Faced with the turbo-charged speed of contemporary urban life, many of us find ourselves constantly racing to make it through another hectic day and our growing to-do lists. That is why restorative yoga, with its focus on slowing down, renewing, and relaxing, is the perfect way to create your own oasis of calm, wherever you may be.
What makes this yoga practice so appealing is that it offers something for everyone. Unlike some styles of yoga that are physically very challenging, restorative is suitable for all ages and fitness levels ─ from outright beginners, who may have no prior yoga experience and find more active yoga postures too intimidating to attempt, to the most flexible, experienced yogis needing a counterbalance to demand asana practice. And because restorative poses are healing and rejuvenating, they are ideal for those recovering from injuries, illness, or chronic stress.
By its very nature, restorative yoga is passive and opens up the body’s energy lines. Relaxing our muscles and our bodies helps our minds to be at ease. Since the body is completely supported with props, you can totally surrender to the poses and stay in them effortlessly for long periods of time, while reaping the same benefits associated with more active postures.
In the yoga studio, blankets bolster, and blocks are the props used to support the body. For home practice, simply replace bolsters and blocks with pillows, towels, and blankets. Generally, restorative poses can last for 10 minutes or longer, so when practicing on your own, set a kitchen timer before each pose and you won’t have to keep one eye on the clock.
Doing restorative yoga before bedtime will help you wind down from a busy day. Set the mood for relaxation by dimming the lights, using scented candles (i.e., lavender), and playing your favorite soothing music. Enhance your experience with an eye pillow; by closing your eyes and tuning out visual stimuli, you will find it much easier to go inward and enter a deeper state of relaxation. Be sure you feel completely relaxed. Release any tension you may be holding in your face by opening your mouth and wiggling your jaw from side to side to keep it loose. Keep your lips slightly open and let your tongue rest gently in your mouth. Relax the area between your brows. Envision your entire body as weightless and totally supported by the floor and your props.
Forward leaning postures are known to be calming. This pose is also wonderful for releasing tension in the lower back.
Use pillows or roll blankets to form a cylindrical shape. Place the props on the floor so that when you lean forward, your torso and head are fully supported. Center your torso over your props as you fold forward. Bend your legs and allow them to straddle the cylinder on either side as they release into the floor. Rest your arms and hands loosely on either side of your props. Turn your head to one side, with eyes closed, so that it is weightless and rests completely at the top of the props. Make sure that your hands are open and relaxed and allow your shoulders to melt over the cylinder. Halfway through the posture, turn your head to the other side so that both sides of your neck have a chance to release. When you are done, roll yourself back up slowly one vertebra at a time into a seated position, with your head coming up last.
This pose is a great hip opener. It allows even the tightest hips to release gently, without any strain. Another benefit is the gentle opening it provides for the chest.
Lie on your back onto pillows or a blanket rolled into a cylinder that is propped up a few inches higher at one end; your headrests at the elevated end of the props. Bend your legs so that the soles of your feet are just touching each other and your legs open out sideways. (Your legs should look roughly like a diamond shape from your hips to your feet.) Place a thinner pillow or folded blanket under each knee, so that as your bent legs splay out towards the floor, your knees can rest comfortably on your props with no sense of effort as you let them fall open. Allow your arms to rest at your sides at a 45 degree angle away from your torso, palms facing up. Since you are resting on your back, use an eye pillow. Visualize the entire weight of your body melting into the floor as you relax.
Gravity takes a heavy toll on our legs and feet as they bear our entire body weight for a great part of the day. This pose revitalizes by reversing the flow of blood and lymph out of the feet and legs and moving it back towards the heart. The legs become weightless. This gentle inversion also helps lower blood pressure.
The easiest way to get into the proper position is to sit on the floor with one of your sides touching the wall. Lie down with your side against the wall, and turn 90 degrees towards the wall as you swing your legs around and up so they extend straight up the wall, with your seat as close to the wall as is comfortable. You should be flat on your back, with your legs parallel to the wall, where they form a right angle to the rest of your body.
You can try this pose without props, or use a thinly folded blanket as padding for your seat and hips if that is more comfortable. If you feel any strain with your legs straight up against the wall, bend them slightly while keeping them vertical. Rest your arms on the floor along your sides at a 45-degree angle to your torso, palms facing up, or place them on the floor “cactus” style if you want more openness in your heart center. For cactus arms, bend your elbows so that your arms from shoulders to elbows form right angles to your torso and your arms from your elbows to your fingertips are parallel to your body, with hands facing palms up alongside either side of your head. Use your eye pillow. Remember to come out of the pose slowly. When you are ready, wiggle your toes gently, bend your knees and slide your legs gently down the wall until your feet touch the floor. Rollover onto your right side into a fetal position and let your eye pillow fall away. Use your hands as a cushion to cradle the right side of your face. After a minute or so, use your left hand to help push yourself up gently to a comfortable seated position. Let your head come up last to avoid feeling lightheaded.