Every time I teach this series of restorative yoga postures, I get the same response: It feels like I just had a massage. Personally, I like to call it yummy, because it makes my whole body feel incredibly relaxed, restored, and just all-around good. But, like a massage, it’s good for more than just your body. This restorative yoga series soothes your mind and spirit too.
It’s the perfect way to unwind after a stressful day. You can literally feel any tension that may have built up throughout your day melting away from you. It can also prepare your mind and body for a restful night’s sleep, especially if you do it right before bedtime. It alleviates aches & pains, as well as cramps, and can shift your mood to a more positive, blissful perspective.
In this article, I’ll be taking you through an easy restorative yoga practice you can do anytime you want right in the comfort and convenience of your own home. Including pictures to illustrate each posture. But before we get into the sequence, you’ll need to know some basics about restorative yoga to make sure you get all the benefits it has to offer.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga is different from what people see most frequently in yoga classes and photographs. It’s a passive practice, unlike the popular forms of Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, etc. which are very active. By passive, I mean there’s little movement, no strengthening element, no complicated twists or balances. But that doesn’t mean it’s not doing anything for you. It definitely is. It’s just doing something different for you.
Restorative yoga is all about supporting yourself in postures, so you can relax more deeply into them. It uses props like bolsters and blankets to accomplish this, so you don’t have to use your muscles. When you sit for some time in a posture, letting your muscles gradually settle into the stretch, your muscles release any tension they might be chronically holding. And you get a deeper stretch than you ordinarily would in a more active practice, where poses are held for much shorter amounts of time.
Benefits of Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga offers many benefits for your whole self: mind, body & spirit. It can:
- Increase flexibility
- Alleviate tension & pain in your body
- Increase blood flow
- Calm your nervous system
- Alleviate anxiety & stress
- Quiet your mind
- Help identify where emotions may be stored in your body
- Promote better sleep
- Leave you feeling deeply relaxed & rejuvenated
Unlike our fast-paced world, restorative yoga invites us to slow down. Way down. It encourages us to take care of ourselves in a patient, loving way. It really is as close as you can get to giving yourself a full-body massage.
Where to Do It
You don’t need a lot of space to do this restorative practice. Just find a quiet place in your home where you can lay-out your mat and props. Make sure you have access to a wall where you can lie down and extend your legs up the wall.
To encourage an inward awareness, dim the lights. Maybe even turn them off and light some candles. Play some soothing music to help your mind quiet and settle into the moment. This is your time. Make it special!
How to Support Yourself in Postures
The various props used in restorative yoga are intended to support the weight of your body parts while you rest in postures. The goal is to support yourself enough that you’re not having to use your muscles to hold any position. For each person, depending upon their flexibility and physical limitations, how many props are necessary to accomplish this will vary. It’s important to listen to your body and give yourself the support you need.
At a minimum, for this practice, you’ll need a bolster and two blankets.
You can purchase a bolster like mine here. (No affiliation, just where I got mine at a decent price). However, you might want to have a couple of extra blankets in case you need them for extra support.
The blankets can be rolled or folded and placed on top of the bolster to add height. They can also be placed under your legs, knees, neck, etc. Wherever you feel you can use the support, put a blanket there.
To get the most from your practice, pay attention to what’s happening in your mind too. Try to hold mindful awareness of the present moment. Notice sensations in your body, including the movement of your breath. When you notice your mind drifting to worries, plans, memories, etc., bring it back to the present moment. Let this time be a rest for your mind as well as your body.
How Long to Hold Restorative Yoga Postures
Staying in postures for a sustained amount of time is what gives you all those yummy benefits of restorative yoga. It takes time for your muscles to fully release into each pose. You’ll notice as you stay with it, your muscles will gradually let go of more and more resistance, and you’ll sink into deeper and deeper relaxation.
Now, exactly how long you stay in each posture is up to you. Again, you want to listen to your body. If you’re paying attention to what’s happening in your body, you’ll know when you’ve relaxed fully and it’s time to move on. Typically, anywhere from 3-5 minutes per posture is sufficient. I find myself wanting to stay in some postures longer than others, simply because they feel so good. There’s no right or wrong here. Just do what feels right for you.
Sometimes, the Stillness Can Be Edgy
One thing I’d like to mention is that sometimes lingering in the stillness of restorative yoga postures can be edgy. Depending on your personality or whatever has happened for you on a given day, it might be challenging to stay in poses long enough to relax fully into them. You might feel an impulse to come out of a posture or feel an impatience with it. You might have a mental (rather than physical) resistance to it. This is normal and okay. It’s an opportunity to stretch your mind’s capacity for stillness, at the same time as you’re stretching your body’s flexibility.
A helpful way to deal with this kind of edginess is to focus on your breath. Breathe deeply and fully, feeling your breath expanding into the parts of your body engaged in the posture. Count your breaths, and let that count determine how long you will stay in the posture. It might be 20 or 30 or 40 breaths. Whatever number you decide on, just focus on counting your breath and allowing yourself to be in the posture for that set amount of breaths.
Alternatively, you might explore what it is about holding the posture that’s making you want to move on from it. Is it triggering anxiety, sadness, anger, or any other emotion? Is it your general tendency to need to be moving or to be impatient? It can be an insightful and potentially healing experience to explore these sorts of reactions when they show up in body practices.
The Restorative Yoga Series
Okay. Now that you have some insight into restorative yoga, it’s time to give it a try. Remember, if you experience significant pain in any posture, check to see if adding additional support with your props alleviates it. If not, just move on to the next posture.
Reclining Bound Angle
This one’s my favorite. I do it several times a week, even when I’m not doing the full series. It opens the heart, stretches the back & inner thighs, and releases tension in the hips. It’s especially good for PMS discomfort, followed by child pose (which we’ll get to in a bit).
To enter into it, sit at the edge of your bolster with your knees dropped out to your sides, bottoms of your feet together. Lean back into your hands for support as you drape your body back over the bolster. Add blankets for support under your knees and/or on top of your bolster if you need it.
To exit, bring your left knee to upright. Roll onto your right side, off the bolster. Use your hands for support to slowly raise to a seated position.
This pose stretches your hamstrings and all the way down your back. To enter, place your bolster on your thighs with legs extended in front of you. Lay forward over your bolster. Add blankets to the top of your bolster if needed to make sure you’re able to fully rest into it.
Wide Leg Forward Bend
Building on the first forward bend, this pose further releases your hamstrings and back while also opening your hips. Simply spread your legs wide, place your bolster between your legs, and drape your body forward over the bolster. Add blankets as needed for full support.
Wide Leg Side Bend
This posture continues to promote opening and release in your hips. It also stretches your hamstring, the whole side of your body, and your back. Place your bolster on one leg. Turn your upper body to face the bolster and fold forward over it. Hold as long as you like and switch to the other side.
To set up for Hero Pose, place a rolled-up blanket at the end of your bolster as shown.
Straddle your blanket, with your bottom supported by the edge of your bolster. Your feet should be pointing back toward the bolster, tucked at the outer edges of your bottom. Knees should remain on the floor.
Support the weight of your body with your hands on the floor as you lie back, draping your body over the bolster. Add as many blankets as you need to increase the height of your bolster, until you feel comfortably supported.
Important Note: This pose can be intense, especially for your back and knees. Skip this posture if you have significant back, knee, quadriceps, or ankle injuries/conditions. Also, because it is a more intense stretch, don’t push yourself to stay in it longer than what feels comfortable. I typically hold it for no more than 20 breaths. Listen to your body.
Reclining Hero Pose offers deep stretches in the back, quadriceps, hip flexors, and all along the front of your body. You can extend your arms above your head to enhance the stretch.
To exit this posture, use your hands as support to slowly lift your upper body to an upright position. Come up onto your knees and shift your weight forward, onto your hands on the floor in front of you.
Another one of my favorites, Child Pose offers a gentle stretch throughout your lower back, bottom, and hips. It has a comforting, calming effect that can make it tempting to fall asleep. To enter it, sit on your feet with your knees open wide. Place the bolster between your knees, and drape your body over it. Turn your head to rest on the opposite cheek about halfway through.
You can place a blanket behind your knees if you experience any discomfort in your knees. To exit, walk your body up with the support of your hands.
Supported Bridge Pose
For Bridge Pose, you’ll want to move your mat and props to the wall. Your mat should form a “T” with the wall, and you’ll want to roll two blankets to use as support. Place them as shown in the picture. The horizontal blanket should be a few inches out from the wall. The vertical blanket should be about three feet from the other blanket.
Place your ankles on the horizontal blanket. Then, take a seat at the very edge of your vertical blanket. Adjust the blanket’s position beneath you, forward or back, so you can extend your legs straight while still sitting on the edge of the blanket.
Using your hands to support you, lay your body back onto the vertical blanket. Your shoulders and head should come to the floor. This provides a subtle inversion-effect, which calms your nervous system and relaxes your whole self. There is also a gentle opening through the chest and hip flexors.
Important Note: Because this is a subtle inversion, you’ll want to skip this posture if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, glaucoma, or a detached retina.
To exit, bend one knee and place your foot on the floor. Roll off the blankets and onto your side. Rest in this side position for a few moments before slowly coming to a seated position.
Legs Up The Wall
To prepare for this posture, place your blankets as shown in the picture. The two blankets should be touching, and the horizontal blanket should be contacting the wall.
This is the trickiest posture to get into, but it’s worth it once you’re there. To enter, you’ll want to place the side of your bottom on the edge of the horizontal blanket. Then, lean back into your hands and swivel your legs around to the wall. Lay your body back onto the vertical blanket, with your legs extending up the wall.
Once you lay back, make any adjustments you need in order to feel comfortable and supported. The vertical blanket should be centered along your spine. Just like in the previous posture, your shoulders and head will come to the floor, creating another subtle inversion.
Important Note: Because of the subtle inversion, again, if you have uncontrolled blood pressure, glaucoma, or detached retina, you should not do this posture.
This is another incredibly calming and relaxing pose. You can feel tension and tiredness draining from your feet. It offers a gentle stretch for your back and legs too.
Wide Legs Up the Wall
Walk your feet apart, as wide as feels comfortable for you. You’ll feel a nice stretch through your inner thighs, and more of that soothing relaxation. If you find your feet slipping, press them a little into the wall while engaging your thighs a little.
To exit, walk your feet back together. Bend your knees, with your feet against the wall. Then, pressing into your feet, scoot your body back away from the wall. Bend one knee, place your foot on the floor, and roll off the blankets onto your side. Stay here for a few moments. Don’t sit up yet. Savasana is next!
The bliss of Savasana! To enter into this pose, support your upper body on your elbows, without coming to a fully upright seated position. Try to keep your head level with your heart, so you don’t cause a rush of your blood back downward after your inversions.
Move your vertical blanket off the mat. Position your horizontal blanket a couple of feet from the wall. Then, roll onto your back and position your body so your knees rest on the horizontal blanket. Let your feet drop out to your sides. Open your palms to the ceiling, and make any adjustments in your body you may need to feel comfortable.
Rest in savasana for as long as you like. Breathe steadily and deeply. If there are any parts of your body holding, release them. Surrender the weight of your body to gravity, letting the ground beneath you support you.
When you’re ready to exit, bend one knee, roll onto your side, and hold here a few moments before using your hands to support you into an upright position.
And there you have it! An at-home, DIY massage using Restorative Yoga. I hope you find it as yummy and soothing as I do.
I’d love to hear your feedback. How did your practice make you feel? You can share your experience in the comments section below.