Restorative yoga is a style of yoga that supports the body with props in fully passive poses. This practice allows for poses to be held for long periods of time, bestowing deep relaxation and soothing the nervous system.
A passive practice is a great compliment to a more upbeat, muscle-driven practice, and it’s simultaneously very easy to overlook. Although we take the time to practice savasana at the end of yoga classes, how often do we settle into poses for five or even 10 minutes? If you’re like me, the answer is likely: not often enough.
After an especially busy and trying holiday season, I was feeling depleted. I had a lot of forces pulling on my attention and time and I didn’t have a lot left for myself. So I blocked off 30 minutes for an at-home restorative sequence. Below is the restorative yoga I practiced using a yoga block, blanket, strap and bolster. (If you don’t have a bolster, folded blankets also work well.)
When my aim is to open the body in a supportive and thorough way, I approach restorative poses with a strategy of gently targeting opposing parts — meaning I’ll do a forward bend, then a backbend. That’s what I’ve created in this short sequence here.
Supported Reclined Cobbler’s Pose
This is the restorative pose I see most often in public classes, and for good reason — it gently opens the front of the body while allowing the hip flexors to soften, as well as offering mild hip and inner thigh opening.
To set up this pose, lie back on a bolster. Place a block under each of your outer shins and with the soles of your feet together, knees falling wide, allow your lower legs to rest on the blocks. Look for no strain or stretch in the groin, allowing your pelvis to rest neutral and your breath to deepen. If needed, move the blocks closer to your ankles for less depth. If tightness across your chest and frontal shoulders is too strong, try elevating your forearms here with blankets or blocks. Hold for 3-5 minutes to start, and work up to 10-20 minute holds over time.
Supported Chest Stretch
Poses that open the upper back and the chest will be the most invigorating, so I like to do them near the beginning of the sequence to give the body plenty of time to relax and slow down after.
In this form, use a rolled up blanket (adjust the blanket roll to a size that is comfortable for you) across your upper back, at the bottom of your shoulder blades. If the back of the neck gets too short, place a pillow under your head. For this straight leg variation, try putting a block at the base of your calves and a strap around your thighs. Start with short holds of 1-3 minutes, and add a minute or two as you’re ready over time.
There are countless variations of supine twists which can be supported with props in many variations. For this form, sit on the floor with both knees bent and set to one side of your pelvis. On the other side of your pelvis, line up a bolster with your thigh so you can twist over it and give the bolster a bear hug. Keep your face aligned with your chest. If your arms feel too heavy or the shoulders feel unsupported, place blocks or pillows under your forearms. Start with 2-3 minutes per side, and add longer holds, working up to 5-8 minutes per side.
Legs Up the Wall
I love this pose after travel, especially for swelling in the feet or ankles. Simply swing your legs up a wall. Breathe deeply and allow your pelvis and torso to release into the ground. You may have your arms out, palms up, or bend your elbows and rest your hands on your torso. If there’s strain in your lower back, try placing a blanket under your pelvis. Start with 3-5 minutes, and lengthen to as long as 20.
Supported Bridge Pose
When looking to approach bridge pose with a restorative lens, I like to place a block at my low back, just above the top of my pelvic bones. This allows the pelvis to drop off the edge of the block into a more neutral position, preventing a ‘tucked under’ pelvis (which will tighten the hip flexors, often agitating the nervous system).
Place the block at a height that feels comfortable to you and add a strap around your legs for even more support. Rest with your palms up and make sure you can take full, uninhibited breaths here. Start with 2-3 minutes, and work up to 5-10 minute holds.
Justicia DeClue (E-RYT 500) has been teaching since 2005 and is the owner and director of Maha Yoga in Philadelphia. She is most sought after for her detailed alignment instruction and open-hearted teaching style. Find her on Instagram or Facebook.