By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
Sometimes you just need to slow everything down, and right now is one of those moments. When your life is going at full speed, so is your mind. Restorative yoga is all about providing a physical and mental balance to reduce stress, calm nerves, and relax the body.
When we’re attracted to fast-paced and explosive exercise, we often choose an equally fast-paced yoga practice. But this can overstimulate us. Instead of flowing from pose to pose more quickly, as you would in a vinyasa flow sequence, restorative yoga allows our muscles to sink into a deep and healing stretch.
Restorative yoga is unlike other types of yoga you’ve experienced. In an hour of restorative yoga, you may move only through a handful of different postures. During long holds, you allow your body to soften and relax fully. That way, you can benefit from the deep relaxation that comes from passive stretching.
With passive stretching, you feel the resistance through the force gravity puts on your body. It’s your bodyweight that gives you that deep stretch. The mind and body can relax, and you become softer. This creates space for us to get in touch with ourselves and still the mind. It’s not unusual to fall asleep during a restorative yoga class.
Props are used extensively in this type of yoga. Things like blankets, blocks, and bolsters are used in poses to help support your body. This means that you can stay in those poses for an extended time without straining the body unnecessarily.
Restorative yoga focuses on breath work and entering a deep state of relaxation. Therefore, it comes with several health benefits for the body and mind. You won’t be surprised to hear that it helps improve flexibility. In particular, it helps you become more supple. By relaxing fully, you can slowly release built-up tension in the body.
The very nature of restorative yoga is about mindful living. It gives you permission to slow down, and it prepares your body for proper relaxation.
Restorative at-home yoga programs reduce stress and can be a powerful calming tool. This is because it down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that’s often considered responsible for our “fight or flight” response. It’s our stress response. It keeps us on high alert.
At the same time, we have this whole other part of our nervous system known as the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s sometimes called the rest and digest system; it controls things like digestion, reproduction, and conserves energy. When we enter a deep state of relaxation, the parasympathetic nervous system activates and works on restoring the body to a calm state.
To set it up, place a bolster long-ways on your mat. If you don’t have a bolster, fold up some blankets in the shape of a bolster. Position your legs for child’s pose at the end of the bolster. Your legs should be on the mat, not the bolster. Fold forward slowly, and let your arms reach out in front of you. Hold the position for at least ten minutes. Periodically change the direction of your head from left to right.
Active backbends take a lot of work and can put a lot of strain on your body. This passive backbend lets your body open up slowly. You just need one block for the supported bridge pose.
Lying on your back, move into bridge pose with your block nearby. Lift your bridge a little more and slide your block under your sacrum. This is the area at the bottom of the spine. Start by using the block at its lower height for the first few minutes. After ten or more minutes, push your feet into the ground and lift your hips, releasing the block and returning to the mat.
Savasana, or corpse pose, is all about relaxation. It’s the part of a yoga class everyone loves. The restorative savasana is no different.
Add bolsters and blankets to your savasana. Feel the tension release from your back and throughout your body. Try tucking a blanket under your head as a pillow. If it’s a little chilly, cover yourself with a blanket. You can put a bolster under your knees or some extra blankets on top of your thighs. Close your eyes and feel the extra grounding from the weight on your legs.
Although you can do this pose with a block, it’s much more comfortable with a bolster. Begin by positioning your bolster along the mat. Gradually lower yourself onto the bolster so that the bolster rests on your shoulder blades. The idea is that your head should feel like it’s hanging off the side of the bolster. You can choose to either extend your arms overhead or just stretch them out to the side. Find what works for you. Sink into the pose and relax.
Legs up the wall is an incredible restorative pose. The wall acts as the prop and provides major support to keep your legs up and in place.
Start by placing a bolster parallel to the wall. Sit on the end of the bolster and put your arms behind your back. Swing your legs up the wall and slowly come onto your elbows before coming down onto your back. Your bum should stay on the bolster. Hold the pose for at least ten minutes. To come out of the pose, pull your knees to your chest and roll to your side.
Practicing yoga at home has loads of benefits. You can hit the mat whenever and wherever you need to. Yoga at home teaches you to understand your body and still the mind. It gives you physical, emotional, and mental support.
To start your own home practice, grab yourself a mat, some props, and comfortable clothing. The B Yoga Mat is a great option, especially for taller people looking for a spacious and comfortable mat. Here are some of the best workout tops for yogis that allow for freedom and versatility.
Find a space that’s calm and quiet. Commit to a home yoga practice and make it achievable. Integrate different poses into your routine, and start by holding each one for five to ten minutes. Always listen to your body. By creating a regular at-home restorative yoga practice, you can ease your mind, calm your nerves, and reduce stress.