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What is Restorative Yoga?

What is Restorative Yoga?

Restorative yoga is a style of yoga that invites the mind and body to relax and soften. Within the word ‘restorative,’ we have the word ‘restore.’ Put simply, restore means to return back to a former or original condition.

The following video discusses what restorative yoga is all about, what you can expect from a restorative yoga class, as well as some of the amazing benefits this style of yoga has to offer!

Daily stressors and a busy lifestyle can take a toll on our physical, mental and emotional bodies. This can look and feel like tension, overwhelm, anxiety, stiffness, annoyance, stress, frustration, and so on. Restorative yoga encourages us to return back to a state of ease.

Restorative yoga can help regulate our stress response. Uncertainty, unknowns and stressors can activate our sympathetic nervous system (our “fight or flight” response). This response is important for our survival. With that being said, this response becomes problematic when it becomes persistent. This can lead to a myriad of health concerns, creating imbalances in the mind and body. Restorative yoga has the ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system. Restorative yoga has the ability to rebalance our internal ecosystem, which includes our nervous system.

Individuals may describe restorative yoga as “adult nap time.” This is because there is minimal physical movement that takes place during restorative yoga classes. Participants typically remain in one posture for 5 to 20 minutes. In one class, you may only explore 3 to 8 poses! This is dependent on the length of the class.

It is very likely that you will use props during restorative yoga classes. With that being said, there may be classes or some postures where props are not used. The use of props (e.g. blankets, pillows, straps, blocks, towels and bolsters) offer support to your body, helping you relax fully into the posture. Props are useful for helping us remain in postures for extended periods of time without effort or strain.

This style of yoga focuses on passive stretching and deep breathing. Deep breathing can help soften areas of the body that may feel “tight” or “tense.” Additionally, posture holds and deep breathing can help elicit the relaxation response. The relaxation response can help calm down the nervous system, tend to frayed nerves, slow down breathing, reduce blood pressure, and so on.

Although restorative yoga does not necessarily present physical challenges, you may experience discomfort finding stillness in the mind and/or the body. You may experience a strong desire to fidget or to move on to the next thing. With no distractions, the mind may wander. You may think about your to-do list, recount your day, delve into habitual thought patterns, uncover areas of suffering, and so on. This can feel like A LOT! Be patient with the process and demonstrate compassion towards yourself.

In my opinion, the benefits of adopting a regular restorative yoga practice far outweigh the discomfort you may experience at the beginning of your journey.

What are the Benefits?

  • Restorative yoga can help regulate our stress response. The postures and breathwork can lessen the effects of an increase in cortisol levels. The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, inviting our mind and body to soften and relax.

  • Reduces cortisol levels. High cortisol levels have been linked to weight gain, high blood pressure and heart disease. The tools of restorative yoga can help reduce cortisol levels, which can be useful to our overall physical health.

  • Find stillness and slow down. Restorative yoga gives us the tools to slow down, inviting us to find stillness in both the mind and body.

  • Improves breathing and soothes the nervous system. The breath can be an exceptional tool to help calm down the nervous system, tend to frayed nerves, and can help lessen stress, anxiety and overwhelm.

  • Enhances the mind-body connection. This includes an awareness of thought patterns and how this may impact the body and/or breathing.

  • Encourages mindfulness. Restorative yoga gives us the opportunity to go inward and observe. We can observe thought patterns, identify areas of tension in the body, observe the rise and the fall of our belly on each inhale and exhale, and so forth.

  • Improves sleep. Since the mind and body are entering a more relaxed state, this can help improve the quality of sleep. It is possible to fall asleep during a restorative yoga class. The nervous system is recalibrating to a “rest and digest” state instead of a “fight or flight” state.

  • Improves flexibility and mobility. Holding passive postures for extended periods of time can enhance flexibility. The use of props and the breath can deepen the stretch, softening “tight” areas of the body.

  • Improves quality of life. The tools of restorative yoga can lower stress levels, reduce fatigue and give us a boost in energy! When you feel good, others will notice. This can then impact their energy level and mood as well!

  • Gentle on the body. Restorative yoga is generally considered safe for all ages, levels and body types. The postures are gentle on the body, including our joints. This style of yoga is considered safe for those who are ill, injured, as well as those experiencing chronic pain.

NOTE: some postures may need to be modified (or adjusted) to suit individual needs. It is recommended to consult a physician prior to participating in a restorative yoga class (or any exercise program). Follow any precautions as outlined by your physician.

Common Restorative Yoga Poses:

Extended Child’s Pose Without Props

  • Come to all fours and bring your big toes together.

  • Knees are roughly as wide as your yoga mat, or whatever width feels most comfortable for you.

  • Sit back towards your heels, as you reach your hands towards the top edge of your mat.

  • Breathe in and then on the exhale, release your chest and forearms to the earth.

  • Forehead gently rests on the earth.

  • Breathe deeply, perhaps feeling the skin on the back body stretch on the inhale and then soften on the exhale.

  • Remain in this posture for about 5 minutes.

Extended Child’s Pose With Props

  • Place a pillow or a folded blanket on your calves and then sit back towards your heels.

  • Place a bolster or stack a couple of pillows on top of one another (as seen in the image) vertically on your mat, and then rest your upper body on top of the item(s).

  • Forearms and hands rest on either side of the item(s).

  • Turn your head to rest your cheek on your prop. After at least 2.5 minutes, switch sides and rest on your other cheek.

  • Option to place a folded blanket or two under your knees and ankles for extra padding and support.

  • Using props can create more steadiness and ease in this posture, allowing you to remain in this posture for a longer period of time.

  • You can stay in this posture for 5 to 8 minutes.

Child’s pose offers a gentle stretch to our hips, quadriceps, ankles, upper back body and shoulders. This posture is fantastic for calming down the nervous system, inviting us to focus on the breath.

Legs Up The Wall With Props

  • Place a folded blanket, a pillow or a bolster near a wall. This item will be used to support your low back in this posture (you may need to adjust the placement of your item as you make your way into the pose).

  • You can use a folded blanket to support your head and neck in this posture as well.

  • Sit on your item with your left hip resting against the wall.

  • Use your arms and hands to support you as you begin to lean back and swing your legs up the wall.

  • There’s an option to keep a generous bend in your knees to start (especially if this pose is new to you).

  • Eventually straighten through your legs (keeping a small micro-bend in your knees).

  • Feet are hip width apart.

  • Your back and head rest on the ground.

  • Shoulders relax away from the ears.

  • Arms rest at your sides and your palms face towards the sky.

  • It is okay if there’s a bit of space between your body and the wall. If the hamstrings are tight, this space may feel really lovely!

  • Close your eyes to turn your attention inward.

  • Focus on the breath and observe the sensations flowing throughout your body.

  • Please note that you can do this posture without the use of props.

  • Stay here for at least 5 minutes. You can stay in this posture for up to 20 minutes.

Legs up the wall can help improve circulation, bring energy to tired legs and feet, and it can help stretch out the legs (especially the hamstrings) and the back body. This posture invites stillness in both the mind and body.

Legs On A Chair With Props

  • Start by sitting in front of a chair.

  • Lay on your right side and bend your knees.

  • As you begin to roll onto your back, connect to your center as you lift your legs up onto the chair.

  • Your calves rest on the chair, feet can be flexed with the toes pointing towards the sky or relaxed.

  • Arms rest at your sides, palms face towards the ceiling, fingertips curl in slightly.

  • For more comfort, you can place a folded blanket under your head and neck.

  • Option to place a rolled up towel under your neck to support the neck’s natural curvature (as shown in the image).

  • There’s an option to place a folded blanket or towel under the heels for extra support (as shown in the image).

  • This is a great alternative to legs up the wall.

  • Remain here for 5 to 10 minutes.

Legs on a chair can relieve tension in the pelvis, back and belly. As you sink into this posture, you may begin to notice areas in which you may be gripping or holding. This pose encourages mindfulness! This posture is great for remote workers and for those learning at home.

Reclining Bound Angle Pose Without Props

  • Lie down on your back with the soles of your feet on the mat to start.

  • Arms and hands can rest at your sides, with your palms facing towards the sky. Another option is to place your hands on your belly for comfort.

  • Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall open.

  • Chin tucks in slightly to create length in the back of your neck.

  • Shoulders relax away from your ears.

  • There is an option to walk your heels closer towards your body if you are looking for a deeper stretch.

  • Close your eyes and breathe.

  • Perhaps you work on directional breathing if your hands are resting on your belly. This means sending breath down to your hands, filling your belly up with air on the breath in. On the breath out, observe how your breath moves in the opposite direction.

  • You can remain in this posture for 5 minutes.

Reclining Bound Angle Pose With Props

  • Sit on your mat, with your legs out in front.

  • Place a bolster or a few stacked blankets vertically by your tailbone.

  • Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall open.

  • Lower onto your forearms, and then release your back and head onto the bolster (or stacked blankets).

  • Hands can rest on your belly or at your sides.

  • Palms face upwards and your fingers remain relaxed.

  • Place yoga blocks or pillows under the legs to support the knees.

  • Breathe and fully release into this pose.

  • Remain in this posture for 5 to 10 minutes.

This posture stretches the inner thighs, groin muscles, hip flexors and chest. Reclining bound angle pose is said to release muscle tension, relax the mind and reduce stress.

Corpse Pose With Props

  • Place a folded blanket or a pillow at the top of your mat (for your head and neck).

  • Place a bolster or a firm pillow near the other end of your mat (this will be used to support your knees).

  • Lie down on your mat.

  • Your head and neck are being supported by a pillow or a folded blanket.

  • Send your legs out long, allowing the backs of your knees to drape over your bolster or pillow.

  • Arms rest at your sides with your palms facing towards the sky.

  • Allow the weight of your body to release fully into the items and into the ground beneath you.

  • Use the breath to soften areas of tension.

  • Option to place a blanket over your body for comfort and warmth.

  • Option to place an eye pillow over your eyes.

  • You can remain in this posture for as long as you would like (I recommend staying in this posture for at least 10 minutes).

This pose can clear the mind, soothe the nervous system, relax the whole body, release tension, reduce blood pressure, slow breathing, and can leave you feeling revitalized.

Note: In restorative yoga classes, you typically hold each pose for 5 to 20 minutes. Props can help you stay in the posture for a longer period of time with more steadiness and ease.

Would you like to explore more restorative yoga postures? If you said “YES” to this question, then I encourage you to download my FREE guide to Restorative Yoga Poses for Beginners!

Get it for FREE here! →

If you download this free guide right now, you will receive TWO FREE GIFTS!

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