Techniques and exercises that induce relaxation and reduce stress are more important than ever right now. Today I’m sharing my go-to restorative yoga postures that will help you maximize stress relief when you’re short on time.
If you missed any of my previous blogs on reducing stress and anxiety, you can catch up here:
Before I jump into my favorite asanas, I’ve provided some basics for this uber-relaxing style of yoga, its benefits, necessary props, and what to expect.
What is restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is the practice of asanas (hatha yoga) where all the effort is eliminated through the support of props. With your body fully supported it can drop deeper into relaxation.=
A restorative yoga class typically involves only five or six postures, held for five minutes or more. It can include light twists, side-lying, seated forward folds, and gentle back bends.
The restorative practice is based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar. Geeta Iyengar (his daughter) and one of his students, Judith Hanson Lasater more fully developed it and popularized it.
Let’s look at how this yoga differs from other styles.
Restorative Yoga vs Other Styles
In most styles of hatha yoga (vinyasa, gentle, Iyengar), the focus is on creating flexibility, strength, and heat. This is achieved through effort, usually by stressing the muscles.
Yin and restorative yoga are the most closely related styles of yoga because of the use of props and holding the postures for longer times. However, in yin yoga, you’re still creating effort through a localized stretch.
With restorative yoga, you want to support your body in order to reduce those sensations so that you can relax fully and deeply.
Benefits of restorative yoga
Restorative yoga’s benefits are similar to any of the ways you practice physical yoga. The two biggie benefits are: it reduces stress (so important right now) and can be practiced by anyone.
In addition, it:
- Improves flexibility
- Increases energy
- Supports meditation
- Calms nervous system
- Improves sleep
- Boosts immune system
- Creates more mindfulness
Props for Restorative yoga
Props are essential for inducing total relaxation. When you use props, you not only eliminate unnecessary muscle engagement and strain, but another element of distraction.
The less distraction you experience, the longer you can hold the pose, and the deeper you can drop into relaxation.
When using props, take your time with the setup. Build them up to meet your body, rather than creating effort to meet the props.
Now let’s look at some of the different props you might use for restorative yoga:
- Mats prevent props from slipping and provide some cushioning. You can practice on carpet, blanket or even in the bed (my personal favorite).
- Bolsters are sturdy pillow-like cushions that provide the main support in many restorative yoga postures.
- Blankets are a yoga practitioner’s all-prop. They can be folded, rolled, and stacked to fill in spaces. Start with at least three blankets, but don’t be surprised if you need more.
- Blocks can be used to sit on and prop up. Combine with blankets to soften the edges and provide another layer of cushion.
- Straps help hold body parts in place.
- Sandbags can anchor and ground different parts of your body.
- Folding chairs should be sturdy with non-skid feet.
If you’re practicing at home, you can use the following items as alternatives:
- A beach towel or blanket instead of a mat.
- Hand and bath towels to roll up or fold to fill in spaces.
- Pillows (such as body pillows) as bolsters.
- Tie or scarf for a strap.
- Regular blankets in place of yoga blankets.
- Shoe boxes or parcel boxes for blocks.
What to expect in restorative yoga
If you usually practice a strenuous style of yoga, you may find restorative slow and “boring” at first. As you train your mind and body for the quiet of the long-held postures, you’ll fall in love with it.
Don’t fret over “proper” prop set up. Understand the basics but know each person will require a slightly different setup. There is no one right way to support your body in restorative yoga.
During in-person restorative yoga, the instructor helps set up the props, deliver additional ones if needed, and place and remove sandbags. If practicing online allow enough time for individuals who might not be familiar to set up.
Most poses are held for at least five minutes and many can be held for up to twenty minutes. Gauge the participant’s attentiveness for lengthening and shortening the time in a posture.
Now on to my four favorite restorative yoga postures for ultimate relaxation.
I’ve included the four restorative yoga postures from the video. In the photos you can see a more detailed view of the setup I used for each one. Remember, it’s only a starting point. Your specific needs determine prop set up and usage.
BENEFITS: Opens hips, groin and pelvic floor, stimulates digestive system and reproductive organs.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Disc disease, sacroiliac, neck and knee issues.
BENEFITS: Increases blood flow to pelvic organs, relieves lower back tension, and improves hip, knee and lower back flexibility.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Ankle, knee and groin injuries, sacroiliac problems, disc disease, second & third trimester.
BENEFITS: Stretches low back muscles including quadratus lumborum, increases lymphatic circulation.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Disc disease, sacroiliac, neck issues.
BENEFITS: Releases tension and improves immune function by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, relieves abdominal cramping.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Neck problems, pregnancy.
To really up the relaxation quotient:
- Dim the lights
- Play soft instrumental music (if you like)
- If you’re prone to chilliness, cover yourself with a light sheet or blanket.
- Focus on deep, evening breathing as you rest in each posture.
- Move with purpose between the postures.
- Finish with a five to ten minute seated meditation.
Practice each of the postures for at least one minute, working your way up to five minutes in each.