What is Restorative Yoga?
I'll never forget my first restorative yoga class. I had been practicing vinyasa style for at least 4 years when my friend told me one of their coworkers was a yoga instructor. So we go to his studio one Saturday morning, and I'm expecting a sweaty, cardio, vinyasa-flow session.
When we were instructed what props we would be using in today's class (which was 2 round pillows/bolsters, two blankets, two blocks, and 2 small pool-noodles with a tennis ball in them), I knew this was going to be unlike any yoga class I'd ever taken.
Much to my surprise, it was a restorative yoga class- something that I had never even heard of before. I definitely didn't develop an appreciation for it until very recently.
So what exactly is Restorative Yoga?
If you read my post on yin yoga last week, then you already have a general understanding of restorative. We hold seated postures for minutes at a time, also with the use of props similar to yin yoga.
I'd say restorative differs from yin mainly in the level of sensations you feel in the pose. Of course, no posture is completely without any sensation, and some poses you may feel a little more than others. But restorative yoga is less physically intense than yin yoga in my experiences.
Setting up in comfortable positions with (at times elaborate) prop set-ups, the practitioner is able to relax into a deeply meditative state. It's very introspective, and allows you to settle into the present moment differently than any other form of exercise.
All you have to do is lay there quietly and do your best to sit still. For all of those who have practiced meditation before, you know this is easier said then done.
Even harder still is to quiet the mind. In restorative yoga, you get both the mental benefits of meditation and the physical benefits of a gentle style of yoga.
At times, the restorative poses will unlock subtle changes in the body. Sometimes, they can alleviate a great deal pain with little physical effort.
If you're looking for some gentle body alignment and mental relaxation, than restorative yoga has this all wrapped up into a neat practice for you.
Common Props in Restorative Yoga
First, you'll need to collect your props. Don't worry about not having a bunch of fancy bolsters, sandbags, and tennis ball noodles like some studios do. You can get away with items you already have in your homes.
Some props you may need are:
Straps - If you don't have a yoga strap, you can use a belt, scarf, or tie instead.
Bolster/pillows - A bolster is essentially a fancy, round pillow. We will often rest our backs or stomachs/chests on them in different poses. You can use your own pillows in place of a bolster. I generally like to have at least 2 handy, and I have found that a firmer pillow seems to work better. A body pillow is also a good option.
Blocks - Yoga blocks are definitely my most used prop. I personally love my cork blocks, but you can get relatively cheap ones at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross. You don't need to rush out and buy blocks though. You can easily substitute some thicker books in place of them. Textbooks, dictionaries or thesauruses work well.
You can also get creative with the prop substitutes. Some poses ask that you make a bolster ramp with your pillows and blocks/books. You can also use some old shipping boxes to create your ramp, which sometimes work a little better than books.
Blankets - I personally like to have a thinner one and a thicker one. We will place blankets underneath of us for some extra cushion. We will also sometimes use blankets over top of us for a gentle weighted effect. This is where I like a thicker blanket.
How to Practice Restorative Yoga
There are a lot of great, FREE resources for you available on YouTube. You can also check out the video I made to accompany this blog post here.
Or you can create your own sequence with some of your favorite poses! Many of the poses we take on the ground in vinyasa style classes can be modified into a restorative pose. You just want to make sure your body is fully supported, and you're able to stay in that position comfortably for 2-5 minutes or longer if you like.
Here are some of my favorite restorative poses:
Seated Forward Fold Pose
Reclining Butterfly Pose
Savasana (Corpse Pose) and variations
Check out my video to practice these poses and hear my explanation for how to get into them!
Let me know what you think, and if you would like more videos like this!