From your girlfriend or sister-in-law to those late-night google searches for “natural treatments for __________ condition,” you have most likely been told that yoga is the cure for what ails you.
Yes, yoga is amazing!
I could go on and on about all the life-altering benefits, from a calm mind and lowered blood pressure to pain relief and a great booty.
But what are you to do when you are too tired with bone-crushing fatigue to drag your ass to a yoga class? Or you are in too much pain to even think about moving your body into some crazy yoga poses? I can totally relate, but I have an answer for you:
Restorative yoga is a passive style of yoga where your body is totally supported by blankets, bolsters, blocks and other props, while resting in various yoga poses. Unlike most forms of yoga, you aren’t meant to be stretching or strengthening, rather the supportive nature of restorative yoga allows your body to completely relax, to peel off the layers of long-held habitual tension.
Can you imagine what that would feel like??
And you are still receiving many of the other benefits of traditional hatha yoga, such as improved circulation, increased blood flow to the organs, lowered blood pressure, improved immune function, and more.
But perhaps most importantly, restorative yoga switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” mode. In this state, you can repair tissues and promote healing.
But while restorative yoga might be “easy” physically, it can be more of a challenge mentally. There’s a reason it has been called the “Yoga of Meditation.” While your body can just rest deliciously, your mind may have a harder time of it.
Just as in meditation, there are “tricks” which can make it easier to focus your mind and turn down the mental chatter.
Focusing your attention on your breath is probably the most well-known technique, but there are alternatives.
You could repeat (in your head) a mantra that resonates with you, such as “peace” or “relax.”
Another technique is to repeat small hand movements (“vinyasas”) when you are in a pose, such as touching your thumbs to each fingertip one by one, or gently turn palms up, then palms down.
If you are practicing restorative yoga at home, you can also listen to a guided meditation. There are many good ones available, including free ones on youtube.
Speaking of doing restorative yoga at home, what are you waiting for?!
Spending 15 – 20 minutes a day in a restorative yoga pose is a powerful healing practice. Just gather up some props and pick a pose or two. I will share one below to get you started and will share some more in a future post.
For props you can use anything you have available: pillows, blankets, sofa cushions, towels, even furniture. Of course, if you have yoga props, like mats, bolsters, blocks, and a strap, those work, too. And an eye pillow is the icing on the cake.
Supported Savasana (Corpse Pose):
Savasana is the crown jewel of all yoga poses, and this supported version is especially relaxing. Use as many props as you need to get totally comfy, as well as making sure you are warm enough.
Lie on a yoga mat or a blanket on the floor. I recommend rolling a blanket (or using some pillows) under your knees to take pressure off of your low back. A blanket (or again a pillow) rolled to provide some support under your neck is also good, and an eye pillow is a great addition, if you have one. Cover yourself with another blanket to stay warm, or just putting a folded blanket (or even a sandbag, if you have one) over the tops of your thighs also helps to promote deep relaxation and providing a feeling of security.
Your feet should be about 8-10″ apart, and your arms should be about 8″ or so from your body with the palms facing up and gently cupping. Take a couple minutes to adjust yourself and your props until you feel as comfortable as possible. Pay attention to getting your right and left sides evenly adjusted on the floor. If there is any place in your body where you feel you will need additional support in order to relax completely, use extra props to get there. (For example, due to rheumatoid arthritis in my right elbow, that arm doesn’t fully extend. I need to place a small pillow or blanket under my right wrist.)
Tuck your shoulder blades under your back and lengthen your neck. Scan your body looking for any spots where you are holding tension. Release this tension with your next exhalation. Settle in for the next 15 – 20 minutes, but even 10 minutes will be beneficial. If you mind wanders and you can’t relax, try the hints I gave above. But don’t worry if thoughts pop into your head, just notice them and let them go. The trick is not to stop your mind completely, it is to not attach to your thoughts, getting sucked down a rabbit hole of thinking.
Try to practice this pose a few times a week or more, if you can. Soon you will start to reap the benefits!