Restorative yoga is focused around the “ahhh” experience—the space found by breathing, relaxing, and letting go of the mind’s internal dialogue. This gentle approach to yoga allows participants to experience the same benefits of a traditional practice while exerting little or no effort at all; it leaves students feeling nourished, refreshed, and well-rested.
Prolonged stress, internal conflict, demanding situations, anxiety, and anger engage the body’s natural fight-or-flight response, which triggers the hypothalamus and initiates a sequence of nerve cell firing that prepares our bodies to react to perceived danger. Restorative yoga engages our bodies’ innate ability to renew and restore, balancing and counteracting the effects of prolonged stress.
Restorative yoga facilitates the four conditions for relaxation: relaxing the muscles with support, quieting the responses caused by stress, quieting the mind, and finding a relaxed, smooth breath. Unlike sleep, where your mind and body are preoccupied with dreaming and tensing muscles, this style of yoga provides an opportunity to achieve all four of these conditions.
The purpose of restorative yoga is two-fold. Restorative active poses awaken dull areas in the body to improve circulation and promote healing, while restorative passive poses induce deep relaxation and recuperation.
Some of the key adjustments to look for include: maintaining round, soft lines in the body and avoiding sharp angles, readjusting props strategically to support the body, filling the space between the body and the earth, and using enough props to create an even path for energy. Most of the adjustments involve accommodating and supporting the body with props. The basic props are blocks, chairs, straps, bolsters, and eye wraps.
Breathing during practice should always be easy and gentle—never forced or strained. Restorative classes encourage students to become aware of the sensations and feelings of breathing. They provide a chance to experience breath, without muscular effort, that brings about opening, healing, and a calm state of mind. Sometimes students will access deep feelings locked in the mind/body and may experience catharsis.
Experience restorative yoga’s benefits to the mind and body with this balancing and rejuvenating routine:
Begin on your back with knees bent and hands on the midsection.
Take two gentle breaths, followed by one deliberately slow and thin inhalation, as well as one deliberately long and full exhalation.
Come to Bridge pose, with the support of a block underneath the tailbone/lower lumbar spine. Lift and lower the hips, elevating when the lower hips are supported.
Place the block or ball between the thighs, 2-3 inches above the knees. Engage in abdominal work of your choice, which can include crunches or leg lifts, gently applying pressure to the block or ball.
Place a block or bolster beneath the feet and lower back into Bridge, relaxing the head down onto a blanket and opening the arms to either side.
Lying down on the back, bring the knees into the chest and hold on to the back of the thighs.
Beginning on all fours, push the buttocks back and lower the upper body down on to the knees. Chest rests on a bolster, completely relaxing, resting, and breathing.
Begin on all fours, holding a block or ball between the thighs, 2-3 inches above the knees. For Cat pose, round the back to the sky as the head lowers; and for Cow pose, arch the back and lift the chin.
Come into Downward-Facing Dog pose, resting the forehead on a block or holding a block between the thighs.
For Plank pose, begin in Downward-Facing Dog and shift forward until the shoulders are directly above the wrists. Press the heels back and reach through the crown of the head. With the back straight and abdominals firm, move to Crocodile pose, pushing forward with your toes and hugging your ribcage below the elbows. Lower your chest, keeping your abdominals strong and your hips stationary. Transition from Plank to Crocodile with Child’s pose in between.
From a Warrior stance, bend your front knee and place your forearm on a block on your thigh. Reach the top arm to the sky; then alternate sides.
Step back to face the long edge of your mat. Spread your feet, turning the heels in and the toes out. Come down to a squat, bending the elbows and placing them next to the waist, with the knees straight out over the toes. On an inhale, move the arms overhead. On an exhale, hinge forward from the hips, reaching the tailbone back while maintaining a neutral spine, as you sweep the arms to the floor. Flow with the breath through repetitions.
For more information about restorative yoga, register for YogaFit’s Restorative Yoga training at www.yogafit.com.