If you’re looking for a way to add some peace and contemplation to your life or if you’re looking to explore a new meditative practice, then restorative yoga may be the practice you’re looking for.
Restorative yoga is very different from the typical yoga class, which is usually a series built around Vinyasa Flow style yoga. In a Vinyasa Flow class participants usually move through a few sun salutations, a series of standing poses, and a series of grounded poses to cool down. In a restorative yoga class, the purpose of the class is to relax fully into each pose to allow physical and mental release.
Read on to find out what a restorative yoga class is like and to discover some poses that are perfect for a restorative yoga practice.
What Is a Restorative Yoga Class Like?
A restorative yoga class focuses on five to seven poses and each pose is held for between 5 and 10 minutes.
So, in an hour-long class, you only move your body to transition between poses. For the rest of the class, your only goal is to relax into the current pose and breathe.
Staying in poses for several minutes at a time allows the muscles and the fascia to stretch and expand much more than they do when poses are held for less time. It also allows the yoga practitioner to focus on their breath practice, which is the basis of every yoga practice.
Restorative yoga is a practice that’s accessible to every level of yoga practitioner. People who have never practiced yoga will find the practice easy and approachable.
But even the most experienced yoga practitioner will find restorative yoga challenging because it requires them to slow down and focus on different aspects of their yoga practice.
What Poses Are Included in a Restorative Yoga Class?
All of the poses in a restorative yoga class are grounded poses, which means they’re done sitting or lying on your yoga mat. Many people prefer to use props like blocks, bolsters, and blankets to set up each pose to make them more comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
If you don’t have props for your home practice, no worries. There are always ways to modify the poses to make them more comfortable for longer holds.
Here’s a typical restorative yoga sequence, including how to set them up.
1. Reclined Bound Angle Pose
Reclined bound angle pose is great for opening up the hips. When this pose is done with props it also opens the heart and the back by providing a slight backbend and stretching the front of the shoulders.
To get into this pose without props, lie flat on your back on your yoga mat. Keeping both legs on the ground, bend both knees, moving your feet up toward your bottom. Put the soles of your feet together, creating a diamond shape with your legs.
To set up this pose with props you’ll need a bolster or one to two pillows. You can also use a yoga block.
If you have a bolster and a yoga block, place the yoga block on the back of your mat, then place the top end of the bolster on top of the block. This will set up a reclined surface.
If you don’t have a block just lay the bolster on your mat the long way. If you don’t have a bolster, you can use one or two firm pillows laid on your mat and stacked on each other.
Once you have your props set up, sit with the small of your back next to the edge of the bolster or the pillows.
Lay back on to the bolster or pillows and let each arm fall on each side of the bolster or pillows, opening your chest. Bend your knees to bring your feet up to your bottom then put the soles of your feet together, creating a diamond shape.
Hold this pose for five to ten minutes, focusing on releasing tension from your hips and opening your heart.
2. Prone Spinal Twist
The Supported Prone Spinal Twist pose is an excellent pose for releasing tension in your back as well as your hips. This pose can utilize the same reclined bolster or pillow setup as the Reclined Bound Angle pose, or it can be set up without props.
To get into this pose with the reclined bolster or pillows, sit up and place your right hip next to the edge of the bolster or pillows and your knees bent to the right side. Gently twist your upper body only so that your chest is facing the props. Slowly lower yourself down so that your chest rests on the props and drape each arm each side of the props. Your legs will remain on the floor so that only your upper body is twisting.
To set up this pose without props, lie on your right side on your yoga mat. Bring your knees up to a 90-degree angle. Gently twist your upper body until your chest is on the yoga mat. Bring your arms out so they form a T shape to support the twist.
While you’re in this pose, breathe deeply and focus on releasing tension from the outside of your hips and your low back.
Since this pose only stretches one side at a time, make sure to slowly get up halfway through the pose and set it up for the left side.
3. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose is another great hip opener. It stretches and releases the muscles both in the outer and inner hips and also opens the low back with a forward fold.
To set up this pose with props, place a bolster or your pillows lengthwise at the top of your yoga mat.
Bring your right leg up so that your shin is parallel to the edge of the bolster or the pillow. Your leg will be bent at between a 45 and 90-degree angle. Supporting your upper body with your hands, move your left leg so it is straight behind you. Slowly lower your upper body until your chest is supported by the bolster.
To set this pose up without props, bring your right leg up so that your shin is parallel to the top of the mat, which means your leg is bent. Extend the left leg straight behind you while supporting your upper body with your hands.
Slowly bend forward, supporting your upper body on your forearms. If you’re flexible enough, you may be able to fold completely forward and rest your head on the floor in front of your bent leg.
Relax into the pose, which can be very challenging since this pose offers an intense stretch. Breathe deeply and focus on the concept of the release. Pigeon is a pose for letting go, not just of tension in the body, but also of old ideas that no longer work in our lives.
Since this pose only stretches one side at a time, be sure to slowly rise up halfway through the hold and set up the pose on the left side.
4. Forward Fold
A Forward Fold pose provides a stretch and a release for most of the body. It opens the low back, the shoulders, and stretches the hamstrings. This pose does not require any props, but if you want a gentler version of the pose you can set it up with a bolster or pillow.
To set up this pose, sit on your yoga mat with your legs out in front of you. Straighten your back and find proper alignment in your spine. Make sure you’re not leaning to either side.
Once you’re properly aligned, on an inhale raise your arms and on an exhale, gently fold forward reaching for your feet. You can hold the soles of your feet with your hands, or you can rest your arms on your shins.
If you want a gentler version of this pose, you can rest a bolster or a pillow on top of your legs. When you bend forward, rest your chest on the bolster or pillow.
Hold this pose for five to ten minutes, breathing and focusing on releasing tension all over the body.
5. Legs Up The Wall
Legs up The Wall pose provides an easy alternative to traditional inverted poses like headstand, handstand, and shoulder stand. It redirects the flow of blood from the bottom of the body to the torso and upper body, helps with digestion, and provides a release for the hamstrings.
To set up this pose, move your yoga mat next to a wall. Scoot your bottom to the edge of the wall. Gently lie on your back. Raise your legs above you and let them be supported by the wall.
Hold this pose for about five minutes, breathing deeply, and imagining your energy moving from your feet to your upper body. If at any point you feel dizzy, come out of the pose by bringing your knees into your chest.
Shavasana, also known as corpse pose or final resting pose, is the last pose in every yoga class. It gives us the opportunity to mentally and physically integrate the yoga practice we’ve just completed. It also gives us the opportunity to silently meditate before leaving our practice.
To get into Shavasana, simply lie down flat on your yoga mat. Let your arms fall to your side with your palms open and facing the ceiling. Let your feet fall to the side.
Hold this pose for five to ten minutes, breathing naturally, and meditating on the yoga practice you just completed.
Practicing Restorative Yoga
Since restorative yoga is such a relaxed and accessible style of yoga, it can be practiced by anyone, pretty much anywhere. You don’t need to be a seasoned yoga practitioner to add a restorative yoga practice to your life. You don’t need to go to a studio to learn the practice from anyone else.
You can add this practice to your life as you see fit.
If you’re looking for some suggestions about how to add a restorative yoga practice to your life and some other poses you can try, check out our online video series!