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Top 10 Best Restorative Yoga Poses for Nervous System Regulation

Updated: Feb 21

Seated meditation posture with butterfly legs

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We live in a fast-paced world, full of distractions, noise and uncertainty. Many of us experience sensory overload on a daily basis. The overstimulation of one or more of the body’s five senses can affect the way the brain receives, interprets and relays messages back to the body. 


The sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system) can become activated due to sensory overload. Loud noises, strong smells, certain feelings and emotions (fear, sadness, worry, stress, uncertainty, grief, anger), observing body language that feels threatening or closed off, fast movements, and certain facial expressions, can be interpreted by your brain as dangerous. 


Your brain’s job is to keep you safe, at all costs. When your brain perceives danger based on the information you are taking in through your senses, the sympathetic nervous system can become activated. This activation can lead to increased muscular tension, a quickened and shallow breathing pattern, a fast heart rate, clenched teeth, pupil dilation, constricted blood vessels, changes to blood pressure, and so on. This is your body responding to a perceived threat. Your body is preparing to fight or flee even in situations where you are physically safe. Undeniably, the external environment influences your nervous system response.   


To add salt to the wound, productivity and “busyness” are viewed as desirable and necessary for “success.” These internal pressures add additional fuel to an already overactive nervous system. The fight or flight system remains turned “on” as a result. This is why many of us feel as if we are stuck in a chronic state of stress, anxiety and overwhelm. 


The good news is that you have the ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest nervous system) through self-care practices. Self-care practices can help you access feelings of calm, peace and safety. Restorative yoga is an example of a self-care practice that can help you move from a fight or flight state to a rest and digest state.


What is Restorative Yoga?


Restorative yoga is regarded as the “yoga of rest,” and the practice is more like a meditation than a movement practice. Restorative yoga practices involve the use of props to assist with long posture holds. Restorative yoga poses are held anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Props like blankets, yoga blocks, pillows, bolsters and yoga straps, offer support throughout the practice. This support allows you to relax more fully into the postures as you engage in gentle passive stretches designed to “open” the energetic channels throughout your body. 


Restorative yoga is a style of yoga that invites us to slow down the pace and simply be. There is nothing to do. There is nothing to achieve. You are encouraged to show up as you are. You are invited to surrender to stillness and silence as you turn your attention inward. You have the opportunity to observe your breath, thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations experienced in your body from a place of compassionate curiosity. You have the opportunity to release physical, mental and emotional tension through breathwork practices, posture holds, affirmations, mantras, self-touch, added weight from a prop, and more. 


A restorative yoga practice can offer messages of safety to your mind and body. When your brain feels safe, you are able to tap into the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system). This felt sense of safety can open you up to experience the many benefits affiliated with a regular restorative yoga practice.


Restorative half frog pose

Benefits of Restorative Yoga


1. Resolves Chronic Stress

Everyday stressors can trigger the release of stress hormones, like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, into the bloodstream. This causes the fight or flight system to kick in. A restorative yoga practice can help you move into a rest and restore state due to the release of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.


2. Releases Muscular Tension

Muscular tension is common with sympathetic activation. The body needs to be mobilized in case you need to fight or flee. A restorative yoga practice can invite your muscles to soften and release through posture holds, breathwork practices and body scans. 


3. Soothes Pain

Restorative yoga can help soothe pain, including chronic pain. Chronic pain can occur due to an injury, structural issue, repressed or suppressed emotions, and/or trauma. Regardless of the reason why chronic pain is present, restorative yoga can help soothe the nervous system. In stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, you send messages of safety to your mind and body. Your amygdala (fear center) becomes calmer, which can reduce pain sensations experienced in the body. 


4. Offers Relief from Headaches and Migraines 

Stress is the most common trigger for headaches, migraines and tension headaches. When we enter a fight or flight state, many physiological changes take place in the mind and body. Increased muscular tension, blood vessel constriction, shallow breathing, clenched teeth and forward head posture are common bodily responses when in a fight or flight state. These responses can increase the occurrence of headaches. Restorative yoga poses can relax tight, tense and stiff muscles. This can help the energy and the breath flow with more ease throughout the whole body. 


5. Improves Breathing

Heart opening restorative yoga poses create space throughout the front body, which can invite a deeper and more expansive breath. Conscious breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve, which can allow the body to enter a state of deep relaxation. As the body relaxes, the breath can flow with more ease.  


6. Improves Sleep Quality

Restorative yoga poses and breathwork practices can help you slow down the pace and explore ease before bed. You have the opportunity to take stock of what is happening internally, releasing that which doesn’t serve. Adding a few restorative yoga poses to your nightly routine can help you wind down so you can experience deep sleep. 


7. Builds Emotional Resilience

Humans are emotional beings. The body is said to store emotions and memories. Emotions can become stuck in the body due to repressed and suppressed emotions. The body can only hold onto these emotions for so long before it starts showing up as anxiety, depression, physical pain, chronic symptoms, perfectionism, illness, and so on. Restorative yoga offers you space to sit with yourself in silence. This silence can bring awareness to habitual thought patterns and feelings experienced in the body. A restorative yoga practice offers you the space and the tools to help you observe your thoughts and emotions from a place of love and compassion. The tools of a restorative yoga practice invite you to do internal work. This internal work helps cultivate emotional resilience. 


8. Encourages Mindfulness

A restorative yoga practice invites you to turn your attention inward. You have the opportunity to explore your internal landscape from a place of curiosity. As you slow down the pace, you will become increasingly aware of your physical space, your body, sensations, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. This mindfulness practice opens you up to experiencing and feeling your internal states.


10 Restorative Yoga Poses For Nervous System Regulation


Explore the following restorative yoga poses for nervous system regulation.


1. Supported Child’s Pose


Supported child's pose

How To: 

  • Come to all fours. 

  • Bring your big toes together and then open your knees wider than hip distance apart. 

  • Sit back towards your heels as you place a bolster, a large firm pillow or two rolled blankets between your knees and inner thighs. 

  • You can place two yoga blocks on the lowest height under your bolster or pillow for more support. 

  • Place your hands on either side of your props. 

  • Breathe in through your nose, and on your breath out, slowly begin to ease your torso onto your props. 

  • As you bow forward, rest your abdomen and chest on your props. 

  • Turn your head to the right side to rest the left side of your face on your props. 

  • Relax your shoulders, arms and hands. 

  • Allow your breath to soften areas of tension in your body. 

  • Explore breathing into your back body. 

  • After about 3 minutes, turn your head to the left. 

  • Allow the right side of your face to rest on your props. 

  • Remain here for another 3 minutes, breathing in and out. 

Transitioning Out:

  • To transition out of Supported Child’s Pose, press your palms down into the earth. 

  • Using the support of the earth, slowly lift your torso away from your props. 

  • Slowly swing your legs to one side and make your way to a comfortable seat on your mat. 

Benefits: 

  • Encourages a gentle opening in your hips. 

  • Lengthens the spine. 

  • Stretches the tops of the ankles. 

  • Increases circulation to your head and neck. 

  • Stimulates your digestive system. 

  • Evokes feelings of calm, grounding and connection.


2. Grounding Spinal Twist


Grounding spinal twist

How To: 

  • Place your bolster, firm pillow or two stacked folded blankets lengthwise on your mat. 

  • Sit on your mat with your right hip resting against the narrow end of your bolster, pillow or blankets. 

  • Place your hands on either side of your prop.

  • Extend your legs, bending at your knees and tuck your feet in behind you.

  • You can place a folded blanket between your legs to create more space in your lower body.  

  • With your hands resting on either side of your prop, sit up tall, exploring length through the back body. 

  • Take a nourishing breath in through your nose, and on your breath out, begin to rotate at your torso. 

  • Turn your heart space and belly button towards your bolster. 

  • Take another breath in, and on your breath out, slowly ease your torso onto your prop. 

  • Gently rest the right side of your face on your prop.

  • Remain in this Grounding Spinal Twist for 3 to 5 minutes, breathing into your back body (especially your lower back). 

  • Repeat on the other side; this time with your left hip resting against your bolster or pillow. 

Transitioning Out: 

  • When you feel ready to transition out of the pose, press your palms into the earth to help you press up to a seat on your mat. 

Benefits: 

  • Encourages gentle spinal rotation. 

  • Encourages healthy rotation in the ribcage. 

  • Stretches the lower back muscles. 

  • Improves circulation to your digestive tract, promoting healthy digestion.

  • Can provide relief from back pain, especially lower back pain.  

  • Evokes feelings of calm and ease.  


3. Head to Bolster Pose


Head to bolster pose

How To:

  • Find a cross-legged seat on your mat. 

  • Place your hands on the earth as you bring your feet out in front. 

  • Bring the soles of your feet together, and then allow your knees to open to the sides (opening like a book). 

  • Create some space between the soles of your feet so that you can place your bolster between your feet. 

  • Keep your hands on your bolster as you guide the one narrow end of the bolster towards your forehead or third eye point. 

  • Fold forward slightly to connect your head to your bolster. 

  • Release your arms to your sides, finding a position that feels good in your body. 

  • You can place yoga blocks under your outer thighs to support your lower body in this pose. 

  • Send your breath to the areas that are receiving a gentle stretch, such as your hips, glutes, inner thighs and back body. 

  • Explore this pose for 5 minutes. 

Transitioning Out: 

  • When you feel ready to transition out of this restorative yoga pose, allow your hands to take hold of your bolster. 

  • Lift your head away from your bolster. 

  • Gently place your bolster to the side. 

  • Place your fingertips on the outsides of your thighs and draw your legs together. 

  • Return to a cross-legged seat. 

Benefits: 

  • Can help alleviate headaches and migraines. 

  • Provides relief from neck and jaw pain. 

  • Relaxes facial muscles. 

  • Encourages healthy external hip rotation.  

  • Stretches the back, gluteal muscles and inner thighs. 

  • Calms the mind.  


4. Surfboard Pose


Surfboard pose

How To: 

  • Place a folded blanket at the top edge of your mat. 

  • Place a rolled towel near the bottom edge of this folded blanket. 

  • Position a bolster or firm pillow lengthwise in the middle, and closer towards the top edge of your mat. 

  • Leave a small gap between the folded blanket and your bolster. 

  • Place a rolled blanket near the bottom short edge of your mat. 

  • Find a tabletop position with your hands by the base of your bolster.

  • Allow the tops of your ankles to drape over your rolled blanket. 

  • Begin to walk your hands forward, lowering your body onto your bolster or firm pillow. 

  • Rest the edge of your pubic bone and your belly onto your bolster or pillow. 

  • Lower your forehead onto your rolled towel. There should be a small gap between your props, allowing you to breathe with ease. 

  • Rest your arms on the folded blanket. 

  • Maintain a generous bend in your elbows, relaxing your arms and hands. 

  • Allow the weight of your body to be fully supported by your props. 

  • Feel your belly deepen its connection to your bolster or pillow as you breathe in, and then soften on the breath out. 

  • Remain in this restorative yoga pose for 5 minutes.

Transitioning Out:

  • When you feel ready, place your palms under your shoulders. 

  • Engage your abdominal wall by hugging your belly button in towards your spine. 

  • Press your hands into the ground to help you press up to all fours. 

  • Swing your legs to one side and find a comfortable seat on your mat.

Benefits:

  • Encourages you to turn your attention inward. 

  • Invites you to practice present moment awareness by tuning into your senses. 

  • Reduces muscular tension throughout the entire body. 

  • Relieves stiffness in the neck, upper back and shoulders. 

  • Encourages belly breathing, strengthening the diaphragm muscles.


5. Restorative Tree Pose


Restorative tree pose

How To:

  • Sit near the middle of your mat. 

  • Place a folded blanket near one end of your mat. Your head and neck will rest on this blanket. 

  • Place another folded blanket or pillow next to your right hip. 

  • Using the support of your hands and your feet on the earth, slowly ease your back body onto the mat. 

  • Allow your head and neck to rest on the blanket at the top of the mat. 

  • Extend through your left leg. 

  • Slowly begin to open your right knee to the right side, lowering your outer right leg to the folded blanket. 

  • Place the sole of your right foot somewhere along the inside of your left leg. 

  • Feel free to make any adjustments to your props so that you can find ease in this pose. 

  • Relax your arms at your sides, turning your palms to face upwards. 

  • Soften through your fingers and your feet. 

  • Breathe into your right hip and lower back. 

  • You can stay in this pose for 5 minutes. 

  • Repeat the same sequence on the left side. 

Transitioning Out:

  • When you feel ready to transition out of the posture, place your right fingertips on the outside of your right leg. 

  • Slowly guide your right leg back in so that your knee points towards the sky. 

  • Bring your left leg in as well. 

  • Melt your knees to one side, rolling onto your side, and then press yourself up to a seat on your mat. 

  • Place the folded blanket by your left hip so that you can explore this restorative pose on the other side. 

Benefits: 

  • Stretches the inner thigh muscles and the groin. 

  • Invites a gentle opening in the hips. 

  • Reduces tension throughout the entire back body. 

  • Can help relieve lower back and hip pain. 

  • Invites feelings of ease, connection and inner healing. 


6. Supported Bridge Pose


Supported bridge pose

How To:

  • Sit on your mat with the soles of your feet on your mat. 

  • Feet are about hip distance apart, so there’s a small gap between your feet. 

  • Place a yoga strap around your thighs. Please ensure that there is still a gap between your legs. The strap is used to support your legs in this pose, allowing you to rest completely. 

  • Ease your back body onto the earth. 

  • Once you are on your back, press into your foundation (the soles of your feet and your arms) to help lift your pelvis and back body away from the earth. 

  • Place your yoga block on the lowest setting under your sacrum. The sacrum is the triangle-shaped bone at the base of the lower spine, connected to the pelvis. 

  • Lower your sacrum onto your item. 

  • You can use a bolster or a firm pillow instead of a yoga block. 

  • Send your arms from left to right, and then bend at your elbows to explore cactus arms. 

  • Palms turn upwards and fingers soften, curling in. 

  • Allow your legs to relax completely as you are held by the yoga strap. 

  • Allow the weight of your pelvis to settle against the yoga block. 

  • Breathe in and out as you release tension from your chest, shoulders, spinal chain and low back. 

  • Remain in Supported Bridge Pose for 3 to 5 minutes. 

Transitioning Out:

  • To transition out of the posture, allow your arms to return to your sides.

  • Press the soles of your feet into the earth to help lift your pelvis away from the yoga block. 

  • Place your yoga block to the side. 

  • Lower your back body to the earth. 

  • Guide your knees in towards your chest. 

  • Remove the yoga strap, placing this item to the side. 

  • Slowly melt your knees to the side, roll onto your side, and then press yourself up to a seat on your mat.

Benefits:

  • Gently stretches the chest, shoulders and quadriceps. 

  • Softens the hip flexors. 

  • Encourages spinal extension. 

  • Improves respiration. 

  • Can help alleviate lower back pain. 

  • Invites the blood to flow in the direction of your head, which can soothe headaches and migraines. 


7. Supported Fish Pose


Supported fish pose

How To: 

  • Place your bolster, firm pillow or a couple of stacked folded blankets lengthwise at the top end of your mat. 

  • Place another folded blanket on the top narrow end of your bolster. This blanket will provide additional support to your head and neck. 

  • Sit on your mat with your tailbone gently resting against the narrow end of your bolster. 

  • With your hands and your feet on the earth, slowly lower your back body onto your props. 

  • The length of your spine and your head should be fully supported by your props. 

  • Lengthen the back of your neck by tucking your chin in slightly. 

  • Slowly extend your legs out long on your mat. 

  • Allow your arms to settle at your sides, palms are open and your fingers are soft. 

  • Create a blanket roll if you are experiencing discomfort in your lower back. Place this blanket roll beneath your knees, resting your legs on this blanket roll. 

  • Observe the flow of your breath, noticing where you feel your breath moving your physical body. 

  • Remain in this restorative yoga pose for 3 to 5 minutes. 

Transitioning Out:

  • When you feel ready to transition out of the pose, start by bending at your knees. 

  • Place the soles of your feet on your mat. 

  • Carefully roll onto one side, and then use your hands to help you press up to a seat on your mat. 

Benefits: 

  • Encourages an opening across your chest and shoulders.

  • Stretches the psoas muscles and the intercostal muscles between the ribs. 

  • Encourages healthy spinal extension.

  • Improves posture.

  • Reduces tension in the neck and upper back.

  • Improves breathing quality. 

  • Promotes feelings of relaxation. 

  • Can evoke feelings of love, compassion and connection. 

 

8. Heart Pose with Butterfly Legs


Heart pose with butterfly legs

How To: 

  • Place your bolster, firm pillow or stacked folded blankets lengthwise near the top short edge of your mat. 

  • Position yourself so that your tailbone is resting against the one narrow end of your prop. 

  • Bend at your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. 

  • Allow your knees to open to the sides as you make a diamond shape with your legs. 

  • Create a blanket roll. 

  • Place the middle of the blanket roll on the tops of your feet. 

  • Draw the ends of your blanket roll around your ankles to meet behind your heels. 

  • Gently tug at the ends of your blanket roll to ensure your legs are fully supported in this hip opener. 

  • Place both hands on your mat as you slowly ease your back body onto your prop. 

  • The entire length of your spine, including your head, are fully supported by your prop. 

  • Release your arms to your sides. 

  • Open your palms to the sky and soften through each finger. 

  • Soften through your abdominal muscles to allow your breath to flow with ease.

  • Breathe into your chest, shoulders and hips. 

  • Remain in this restorative yoga pose for 5 to 10 minutes. 

Transitioning Out: 

  • To transition out of this pose, place your fingertips on your outer thighs. 

  • Gently guide your legs together. 

  • Carefully roll over to one side, placing one hand down on the ground. 

  • Slowly press yourself up to a seat on your mat. 

Benefits: 

  • Encourages healthy spinal extension. 

  • Encourages healthy external hip rotation. 

  • Offers a gentle stretch to your chest, shoulders, hip and inner thigh muscles. 

  • Improves breath quality, allowing the breath to flow with ease. 

  • Invites mental clarity. 

  • Can evoke feelings of love, compassion and connection.  


9. Gentle Spinal Twist


Gentle spinal twist

How To: 

  • Sit near the middle of your mat. 

  • Ensure that you have a folded blanket or a pillow within arms reach, placing it near the right long edge of your mat.  

  • Place your hands and the soles of your feet on the ground. 

  • Slowly ease your back body onto the surface beneath you. 

  • Explore a gentle tuck of your chin.

  • Snuggle your shoulder blades under your heart space to create additional space between your ears and your shoulders. 

  • Send your arms from left to right, creating a “t” shape with your body. 

  • Allow your palms to face upwards and soften through your fingers. 

  • Breathe in through your nose, and on your breath out, slowly release your knees to the right. 

  • You may need to adjust your hips, moving your hips more towards the left. 

  • Keep your legs stacked as you place a folded blanket or pillow between your inner thighs, knees and shins.

  • Your knees are roughly in line with your hip points.  

  • Do your best to ensure that both shoulder blades remain resting on the earth in order to receive a gentle stretch across your chest.

  • Keep your face pointing in the direction of the sky. 

  • Observe how your breath can create more ease in this gentle spinal twist. 

  • Remain here for 3 to 5 minutes before transitioning out of the pose. 

  • Repeat the same sequence on the other side to balance things out. 

Transitioning Out: 

  • To transition out of this pose, lift your left arm away from the earth. 

  • Slowly draw a rainbow with your left arm as you bring your left hand close to your right hand. 

  • Now you are resting on your right side.

  • Press your left hand down into the ground to help you press up to a seat on your mat. 

  • Place your blanket or pillow on the other side of your mat. 

  • Repeat this pose on the other side. 

Benefits: 

  • Encourages healthy spinal rotation. 

  • Offers a gentle stretch to your chest, shoulders and outer hip. 

  • Can help with hip and lower back pain. 

  • Can assist with digestive processes. 

  • Encourages the breath to flow with ease.

   

10. Basic Relaxation Pose


Basic relaxation pose

How To: 

  • Place a folded blanket at the top edge of your mat. 

  • Roll the one edge a couple of times. This rolled edge will be used to support the natural curvature of your neck. 

  • Place a blanket roll at the other end of your mat. This blanket roll will be used to support your ankles. 

  • Place a bolster, firm pillow or blanket roll horizontally on your mat, positioning it where the backs of your knees will rest. 

  • Sit between the blanket at the top of your mat and your bolster.

  • With your hands and the soles of your feet on the earth, walk your feet over your bolster. 

  • Rest the backs of your knees on your bolster. 

  • Rest your ankles on the rolled blanket. 

  • Slowly ease your back body onto the surface beneath you. 

  • Rest your head on the folded blanket at the top of your mat. 

  • The rolled edge supports your neck. 

  • Release your arms to your sides. 

  • Turn your palms to face upwards and soften through each finger. 

  • You can place a blanket over you for warmth and additional comfort.

  • Allow your breath to flow in and out with ease. 

  • Observe areas of tension in your body. Explore how you can use your breath to soften and release this tension. 

  • Remain in Basic Relaxation Pose for 20 to 30 minutes. 

Transitioning Out: 

  • Slowly walk your feet over your bolster. 

  • Draw your knees in towards your chest. 

  • Slowly roll to one side. 

  • Remain here for a moment. 

  • When you feel ready, press yourself up to a seated position on your mat. 

Benefits: 

  • Maintains the natural curvature of your spine. 

  • Softens your hip flexors, which can become tight due to sitting for extended periods of time. 

  • Softens the diaphragm, allowing you to breathe into your belly with more ease. 

  • Can help relieve lower back pain and discomfort. 

  • Relaxes back muscles which can become tense throughout the day. 

  • Relaxes the entire body - from head to toe. 

  • Aids in stress reduction.

  • Lowers respiratory rate and heart rate. 

  • Can prepare the mind and body for deep sleep. 

  • Invites feelings of calm, relaxation and connection. 


Concluding Thoughts


We are designed to move between sympathetic and parasympathetic states. Both states are necessary for our survival. Some of us may feel as if we are “stuck” in a sympathetic state due to chronic stress. Chronic stress can show up in the body as anxiety, pain, disease, illness, tension, restricted breathing, headaches, migraines, insomnia, panic, digestive issues, fast heart rate, burnout, fatigue, emotional pain, and more. This is why it is important to make time for self-care practices. Self-care practices, like a restorative yoga practice, can bring you back to a state of calm and relaxation. This is what nervous system regulation is all about. Nervous system regulation is about recognizing when you are in a state of arousal, and recognizing when you are feeling calm, balanced, grounded and centered. This awareness can allow you to flow with ease and flexibility between the two states as you engage in practices that support nervous system regulation. 


I invite you to explore restorative yoga with me by joining my Restorative Yoga for Relaxation and Stress Management program. 


I also offer Restorative Yoga Classes on YouTube. 


Let’s stay in touch! I invite you to join my biweekly letter. I share stories, free yoga classes, updates, inspirational quotes, calendars, and more!  


I look forward to connecting with you on the mat!

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