Restorative Yoga Poses, Benefits and History

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Woman Doing Spinal Twist Pose in Restorative Yoga

There was a time when the physical aspect of yoga, vigorous asana, was all that was important to me. I wanted to sweat, and I wanted a challenge to the point where my core quivered, and the sweat poured down my body and soaked my mat. All that changed though when I accidentally stumbled into a Restorative Yoga class. I misread the schedule online and what I thought was going to be a level two Vinyasa Flow, turned out to be a 90-minute restorative practice.

Let me tell you, the initial disappointed when I was told to grab bolsters and blankets instead of straps and tension bands struck me hard. I almost left the class, but thankfully I didn’t because the new world of Restorative Yoga brought a different perspective to my practice. I am forever grateful for that one class I decided to stick it out in. It started me down a journey that has equipped me with a brand new set of yoga tools, tools that have helped expand my thoughts and perceptions of yoga asana.

I want to introduce you to Restorative Yoga because it adds many benefits to your body, mind and spirit. By learning the history and importance of this therapeutic practice, you will understand why I’m urging you to add this class to your routine, even if it’s only once a week. Hopefully, after this article, you’ll be excited to try Restorative Yoga and experience it’s far reaching benefits.

What is Restorative Yoga?

Restorative Yoga is exactly as it sounds, this practice restores the body. Instead of building strength, stamina and balance we are cultivating stillness, expanding meditation and deepening the stretch of our overworked (or underworked) muscles.

The purpose of this practice is to achieve physical, emotional and spiritual relaxation and balance. Poses are typically held for longer periods of time, ranging anywhere from three to twenty minutes with the use of props. Props ensure that the body is entirely supported, aiding in a deeper stretch and a relaxed state of being. Common props include bolsters, blankets, blocks and the like to assist with providing maximum support.

The poses practiced in Restorative Yoga are almost always practiced supine (lying down) or sitting up. Very rarely are standing postures incorporated into this practice. We will explore some of these postures in detail later.

Where did Restorative Yoga Come From?

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar

We can thank world-known yoga master, B.K.S Iyengar, for the introduction of this form of asana and meditation to the West. His focus was to help every practitioner achieve the benefits of certain yoga postures without experiencing pain or strain.

Since this particular practice is relatively new, it’s constantly evolving and being tweaked to satisfy the ever changing need for a deep, relaxing stretch. You will notice a different experience every time you attend a Restorative Yoga class. Students and teachers are discovering new ways to support the body while achieving a maximum stretch in your muscles.

How Does Restorative Yoga Work on the Body?

We relax our body and mind using the parasympathetic nervous system. When we slow this nervous system, we rebuild and conserve energy by slowing the heart rate, promoting healthy intestinal function and calming the fight-or-flight receptors in our brain. Practicing Restorative Yoga brings our body into a blissful state of homeostasis (or equilibrium).

The parasympathetic nervous system is what dictates our reactions to stress and anxiety. Not only will your body be thanking you after class, but so will your mind. By making Restorative Yoga a part of your regular practice, you can rewire your brain to react to stress and anxiety more healthily.

What are the Benefits?

1. Enhance Flexibility

You hold the poses used in Restorative Yoga for upwards of twenty minutes! Your body is supported by props so you can achieve 100% relaxation, but this also allows your body to fall into a deeper stretch. You will become aware of where your body holds the most tension and then feel it release from your muscles while you use your breath strategically to deepen the posture. Gravity takes charge here instead of applying your physical effort to a stretch.

2. Develop a Meditation Practice

This form of yoga asana strips a lot of the physical aspect away. You are no longer distracted by the technicality of the pose or if you’re practicing it right. Now you are only focused on calming your mind and letting the universe do the rest. Gravity takes hold and helps you ease into the stretch, so now all you have to focus on is cultivating a quiet mind.

Meditation is one of the hardest aspects of a well-rounded yoga practice. If you’re struggling with it then try incorporating a weekly Restorative Yoga class. It can have a profound impact on your ability to meditate.

Restorative Yoga provides an environment where you can focus on your breath and give yourself the time to learning how simply to let your thoughts go. You connect movement with breath and associate deepening and lengthening with inhales and exhales. Through the practice Restorative Yoga, you will soon be ready to sit and meditate without the need of a physical component.

3. Reduce Stress and Anxiety

It’s no secret the most significant benefit from practicing Restorative Yoga is its effect on your mind and your emotional state. You slow down your parasympathetic nervous system and teach your brain to respond positively to stress.

After some time with a restorative practice, you may even notice your usual “short fuse” has gotten longer, and your nagging coworkers seem less naggy. This is from the powers cultivated by Restorative Yoga on your mindfulness abilities, and these powers will be quick and long-lasting. Deadlines won’t seem so daunting, the fight with your significant other won’t be as explosive, and success will quickly find its way within your grasp.

4. Learn to Heal Yourself

If you suffer from chronic anxiety or any other debilitating mental state due to being overworked or from a lack of self-care, then you put your body in a compromising situation. You reduce your body’s ability to heal itself, which can result in minor and major health problems.

By practicing the relaxation techniques used, you start to restore your body back to its equilibrium. Blood pressure stabilizes, your immune system increases and your metabolism sets at its optimum level. With all these factors coming into play, you will no tice that in the rare times you do get sick or injured, your body and mind bounce back quickly. Kundalini is also very healing.

5. Increase Body Awareness

When you become one with your body and truly become your own best friend, you will notice your usual limitations slowly disappear. Body intuition is essential if you want to stay healthy and focused, and even reach enlightenment if that’s what you’re after.

You will cultivate a new intimacy within yourself that will allow you to be in tune with what your body is telling you. Aches, pains and general feelings of being “unwell” will no longer be a mystery to you. Your new found intuition will guide you into a life of health and success.

6. The Results Truly are Individual and Endless….

There’s way more than these top five benefits that come with a Restorative Yoga practice. People cure their insomnia, improve their digestive functioning, cure illness and disease, improve joint mobility, and the list continues.

Everyone will experience benefits from this practice that is unique to them, depending on what their body needs at that time. Some of the positive side effects may even be immeasurable. It all lies on what you need mentally, emotionally, physically and even spiritually.

What are Some Common Restorative Poses?

As I mentioned before, Restorative Yoga classes don’t follow a prescribed practice like Bikram and Ashtanga, so the possibilities of the poses are endless. Your instructor might incorporate some of these asanas and add in her own variations and sequences. You can easily practice these at home on their own or in a full restorative practice.

1. Legs Up the Wall

Woman Practicing Legs On the Wall Pose

Legs up the wall pose is simple and easy to perform in the comfort of your own home. A lot of practitioners do this pose right when they wake up or right before bed.

Benefits: Practicing this asana will relieve tension from the leg muscles, calm your nervous system and provide all the benefits of an inversion without the exertion. This is an excellent posture to do while meditating as it greatly assists in quieting the mind.

How To:
  • Step 1 – Sit facing the wall
  • Step 2 – Walk your feet up the wall as you use your hands to push your tailbone to the edge where the wall meets the floor. You want to be a close as possible.
  • Step 3 – Rest your head and shoulders down on the floor
  • Step 4 – Ensure your legs extend straight and the bottom of your feet are flat to the ceiling
  • Step 5 – Your arms should rest open on either side of your body with your palms up like savasana.
  • Step 6 – Release and relax, letting where the thigh bone and hip meet to drop toward the back of your pelvis
  • Step 7 – Close your eyes, focus on your breathing and hold this pose for 10-15 minutes

Props: You can incorporate a bolster into this posture. In step two, just place a bolster on the floor against the wall and place your lower back down for added comfort and support.

Warnings: If you are menstruating it is best to avoid all inversions, including legs up the wall.

2. Restorative Child’s Pose

Woman Doing Child's Pose on a Pink Yoga Mat

This Child’s Pose is different in that props like blocks and bolsters fully support you. There are many variations of this posture that can help you fall into deep relaxation.

Benefits: You release a lot of tension in this pose, from your shoulders down to your lower back. Supported Child’s Pose also impacts the parasympathetic nervous system and can ease stressful days and mild panic attacks. You will notice an entirely relaxed mind and the ability to slip into a deep meditation.

How To:
  • Step 1 – Place a bolster or a blanket vertical in the middle of your mat and two blocks about 8 inches in front of the bolster and the same height as the bolster. Take a second bolster and blankets and stack it on top of the first while allowing it to rest on the top of the blocks. Take two blankets, stack them folded on top of each other and place them between the bolster and blocks. (See photo above)
  • Step 2 – Lay your torso on the bolster, so your head is resting where the blocks are.
  • Step 3 – Bring your knees up and toes to almost touch, don’t force it though
  • Step 4 – Fully relax on your bolster and let your breath guide you deeper into relaxation
  • Step 5 – Hold this pose for 10-20 minutes

Props: This posture can be modified in a variety of ways depending on the tools you have. You don’t need all of the props listed above; even 5-6 stacked blankets will do the trick. Just make sure your body is fully supported and relaxed, with zero tension anywhere.

Warnings: If you have tight knees or hips be extremely mindful. You will be holding this pose for a while so if you’re experiencing pain or tension, then adjust or skip it all together.

3. Supine Twist

Woman Doing Spinal Twist Pose in Restorative Yoga

Any asana that incorporates a twist will promote body detoxification and organ stimulation. These types of poses literally wring your body of toxins and stresses that plague you physically and mentally.

Benefits: The many physical benefits of a supine twist include stretching out tiny muscles in the entire back and hips that we tend to forget exist. It also lubricates the spine while lengthening and realigning it. This can help prevent injury when you enjoy a more vigorous asana practice.

You also supply fresh blood to the digestive organs by initially restricting blood flow when you’re in your twist. This will improve your overall digestive health!

How To:
  • Step 1 – Lie comfortably on your back
  • Step 2 – Bring your knees into your chest and give yourself a hug
  • Step 3 – Extend your arms out to each side
  • Step 4 – Drop your knees to one side and turn your head in the opposite direction
  • Step 5 – Keep your knees and feet together, pressing your opposite shoulder into the ground
  • Step 6 – Breathe into the twist
  • Step 7 – Hold for 5-10 minutes then repeat Steps 1 – 7 on the opposite side

Props: You don’t need any props for this pose. You can use a bolster or block to place under the knee closest to the floor if necessary. Use this variation if your knees don’t touch the ground. Your body needs to be 100% supported in every restorative posture.

Warning: If you have lower back issues twists can aggravate it even more. Also be mindful of your knees. If you experience any pressure or pulling, I suggest using a prop like a block or bolster.

How to Make a Bolster?

If you’re looking to make a bolster at home until you get an official one of your own, watch this handy video. It is quick, easy and all you need is some household items like blankets and string.

Start Unlocking Restorative Yoga’s Benefits!

To get you started, I’ve included a 30-minute Restorative Yoga class that I practice on a regular basis. I want to inspire you to discover the healing properties of Restorative Yoga. I promise you’ll feel more calm, relaxed and light.

I hope you enjoyed this information on a more gentle practice and found it useful. Adding this type of asana to your physical practice will not only offer many benefits on your mat but also off your mat. This quieter, more meditative form of yoga will aid in your ability to handle stress at work and home with relative ease!

As I mentioned before, I was all about the physical aspect of yoga. I wanted to see results in the form of mastering complicated poses and having a yoga body, but with this type of yoga, I discovered so much more about myself. I’ve become more self-aware and intuitive of not only the things happening within my body but also in the space around me. I know you will experience the same added benefit if you take the time to incorporate this important aspect of yoga.

If there is anything you’d like to add or any other questions you have, please drop me a line in the comments section! I’d love to hear from you.



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