What Is Restorative Yoga? A Beginners Guide
Are you an athlete who needs to balance your active lifestyle? Are you wanting to get into yoga but worried you’re not skilled or fit enough?
Are you someone wanting to experience meditation without having to sit uncomfortably still for long periods of time? Are you stressed to the max and desperate for a way to unwind?
Then restorative yoga is for you! In my opinion, restorative yoga is for everyone. Here’s why: it’s a very gentle practice that anyone can do. It provides a perfect complement to every lifestyle, active or sedentary. Lastly, it can help the busiest of minds find inner peace.
In today’s world we’re exposed to so much that we often feel distracted and worried. It’s easy to feel like we’re not good enough or that we always need to be doing more. Lots of screen time, scary news, and comparing ourselves to others over social media adds to the problem.
Because of this, our bodies are most often in a state of fight or flight, like someone is chasing us. We’re never really turned off. This puts our nervous system on overdrive and leaves us feeling depleted, tired, and sore.
Cue restorative yoga, where the goal is to move our bodies into a state of rest & digest. What does that mean? It’s the opposite of fight or flight. It allows our bodies to slow down and repair themselves. We ‘turn off’. When we restore from within like this, we feel balanced and at ease.
The basis of restorative yoga is practicing a few poses, using props to support ourselves in those poses, and aiming for deep, relaxed breathing.
Restorative yoga has its background with B.K.S. Iyengar, who introduced the use of props in yoga poses. Judith Lasater expanded on the subject with her book ‘Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times’. ( 1)
Restorative yoga can be practiced at the end of an active class or on its own. It’s especially helpful for when we’re tired, needing support or feeling burnt out. It calms us down when we have too much energy and its gentleness can help us heal from injury.
A restorative practice can last 5 minutes or 90 minutes, depending on how many poses are done and how long they are held. You should feel very relaxed and comfortable in a pose. If not, then try readjusting or adding a prop. The following sequence is a good idea of what to expect:
“Props help practitioners at all levels gain the sensitivity of a pose while receiving the benefits over time without overextending themselves. They allow students to practice asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control) with greater effectiveness, ease, and stability.” ( 3)
The basic props are a bolster, blanket, strap and eye mask. If you are just starting out and don’t want to invest in any props yet, this article gives tips on how to make your own props with things around the house. A studio will also most likely have all of these props available for you to use.
If you’re looking to invest, I highly recommend starting with a block and a bolster. They make so many poses feel yummy, no matter the type of yoga you choose to practice.
Restorative yoga is done using a very relaxed, deep belly breath. You can start your practice by placing a hand on your belly and feeling it move out as you inhale and in as you exhale.
This breath promotes relaxation and mindfulness. It allows us to let go of our busy thoughts, enjoy our bodies and our yoga practice. It also helps to increase the oxygen in our bodies, lower our heart rate and stabilize blood pressure. ( 3)
It’s very simple and should feel easy to do. Continue to feel the breath move deeply into and out of your belly as you move through the poses. If you ever got lost in your thoughts, just bring your hand to your belly and remember your deep belly breath!
Try It At Home — Restorative Yoga on YouTube
There are so many options for good restorative yoga videos to do at home. Here are a few favorites!
1. This sequence can be done in just two minutes and change your entire day!
2. Here is an example of a practice done with minimal props.
And this class done by Anita Goa is a beautiful example of a fully restorative practice. She even explains some of the props for you.
3. RESTORATIVE YOGA: Self Care For Ultimate Relaxation
Practicing restorative yoga is a great way to enhance a health and wellness routine, whether you already have one or are just starting out.
We can walk away from a restorative practice feeling rejuvenated and healthy, knowing that we’ve rewarded our body by slowing down and moving into rest and digest. Anyone can practice and it feels really good to do.
Restorative yoga is best to practice when you are needing to slow down and feel rejuvenated. If you are burnt out from too much studying, overwhelmed by the world, or need recovery after a long workout, make time for this practice.
You will experience a saner, more well-rested, restored, supported, healthier you.
By Jessica Cartwright/So Much Yoga