Restorative yoga is the practice of resting for about 15 to 25 minutes in 3-5 poses. Restorative yoga is not a workout, but rather it’s meant to reset the body, give the body rest, bringing a sense of peace and calm to mind and body. However, there are ways to include restorative elements into your regular practice. All you need are blankets, pillows, and blocks or books.
A typical Vinyasa Flow sequence includes Child’s pose, downward-facing dog, high plank, low plank, cobra or upward-facing dog, mountain pose, chair pose, warrior 2, side-angle, reverse warrior, triangle, wide-leg forward bend, horse, warrior 1, a balancing pose or two, like airplane, warrior 3, or tree pose, back-bending poses, like locust and bow, half-pigeon and/or lizard pose to open up the hips, bridge pose, and a cool-down sequence that usually includes supine bound-angle pose, supine twist, happy baby, and corpse pose. Depending on your personal practice or the teacher guiding the class, this sequence may vary, but whether practicing at home or in class, if your body needs more restful moments throughout the sequence, using props and modifying poses can be a great way to reset the body even through the intense strength, balance, and flexibility of a regular vinyasa flow or power yoga class.
The easiest ways to introduce these restorative elements is on the floor. In Child’s Pose, place blankets, cushions or pillows beneath your chest. This allows for greater rest through the chest, and can help facilitate ease of breath. Tucking the props in close to your hips is great if your hips are tights, which is often the case at the beginning of a class. Place a block or stack of books beneath your forehead to help bring more ease to the neck. Rather than reaching the arms long in front of you, bend the elbows and relax the shoulders. This is a more restful position for the arms.
When guided through chaturanga dandasana (high to low plank), come down to the belly, bringing forearms in front of shoulders, draw the chest forward and relax the shoulders back and down. Place a folded blanket under the chest and a rolled up blanket under the hips for more ease through the low back.
At anytime throughout your practice, if you need a moment to rest in a more active position than child’s pose, come to a tall seat on your shins. You can keep toes curled under to stretch through the arches of the feet or lay the tops of the feet flat on the mat. Rest your seat on your heels or between your feet. If this is challenging on the knees, place a blanket beneath your knees for support. If it’s difficult to sit on your heels or on the ground between your feet, place a blanket between your hamstrings and calves under your glutes, or place a cushion or pillow underneath your seat. Keep the spine tall, shoulders relaxed, chest lifted and open, and the crown of the head reaching toward the sky.
Seated Forward Fold
Often in my classes, I will guide students from boat pose (a seated posture where heels are lifted, knees are bent or legs are extended, and arms reach forward, palms facing each other) to a seated forward fold to allow a deeper release through the lower back. Restorative elements may include a cushion propped behind the low back for support, a rolled up blanket beneath the knees, especially if hamstrings are tight, and either a blanket, cushion, pillow, or bolster to rest the upper body (belly, chest, and head) over. Picture, I have a block tucked in close to the hips, to rest the belly on, and a block at an angle on my shins with my forehead resting against the opposite end, allowing relaxation through the neck.
Supported Bridge Pose
In bridge pose, we engage the quadriceps (the muscles through the upper front part of the legs. You can bring rest to the quads by placing a block beneath the upper part of your seat. This pose can be challenging on the neck if the back of the shoulders are not properly adjusted beneath you. To facilitate greater rest through the neck, fold a blanket so that it is in a square and can slide beneath your shoulders and head, then fold a portion of the top of the blanket down so the it tucks beneath your neck and your head remains resting on the upper portion of the blanket like a pillow.
Supine Bound Angle Pose
Lying on your back, bend your knees, bring the soles of your feet together, and butterfly the knees out. For rest through the hips, especially if they’re tight, place blocks beneath the knees for support. You can bring one hand to the belly or one hand to the heart, or mirror the legs, reaching arms overhead, bending the elbows and allowing the fingertips to touch. Keeping a blanket beneath the head and shoulders can provide good support and promote rest for the neck.
Again, support the neck with a blanket beneath the head and shoulders. Place a rolled up blanket close the hip closest to the floor and a block beneath the bottom leg to keep the legs propped up and help keep shoulder blades relaxed on the floor.
In our final resting pose, get as comfortable as you can. Place a blanket beneath head and shoulders to rest the neck. Place a cushion or rolled up blanket beneath the knees and ankles. Explore rolling up two blankets and placing one beneath low back and one beneath the mid-back to keep the chest open.
In your home practice or any class, you should feel free to take the options that you need in that moment. If you want to get in your power yoga or vinyasa flow routine, but are limited physically or mentally by soreness or tiredness or by some other physical or emotional upset, bring these restorative elements to your mat. Yoga is all about finding that balance between ease and effort. Often times we think we are giving our all when we are putting great effort into something, and while that can be true, it is also true that giving our all includes giving our body rest and time to recover as we move from pose to pose. Pause. Practice. Play.