Yoga

Restorative Yoga: The Basics + 5 Poses

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There are certain physical movements that are so beneficial to the body, mind, and spirit that they can be practiced daily or weekly. Gentle yoga poses that stretch the body and help to calm the nervous system are wonderful additions to any daily ritual. Incorporating restorative yoga poses such as Child’s Pose, Legs Up the Wall, and gentle spinal twists into your regular exercise routine can aid in general relaxation, injury recovery, and slowing down the endless chatter of the mind.

What Is Restorative Yoga?

Restorative yoga, also called gentle yoga, is a style of yoga designed to relax, restore, and rejuvenate the body, mind, and spirit. Restorative yoga falls under the umbrella of hatha yoga, an ancient form of yoga with origins in India, which is intended to stretch and strengthen the physical body in preparation for seated meditation.

In a restorative yoga class, you will find mellow movements, long-held postures often supported with props such as blankets and blocks, and a general atmosphere of ease and calm. Poses may be held anywhere from two to 20 minutes. Although restorative yoga is sometimes conflated or confused with yin yoga, the practices differ. In the yin yoga practice, the intention is to stretch into deep layers of the body through long-held poses that put a small, deliberate amount of stress on the body.

Restorative Yoga’s Intention

The intention of a restorative yoga class is to create the conditions for calm so as to allow students to drop into a state of deep relaxation and stillness. In a restorative yoga class, you may find soothing music, relaxing pranayama practices, teachers offering optional hands-on adjustments or reiki with consent, heavy use of props, and perhaps mantra chanting. This intentionally calming environment is in stark contrast to the busyness of modern life and can provide a safe place of respite and refuge.

When and Where to Practice Restorative Yoga

The best time to practice restorative yoga is anytime you have the space and time to practice. Restorative yoga can be practiced morning, noon, or night. You may like to practice first thing when you wake up to get your day started on a positive note, gently waking up the body and mind. You may like to practice after an aerobic exercise workout, stretching the muscles after exertion. Or you may like to practice as part of an evening wind-down routine, preparing yourself for a good night’s rest.

You can practice restorative yoga anywhere—such as home, a yoga studio, or the airport as you await your flight. While the poses suggested here use the support of props, one of the best things about yoga is that it can be done anywhere there is a safe ground to stand or sit. Get creative about where and when you practice restorative yoga, and let the intention of restoration guide you.

Restorative Yoga Props

Props can support your restorative yoga practice and make it extra comfortable. When your limbs and body feel supported, you may be able to relax even deeper into the poses. When you are able to relax your body, your nervous system is able to relax. When your nervous system is able to relax, your brain and body can recharge. When you feel recharged, you can show up as the best version of yourself for your family, friends, coworkers, community, and the world.

Here are some props you may enjoy including in your restorative yoga practice. If possible, look for props made from recycled, organic, and eco-conscious materials.

  • Yoga mat: Choose a soft yoga mat for your restorative practice. You may even like to drape a blanket over the entire mat for extra cushioning and warmth.
  • Blankets: Use any blanket that will provide weight, warmth, and cushion for your practice. Mexican blankets are commonly used as props in yoga studios.
  • Yoga blocks: Yoga blocks are often made from wood, cork, or recycled foam. You can also use a stack of books as blocks when practicing at home.
  • Bolsters: Bolsters are big pillows with some stiffness that allows for more support during restorative poses. You can choose from rectangular, round, or an alternative shape.
  • Eye pillow: An eye pillow is a small rectangular pillow usually filled with flax seed or sand. Oftentimes there are also dried lavender flowers inside for some relaxing aromatherapy.

The following restorative yoga poses can be done individually, as a sequence, or in any order that suits your needs. Do these poses as often as possible. Every day would be just fine, but even once a week would be delightful and beneficial.

1. Child’s Pose

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Benefits: Relaxes the low back, gently stretches the knees, and has an overall grounding effect.

Props needed: Two blankets, one bolster. Optional: Two blocks.

How to:

  • Fold one blanket so that there is extra cushion under your knees.
  • Place your bolster in front of you.
  • Bring your big toes together and widen your knees as much as is comfortable for you. Option: Place a block between your heels and move your hips back toward your heels.
  • Fold your second blanket and place it at the head of the bolster like a pillow.
  • Slide the bolster between your knees and tip forward. Rest your belly, ribs, and chest on the bolster. Option: Place a block under the head of the bolster for a slight incline.
  • Turn your head to one side.
  • Rest your arms along either side of the bolster. Palms can face up or down.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for five to 25 minutes.

2. Supta Badha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

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Benefits: Relaxes the back, gently stretches the hips and groins, and has an overall grounding effect.

Props needed: Two blocks, two blankets. Optional: Eye pillow.

How to:

  • Fold one blanket so that it fits comfortably under your head like a pillow.
  • Set your two blocks to either side of your hips.
  • Recline onto your back.
  • Bend your knees and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Allow your knees to open out like butterfly wings.
  • Slide the blocks underneath your knees or thighs for support. Situate the blocks so that they are comfortably resting under your legs; if the edges of the blocks dig into your legs, turn the blocks to a more sustainable angle.
  • Drape the other blanket over your pelvis and abdomen or unfold it completely and cover your whole body.
  • Rest your arms down by your sides and turn your palms to face up and open.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for five to 25 minutes.

3. Supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

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Benefits: Opens the chest and shoulders, relaxes the upper back, and has an overall energizing effect.

Props needed: Two blocks. Optional: Bolster, blanket, and eye pillow.

How to:

  • Set up your blocks so that one block is at the lowest height and one block is at the medium height. Option: Rest your bolster on top of the blocks for a more cushioned reclining experience.
  • Fold your blanket as a pillow to be placed underneath your head.
  • Sit down in front of the blocks and recline back. Set one block beneath your upper back and one block beneath your head.
  • Adjust the blocks so that you feel supported and are able to drop all of your body weight onto the blocks.
  • Extend your legs out in front of you and relax your feet.
  • Rest your arms down by your sides with your palms facing up.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for five to 10 minutes.
  • If at some point during the hold of the pose you wish to open up your neck and throat in a different way, turn the block beneath your head to the lower height and tip your head back slightly more.
  • When you release from this pose, rest flat on your back for several breaths.

4. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

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Benefits: Relaxes the mid-back, stretches the low back and hamstrings, and has an overall meditative effect.

Props needed: One blanket, one or two blocks.

How to:

  • Come down to a seated position.
  • Extend your legs out in front of you with your feet as wide as your hips.
  • Roll up your blanket and place it beneath your knees.
  • If your low back is tight or tender, you may wish to sit up on another blanket, bolster, or block.
  • Begin to fold forward—any amount.
  • Place one or two blocks either right between your shins or on top of your shins.
  • Rest your forehead on your blocks. At some point during your hold, as your body warms and relaxes, you may wish to lower the height of the blocks.
  • Allow your arms to rest down by your sides or next to your legs.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for five to 25 minutes.

5. Supine Twist

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Benefits: Gently stretches the entire back, massages the internal organs in the abdomen, and has an overall unwinding and balancing effect.

Props needed: Two blankets, one bolster. Optional: Eye pillow.

How to:

  • Come down onto your back.
  • Place one blanket under your head as a gentle pillow.
  • Hug your knees into your chest.
  • Stretch your arms out to the sides.
  • Tip your knees over to one side.
  • Place the bolster in between your knees and ankles, or rest it on its side behind your back.
  • Drape the second blanket over your legs and feet.
  • Turn your head gently away from your knees.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for five to 25 minutes.
  • Repeat the twist on the second side.

Restorative yoga can be grounding, balancing, reflective, and even energizing. Remember, when you take time out for yourself, you are better able to show up for your family, community, and the world. Take some time out each week or each day to restore and renew. Your body, mind, spirit, and family will thank you.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.