What Is Restorative Yoga?
When I met restorative yoga, I fell in love.
Like many Western practitioners, my introduction to yoga was through vinyasa. I’m so thankful for vinyasa, and it still makes up a chunk of my yoga practice. But vinyasa can often focus solely on the body through the physical postures, or asanas, and with that, we can miss out on yoga’s intention to quiet our minds.
While I could quiet my mind while engaging in the flow and movement of vinyasa, I was not training myself to find that same peace in moments of stillness.
When I took my first restorative yoga class, I found that yoga could exist in stillness, in non-exercise spaces, and wherever I took it. I credit restorative yoga with helping me become a yogini and not just a consumer of yoga-as-exercise.
Whether you’ve never practiced any type of yoga or if you’re an experienced yogi looking to add something new to your practice, I cannot recommend restorative yoga more.
So, What Is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga is best described as “passive stretching”. It utilizes props and time to help students relax. The first time I went to a restorative class, I thought of it as a guided nap where we were led into different poses every once in awhile. I didn’t actually fall asleep, but I found the process so soothing that it reminded me of naptime in preschool.
In a restorative class, you may only “do” 5 to 7 poses, and you will hold them for longer periods of time than in other types of yoga. This gives your body time to relax into the pose without physical effort.
While restorative is very calming, your mind may begin to wander without a consistent flow of physical postures to move through. If this happens, draw your mind back to where you are. With consistent practice of restorative yoga, you will train your mind to enter a deep state of relaxation that you can carry into your everyday life.
One of the greatest benefits of restorative yoga is how it helps us move out of the “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system and into the “rest and digest” mode of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is important; it helps us respond to threats by increasing our adrenaline and heart rate so that we’re more alert and ready to go. But everyday stress can also trigger the sympathetic nervous system, and we can find ourselves experiencing chronic stress or getting stuck in fight or flight. This can have unfortunate consequences for both the body and the mind.
Practices like restorative yoga can help us move out of this state and into the parasympathetic nervous system and rest and digest. Here, the heart rate slows, and intestinal activity increases so that we can better digest our food. This is also a time when the body can regenerate, detoxify, and build immunity.
Beyond the nervous system, some other beneftis of restorative yoga include:
Reduced cortisol levels
Increased body awareness
Props You May Want to Have
Restorative yoga is a prop-heavy practice. We use props in restorative classes to get our bodies in just the right place for each pose. You want to feel supported, comfortable, and completely at rest in order to obtain all of the benefits of restorative yoga.
There are so many props that you can use with restorative yoga, but if you’re just getting started at home, these few will serve you well:
Blocks provide supports for your knees and feet to rest on in different poses. You can also lean a bolster against them and create a ramp to lie against or lay them across your stomach in reclining poses or on your feet in Legs Up the Wall to add weight.
Bolsters are restorative yoga’s main prop. They are most often used to support the torso but are very versatile overall in restorative yoga. They come in many different sizes, but the most useful bolster for a home practice is a medium-sized flat one, like this bolster from YogaAccessories.
Blankets are key because restorative is such a cozy style of yoga. You can use blankets to add additional cushion under your torso or head. You can stack them on top of a bolster to make a forward fold easier. You can also drape them over yourself as you hold a pose to keep you warm. It can be nice to feel like you’re tucked in.
You can use any blankets that you have around the house. You might like a thinner or heavier blanket depending on what pose you’re in. I also like using blankets that others have made for me as an additional comfort factor. Many studio use this kind of blanket because they’re heavier, hold up well, and they’re easy to fold different ways to support you in various poses.
Eye pillows are more of a luxury than a necessity, but there is really nothing like a silky eye pillow blocking out the light and sending the calming scent of lavender to your nose while you recline in a supported butterfly pose.
*In the name of transparency, please be aware that this blog post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links may result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you).*
Now that you know all about restorative yoga, you probably can’t wait to start practicing. I’m sharing a few of my favorite poses to help you get started.
Turn down the lights, get cozy, and put on your most relaxing playlist. Set a timer for five minutes and switch to the next pose when the timer goes off. Enjoy!
Make a ramp with two blocks and a bolster near the back of your mat. Place one block on the highest setting, and place the other block on the middle setting right in front of it. Lay the bolster against them so that it sits like a ramp lay your back against it so that you’re reclining being your feet together so that your knees point toward the sides of you’re mat in butterfly pose. If you have more blocks (or some books), you can place them under your knees for support. Open your chest and place your arms alongside your torso with your palms facing up.
Lie down on your back. Bring your feet flat on the floor as close as possible to your glutes, knees pointing toward the ceiling. Lift your back off of the floor. Slide a block or bolster under your sacrum. It may take some adjustments for it to be comfortable. Rest your sacrum on the block. Place your hands on your stomach or down by your sides.
Legs Up the Wall
Bring the back edge of your mat up to the wall. Sit next to the wall with your hip against it and bring one leg up at a time so that the backs of your legs are against the wall. Scoot your hips and glutes closer to the wall until they are touching it. You can put a block or blanket on your feet to add weight. You can also bring your feet together in butterfly pose while against the wall. Rest your hands on your stomach or by your side.
Practice with Me!
If you’re interested in practicing restorative yoga with me, either in-person in the Kansas City area or over video, please reach out to me at email@example.com.
I hope you have an opportunity to try restorative yoga soon!
As always, drop me a message in the comments if you have any questions!