Many students come to their yoga mats to unwind from their day.
Sometimes they need high-energy sequences to release built-up tension, and other times they need a class that allows them to shift to the parasympathetic side of their nervous system to let go of the stresses of the day.
Regardless of whether you teach a high-paced Vinyasa flow or a slow-flow Hatha class, you can greatly support your students by incorporating some relaxation-based yoga poses into your sequence. After all, yoga is about more than the postures, and your students deserve an inward-focused relaxation experience that allows them to turn away from the stimulation of their senses and honor what is arising in their inner awareness.
Yoga Poses for Relaxation
The Benefits of Relaxation
Including relaxation in your yoga classes offers many benefits for your students, including:
aids in the management of stress by giving the mind and body a break from the sympathetic (fight or flight mode) and instead offering a moment to rest, recover, and recharge
calms the mind and improves clarity, concentration and memory retention
reduces the heart rate and lowers blood pressure
relieves tension in the muscles
aids in digestion and the efficient absorption of nutrients
improves the immune system function
So now that you understand the benefits, how can you start integrating more relaxation into your yoga classes?
Yoga Poses for Relaxation
Here are some yoga poses you can weave in your classes to offer your students more relaxation. All of these postures and more can be found in our yoga pose library.
Corpse Pose (Sanskrit: Savasana)
Let’s start with the most classic relaxation posture, and arguably the most important– Savasana (corpse pose).
Description: Savasana involves lying on the back with the feet stretched out long and the arms resting by the side of the body with the palms turned upwards. The shoulders can be relaxed, allowing gravity to bring them down towards the earth.
allows the body and mind to settle down
integrates the physical practice; helps to build a sense of self-awareness
calms the nervous system, stimulating the digestion of both food and emotions
releases muscle tension
reduces headache, anxiety, fatigue and stress
To make this yoga pose even more relaxing, a bolster can be placed under the knees (to relieve pressure in the low back) and/or a folded blanket under the head (to allow the neck to rest in a more neutral position). An eye pillow can also be placed over the eyes to further facilitate turning inward.
To alleviate low back pain, an alternative to this posture is constructive rest pose where the knees are bent and the soles of the feet are placed on the floor.
To accommodate pregnancy, or add some heart and shoulder opening to this posture, a ramp can be created using a bolster and block to elevate the head and chest.
A rule of thumb is that you should set aside at least 10% of your class time for savasana (e.g., for a 60-minute class, offer your students at least 6 minutes of savasana). This is because savasana provides time for the mind and body to integrate all the work that was done during class. Without the contrast and sense of slowing down, your students may leave class and return to their fast-paced life without having truly absorbed the value of their practice.
Check out this article for even more tips on how to Help Your Students Get More From Savasana.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Description: This resting hip opener requires your students to be in a supine position. Using gentle movements guided by the breath, invite your students to bend into the knees and bring the feet together, then allow the knees to fall to the right and left, respectively. The hands can rest on either side of the body, be brought into a cactus shape or stretched overhead, whatever feels most comfortable for your students and reflects their needs in the moment.
stimulates the abdominal organs
offers a gentle opening of the pelvis and hips
relaxes the lower spine
helps relieve symptoms of stress, menopause, and menstruation
To make this yoga pose truly restorative, blocks, bolsters or rolled-up blankets can be placed under the hips to alleviate strain in the inner thighs and groin. A folded blanket can also be placed under the head to support the neck.
This posture is not recommended for your students with low back, knee, hip or ankle injuries.
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Description: This yoga pose requires the support of a wall. Have your students come to sit as close as possible to the wall, with the side of their body against the wall. From here, they can slowly begin to rotate towards the wall and walk their feet up along it until their body finds an L-shape, their back eventually coming down to the mat. To come closer to the wall, they can bend into their knees and place the soles of their feet against the wall, pressing into the feet as they lift the hips up and closer to the wall. The arms can be placed comfortably on either side of the body. To come out of this posture, students can hug their knees to their chest and roll over onto one side, finding a final moment of rest before returning to a seated posture.
stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system
aids with digestion
relieves tension in the lower back
gently stretches hamstrings and glutes
To increase the inversion in this yoga pose, students can add a folded blanket or bolster underneath their hips. If a wall is not accessible, a great alternative to this posture is supported bridge pose (where a block at any height, blanket, or bolster is placed under the hips creating a gentle inversion and providing a moment for the heart to rest).
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Description: While the traditional version of this yoga pose involves lengthening the spine and bringing the torso towards your legs, the reality is that this will likely not be accessible for many of your students, especially in a way that promotes relaxation. Instead, you can guide your students to first find staff pose (connecting to the action of lengthening through the spine) and then bend into the knees quite a bit before folding forward over their legs. If they find they can stretch their legs toward straight, great, if not they can continue to adjust the bend in their knees until they find a comfortable position.
Lengthens the spine and invigorates the nervous system
Relieves stress, anxiety and mild depression
Improves digestion and reduces fatigue
Facilitates turning inward
1-2 bolsters can be placed under the knees to bring added comfort and a folded blanket under the seat can also help avoid rounding in the lower back. This yoga pose can also be taken with the legs spread apart, and the forehead coming to rest on a block or bolster. A chair can also be used to support students to fold forward in this posture.
Note: This posture is not recommended for students with sciatica, hamstring or SI joint injuries, it is also contraindicated for pregnancy.
Other relaxing postures you can offer your students include:
Child’s pose with knees together or spread apart and potentially even a folded blanket or block under the head to bring the floor closer)
Happy baby with hands holding the toes, outer edges of the feet, ankles or back of thighs
Crocodile Pose with a blanket underneath the head and feet for added comfort
How to Incorporate these Yoga Poses into Your Classes
You can incorporate these yoga poses at the beginning or end of class, or as a mid-way pause to give your students an opportunity to check in with themselves. The best postures to start/end a class are savasana, constructive rest, reclining bound angle pose, legs up the wall, or a supported heart opener, as students are often comfortable remaining in these yoga poses for an extended period of time.
Something that can also be helpful is to share 1-2 relaxation postures (e.g., happy baby, child’s pose) at the beginning of class and invite students to take these yoga poses at any time they need. This sends the message that it’s okay to rest and also honors the fact that we all have very different day-to-day experiences; sometimes even your most active student may be feeling tired or uneasy and will appreciate the invitation to relax.
Finally, if you want to take your yoga experience to the next level you can offer your students even more relaxation by offering guided breathing, mindfulness meditation, visualization, yoga Nidra, sound instruments or sharing a relaxing playlist during class.
I hope these tips have encouraged you to bring some more relaxation into the classes you teach – trust me, your students will thank you.