The Yoga Girl® Guide to Restorative Yoga and Props
Restorative yoga helps to calm the nervous system, release tension from deep within the body, and leave you feeling peaceful, calm and relaxed.
Restorative yoga is a slow paced class where the postures are held for a longer period of time.
The restorative yoga practice brings so much peace to mind, body, and soul. The postures are supported by yoga props, that way the body can melt into the support of the props, releasing tension and letting go of any tightness or trauma in the body.
Restorative yoga is so beneficial in these uncertain times, it can bring us back into a peaceful, restful state.
It is so important to slow down, focus on the breath, and let go. In restorative yoga we get a chance to slow down and anchor deeply into the body and breath, to do what we can to remain grounded.
While Vinyasa flows tend to focus more on yang energy, heating the body and igniting the Agni fires within, restorative yoga anchors into the yin energy, feminine, cooling, nurturing, peaceful and soothing. This practice helps you to focus on the present, getting very still and quieting the mind while restoring the body.
“When we tap into the yin energy, it’s very different in a sense of we move much less … what we are doing is creating a depth of the practice inside of ourselves where we can actually allow for a surrender to happen.” – Rachel Brathen.
In your first restorative practice, you might find it a bit difficult to slow down, especially the mind. You might find your mind wandering and thoughts racing in the beginning, but that’s ok. Anchor into the breath when you find your mind wandering and allow the thoughts to slow down and dissipate into the waves of the inhalation and exhalation.
Allow the thoughts to come and go, anchor into the breath and the present moment.
There are fewer poses in restorative yoga classes, most classes will do about 5-6 poses max. The slower pace and support of props helps the body and mind to get into a deeply relaxed state, and it takes a while to use the breath to calm the mind. You can practice restorative yoga at any time of day whenever you need to return to a peaceful state of being. It is an amazing practice to do before bed to ensure a deep, restful sleep.
Each pose can be held for up to 10 minutes in the class in order to fully give the fascia time to release stored tension in the body.
Fascia is the connective tissue that holds the muscles together.
It stores a lot of our tension and it takes at least 3 minutes in a pose for the fascia to begin to open up and release. The longer you hold the pose for the better! In restorative classes, you will use ALL the props in order to support the poses for longer holds and deeper release.
If you don’t have a bolster, block, or strap, not to worry! These can easily be made at home with what you have lying around.
All you have to do is get creative! The point of these props is to further support the body, so you can melt into the props and stay longer.
A yoga strap helps to support the shoulders, low back, hips, and ankles.
You can use a strap about the ball of the foot to gently open and stretch your hamstrings or place it in both hands and lift up and back to open the shoulders, amongst other restorative poses. A strap helps to give length, space and support. You can create a strap by using a towel, belt, scarf or a sarong for a strap if you don’t have one.
Blocks help to provide support, length and traction in your practice.
You can place a block underneath the lower back in supported bridge pose to give some traction to the lumbar spine, and this is great for low back pain! You can also place the blocks under a bolster or a pair of blocks supporting the shoulders and upper back for a gentle heart opener or flip the pose into a supported child's pose. In order to make blocks, you can take a few thicker books that are relatively the same size and shape and bind or wrap them together.
Bolsters can be used in gentle heart openers and to support the body in a multitude of restorative poses, from twists to underneath the knees for a healing, lower back supported Savasana.
You can make a bolster by taking a tightly rolled yoga mat and wrapping it in a thick towel, blanket or taking 2-3 towels and roll these up until they form a cylindrical shape. You can even use a foam roller and wrap a towel or two around it for gentle, soft support.
Be sure to have lots of pillows and blankets by your mat as well and insert them into your restorative postures wherever you need them! You can also use a tennis or lacrosse ball to release the fascia in the hips, legs, shoulders and upper back.
It is so nice to create a relaxing atmosphere for your restorative practice as well.
We love to use our favorite essential oils on our emotional points, on the inner wrist, behind the ears, and on the heart and belly. Dim the lights, light a candle or incense or both, you can even use crystals to place on different chakras to add some deep energetic restorative work.
Last, but not least, have a hand towel, scarf, or eye mask in lieu of an eye pillow. For an added restorative element, add a few drops of your favorite soothing essential oil onto the fabric (we love lavender or neroli).
Now you have all of the tools in order to prepare yourself for your at home restorative practice. Set your intention to release tension, breathe, and bring in calm, peaceful, healing vibes through your supported restorative practice.
What do you like the most about restorative yoga? Share in the comments below!