative yoga poses. The benefits, precautions, and instructions to practice these poses are as follows.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta baddha konasana):
This is a classic restorative pose to calm the nervous system and renew the energy levels. It improves sleep and relieves stress and anxiety.
How to practice?
Lie down on back and bend your knees as your place your feet flat on the mat. Make a diamond shape with your legs by allowing your knees to fall open and allowing the soles of your feet to touch. Close your eyes and relax for 1-5 minutes here. Place cushions and folded blankets below your hands, thighs, and back for support.
Caution: Practice gently, as quick sudden movements can cause sprains. Avoid in case of knee injuries, groin injuries, pain in the lower back, or the hips.
Restorative Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana):
This pose stretches the back and helps to open up the hips. This stretch is excellent for relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. It reduces fatigue, calms the mind, and improves sleep quality.
How to practice?
Settle into a seated position with the legs extended. Place a rolled blanket, cushions, or pillows on the thighs for additional support. As you inhale, raise the arms over the head, and as you exhale, extend the torso over the legs. Allow the shoulders and head to relax and continue to breathe with awareness.
Caution: Don’t push yourself into this pose. Try to keep your back as flat as possible as you lean forward. This will allow you to hold the pose for a longer time without feeling tired. In the final pose, relax all the muscles. This will allow the effect of the pose to reach the internal glands and organs.
Caution: Avoid this pose if you have a back injury, slipped disc, sciatica, or gastric ulcer. Pregnant women and those recovering from surgery should not practice this pose.
Supported Child’s Pose (Balasana):
The pose provides a gentle release to the lower back and hips while simulating a warm, nourishing hug across the belly and chest. This deeply relaxing stretch helps you feel grounded.
How to practice?
Sit on your heels with the toes together and the knees spread out wide. Inhale with a deep breath in while raising your hands and exhale while bringing the hands down. Extend the fingers forward on the mat, allowing your forehead to rest on the mat or a cushion. Notice the stretch from the hips up to the fingertips. Gently breathe in this pose for 1 to 5 minutes.
Caution: Avoid practicing this pose in case of knee injuries, severe neck or back pain, vertigo or slipped disc. In hypertension, avoid placing the head below the level of the heart.
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita karani):
Inversions are not generally considered beginner poses, but this pose is safe for those who are new to yoga. As you breathe into this pose, congestion in the legs will be relieved, and your nervous system will get a restorative soothing effect.
How to practice?
Place your right side against the wall and sit sideways. Gently swing your legs up and place your feet against the wall. Lightly lower your head and shoulders to the floor so that your body forms an L-shape. Place your hands in a comfortable position, on your belly or to the side. It might take some practice to get into this pose. Try to create a relaxed environment by placing a pillow under your head. Continue to take slow, deep breaths in and even slower breaths out through your nose. There are a few precautions to consider when practicing, as moving the hips and legs towards the wall can be tricky. A simpler variation with knees bent and legs placed on a chair can be considered alternatively.
Caution: Injuries related to the hips, spine, pelvis, knees, ankles, shoulders, or recovering from surgery are a few conditions where this pose should not be practiced. According to some yoga experts, women should avoid it during mensuration.
Corpse pose (Shavasana):
This basic relaxing yoga pose is very popular, as it appears very easy. However, it requires efforts to bring the mind to focus on the body as we relax it. This needs practice. Supported shavasana practice reduces blood pressure, muscle tension, and fatigue. It improves sleep, boosts the immune system, and eases chronic pain.
How to practice?
Lie on a yoga mat or bed. Allow your feet to fall away from each other and keep your arms on the sides of your body with palms facing up. Use props such as a folded blanket under your knees, if you have back pain. Support the gentle curve of the neck with a flat pillow or cushion. Cover yourself to feel warm and comfortable. Place eyebags or eye pillows on the eyes for enhancing relaxation and soothing the eyes. Now take your attention to different body parts, starting with the feet, and moving towards the head. Gradually bring awareness to each part of the body and continue relaxing it. Continue breathing in a gentle, rhythmic way, and imagine the outgoing breath relaxing all the muscles in the body. You may imagine this as if your body is ‘melting’ into the surface beneath you. Cultivate a sense of surrendering and letting go as you sink into the relaxation experience.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is for informational purpose only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Yoga practices mentioned here must be learned under the guidance of a qualified yoga professional.