“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe
Nine years ago after I had my twins, I was eager to get back into a routine of a weekly yoga class and daily home practice. However, I didn’t account for the soul-sapping fatigue I felt as a new sleep-deprived mum!
I simply did not have the energy or ability to leave the house for a satisfying active class. And truly, I did not want to venture far from my precious babes.
That's when I discovered a soothing style of yoga that met me exactly where I was. I could do it at home, using equipment that I already had, and it made me feel refreshed and pampered.
I fell in love with restorative yoga—a deliciously yummy practice where I could gently move my tired body, but with the support of comfortable props to help me feel completely supported, beautifully nurtured, and best of all, deeply rested.
As soon as my babes slept, I would clear the floor, gather some props, and sink into a few slow, rejuvenating poses.
As an avid yoga practitioner and instructor, I had a variety of specialty yoga props at hand—cork blocks, bolsters, and blankets. However, not wanting to miss my chance for some downtime, I would often improvise with whatever lay around, grabbing sofa cushions and towels to use as a bolster, a stack of small books wrapped in a pillowcase for a block, and a clean sock to place over my eyes.
Even if I could spend just five minutes in a pose every other day this time became invaluable. It was time just for me. With every melting moment I could feel some of the resentment from having so little time to myself slip away. I would emerge rested and (mostly!) ready to begin again, feeling great at having moved my body.
Restorative yoga is the super chilled-out member of the yoga family. This slow, passive practice combines the elements of time, warmth, comfort, support, and soft light to create a sequence accessible to most bodies and trigger the body’s natural healing responses.
Just as an active yoga practice, a good restorative sequence aims to mobilize the spine, moving it backward, forward, laterally, and in a twisting motion.
What make restorative yoga poses different to its more vigorous cousins are the longer holds (five to thirty minutes) and the use of props to cradle and hold the body in position.
There’s no physical effort required; instead, blankets, pillows, bolsters, and blocks serve as a nurturing landing pad into which tired, achy bodies can dissolve.
The longer timings and supports encourage tight muscles to let go and mental tensions to ease. Warmth is also important; as the body relaxes it cools down, so it’s a good idea to cover up with a blanket in the poses. Soft lighting also encourages relaxation. Draping an eye-pillow or washcloth over the eyes can further soften tensions around the eyes and reduce visual stimulation.
When we’re relaxed, the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system switches on and begins the job of healing and restoring the body. In this rest-and-digest mode, the heart and respiration rates slow, busy thoughts subside, and a wonderful pause descends over body and mind.
This delivers a much needed mini-break from the usual busy-ness of life, where the sympathetic or fight-and-flight mode of the nervous system can be habitually stuck in overdrive. Too much time here can cause stress, which could lead to negative states such as anxiety, sleeplessness, or adrenal fatigue.
Ready to sample a restorative a pose or two?
Start by gathering your props. Here’s what you’ll need, plus some “DIY” tips to make your own!
Mat – A yoga mat is helpful, as it provides a non-slip surface, but it’s not essential. Substitute with a towel, blanket, or a carpeted floor space.
Block – Store-bought yoga blocks can be made from solid cork, bamboo, wood, or foam and measure 9″ long x 6″ wide x 4″ thick. Make your own by making a stack of books to approximate this size, then secure with rubber bands or wrap in a pillowcase.
Bolster – Bolsters are long, oval, or round firm pillows measuring about 26″ long, 7″ wide and 3″ high. DIY by folding a firm blanket or two into this shape, or substitute sofa cushions.
Blankets and towels – use what you have around the house.
Roll – roll up a bath towel, blanket, or space yoga mat until it’s around 31″ long and 6″ in diameter.
Eye-pillow – these block the light and provide a subtle, soothing weight over the eyes to promote relaxation and sense withdrawal. A folded washcloth works well.
Constructive Rest Pose
A great place to start, this basic pose rests the spine, head, and limbs symmetrically. The neutral position invites us to check in with breath, body, and mind before moving on to more poses.
What to do: Lie down on your back, with the head and neck supported by a folded towel or blanket. Bend the legs, space the feet hip-width apart, and ground the feet into the mat. Rest the arms beside you, an even distance from the mid-line, palms facing up. Let the head be heavy; relax the eyes, face, and neck.
Descend the shoulders and allow your weight to drop into the floor. Notice how your body feels; notice the activity of the mind, notice the emotions, notice the breath. Stay five minutes or more. To come up, hug the knees to chest, roll to the side and press yourself up to a seat.
Upper Back Booster
This refreshing backbend helps to counter rounded shoulders and a slumped chest. It lifts the heart and encourages full, easy breathing. The entire front body receives a nice stretch.
What to do: Place a roll across your mat. Take constructive rest pose again, this time with the roll underneath the nipple-line. Do any wriggling and adjusting till you feel comfortable, with a sense of lift at the chest. Straighten the legs, if desired.
Stay five minutes or more, then remove the roll and revisit constructive rest pose again for a few moments. Hopefully, you feel like you have a brand-new back! Exit the pose as for Constructive Rest Pose.
Legs Up the Wall
Try this pose for a full body/mind refresh. The reversed blood-ﬂow from toes to torso particularly beneﬁts tired legs and the back is positioned nicely for rest and length.
What to do: Clear some space and sit side-on to a wall. Take the outer shoulder to the ﬂoor, then gently roll onto your back and swing your extended legs up the wall.
Rest your head on a pillow/folded blanket for extra comfort, and cover your eyes if you like. Stay for five minutes or longer. When ready to come out, bend the knees to chest, roll to the side and press up to a seated position. Observe how you feel.
This is a beautifully grounding, nurturing pose perfect to counter busy-ness and over-stimulation. It also helps to soothe a cranky lower back.
What to do: Rest one end of your bolster on your block. Kneel at the other end with the bolster between the knees. Bend from the hips, fold forward slowly, and lay your whole front body along the length of the bolster. Turn your head to rest on one cheek.
Place your hands and forearms either side of the bolster. After a few minutes, rest on the other cheek and stay in the pose for an even amount of time.
When you are ready to come up, ground your hands either side of your bolster and slowly lift up. Come to a seat and see how you feel.
Savasana – Corpse Pose
This is a simple way to complete your practice and allows the mind and body to soak up all the goodness from your sequence. You can also take this pose anytime as a stand-alone pick-me-up.
What to do: Rest your entire back-body along the mat. Insert a bolster or roll under the knees to take any pressure from the lower back, and a position a support under the head and neck.
Pop an eye-pillow or cloth over the eyes, and cover up with a blanket to keep warm. Once warm and comfortable, make a commitment to be still. Give yourself permission to let go of physical tensions and mental chatter. Simply rest and enjoy the gift of relaxation. Stay in Savasana for ten minutes or more.
When you are well-rested and calm your whole family will feel it too!
Child's pose image via Shutterstock