Restorative Yoga Basics
Most contemporary yoga is an active practice in which you move from pose to pose, building heat and increasing your strength and flexibility in equal measure. The general trend in yoga is toward more and more athletic and acrobatic styles of practice.
Restorative yoga is something completely different. It's about slowing down and opening the body through passive stretching. If you take a restorative class, you may hardly move at all, doing just a few postures in the course of an hour.
During these long holds, your muscles relax deeply. It's a completely different feeling from other types of yoga classes since props are used to support your body instead of your muscles. Restorative classes are very mellow, making them a good complement to more active practices and an excellent antidote to stress.
All Props All the Time
In restorative yoga, props are used extensively to support your body so that you can hold poses for longer. Postures are usually adapted from supine or seated yoga poses with the addition of blocks, bolsters, and blankets to eliminate unnecessary straining.
For instance, a seated forward bend - paschimottanasana (see above) can become restorative by placing a bolster or several folded blankets on top of your legs so that your forward bend is fully supported with the entire torso resting on your props.
Legs up the wall - viparita karani is a classic restorative that you might already know.
In this case, the wall acts as a prop to support your legs. Other adaptations like reclined goddess pose and supported bridge pose can be seen in our Restorative Poses Photo Gallery.
What to Expect in Class
Prepare yourself for deep relaxation when you attend a restorative class. Expect the teacher to arrange for the necessary props to be available for you.
The lights may be dimmed and soft music played. If it is chilly, keep your socks and sweatshirt on since you will not be warming up the body the way you would be in a regular class. In some poses, the teacher may cocoon you in blankets for extra warmth and coziness
After you are set up in a pose with all your props, you will hold the pose for an extended period, often up to ten to twenty minutes. Although you are supported, you will definitely still feel the stretching, which will probably help keep you awake. You will continue to focus on your breath throughout. The teacher may talk you through a meditation or play music, depending on their style. You may only do four or five poses over the course of a class. At the end of the session, your body feels open and refreshed. You may even be a little sore the next day from the deep stretching.
Once you learn the basic set-ups for a few postures, it's easy to do restorative yoga at home. You will need to assemble a few props, but many poses can be done with just a few blankets, which you probably already have.