Restorative Yoga Poses that Anyone Can Do
The practice of restorative yoga can be a key component is creating ease and relieving stress in your everyday life, especially if you are recovering from an illness of injury.
As Andrea Marcum, owner of U Studio Yoga studio in Los Angeles says, “We use this [restorative] practice to connect with ourselves, as well as to connect with something greater.” She also suggests that as we relax into the restorative poses, we feel the dust begin to settle in our minds. When the dust settles, the mind becomes unclouded. Like a clear pool of water, which Marcum notes, “clear pools of water reflect the beauty of the surroundings.”
Her A,B,C’s of Breathing are brilliant in their simplicity, a key component of a restorative practice.
Awareness – having knowledge or consciousness Benevolence – kindness – the desire to do well to others Calm – tranquility – free from agitation
I consider this to be the path from the individual to the universal.
Or, more simply, that a restorative state helps us move beyond self-centeredness; from a state of ‘me’ consciousness to a ‘we’ consciousness.
In our typically busy lives, our nervous systems get over-stimulated. It’s as if our bodies are constantly on a cross-country road trip, in overdrive. Like a much-needed rest stop for our nervous systems, try these restorative yoga poses as recommended by Shannon Paige in her Anjali Restorative Chakra Roots to Rise.
To try the following six restorative poses you’ll need a blanket and a bolster.
Remember, you can create a bolster by simply rolling two blankets together. Create a neck roll by folding one of the outstretched blankets in half. The fold will form a large rectangle shape. Take one of the long edges of the rectangle and begin rolling it, about halfway.
Supported Reclining Pose
Place the blanket at the head end of your yoga mat. The rolled portion will support your neck, and your head can softly rest onto the remaining portion of the unrolled blanket. Adjust the bolster the width of your mat about 2/3 away from the blanket; it’ll go behind your knees to elevate your lower legs. Make sure your knees are wide.
Lay onto your back, ensuring that the bolster and blanket are in comfortable positions. Use your exhales to help you soften into the props and ground beneath you.
To transition out of this pose, bend your knees, bringing your feet onto the bolster. Roll your body onto the right side into a brief fetal position. You can rest your head on your right arm, and keep knees bent. When ready, turn towards the floor with a heavy head to keep softness in your neck, and rise to an upright position.
Elevated Caterpillar Pose
From a seated position, with wide legs over the bolster as in previous pose, drape your torso forward. If it feels as though your pelvis is rocking back, you can sit on top of the blanket roll that supported your neck in supported reclining pose. Rest your head on stacked hands or, if accessible, on the bolster between your knees.
To transition out of this pose, bring your hands beneath your shoulders, pads of the fingers press into the floor to lift your rounded torso up. Allow your head to come up last.
Place the fully rolled up blanket towards the head end of your mat. Move the bolster behind you, the width of mat. From seated, turn towards the right, your right thigh will be parallel to the width of the bolster. Pinwheel your legs so your right foot is in line with your left knee. You can pad your inner left knee if needed. Line up the right side of your torso, so when you lay on to the bolster, the right side of your ribs meet the bolster. Extend your right arm overhead on top of the blanket roll, and wrap the excess blanket roll on top of your arm, so your right arm becomes the middle of a blanket sandwich. Rest your head on this ‘sandwich’ so the blanket equally supports your right shoulder and head. Ensure that there’s ample space for the base of your right ribs and right hip to rest onto the mat. Only the middle portion of the right ribs is elevated onto the bolster.
To transition out of this pose, draw your left arm in front of your body, press down through your left fingertips into the floor to lift your rounded spine up. Keep chin towards your chest as you rise. Turn slightly towards your left, so your seat is on the mat. Bend your knees, feet hips width on the mat, and rest your forehead towards your knees for a few breaths. Then set up for Side Fish to the left.
Belly on Bolster Twist
Place the bolster vertical, from head end of mat to middle of the mat. Sit on your left hip (legs in side fish position), with hands either side of the bolster. From your navel, turn your torso towards the bolster and lay down onto it. Your head can rest to either side or you may like to stack your hands and rest your forehead onto them.
To transition, come out the same way you came into it. Before taking the twist to the other side, you may like to recline back onto the bolster, knees bent, feet wide, or simply stay upright for a few breaths. Then take Belly on Bolster Twist to the other (right) side. We typically take twists following the direction of our digestion: from right to left.
Supported Reclining Butterfly
From an upright-seated position, place the bolster vertical behind you; you may like to elevate the head end with a block, or use a blanket to rest your head onto. Bring the soles of your feet together, and wrap the blanket roll over the tops of your feet, and wrap the ends behind your heels and ankles. You may like to support the outer knees with blocks. Lower your back onto the bolster behind you.
To transition, bring hands to outer knees and draw knees in (blanket will fall away from your feet). Press your thighs away, creating the sensation of spaciousness in your low back. To rise, use your hands on either side of bolster, to lift up.
Supported Child’s Pose
From a seated position, bring the bolster out in front of you, lengthwise. You can place the blanket roll behind the knees for more support (you may want a block under your seat if knees are sensitive), or beneath the tops of the feet. Bring your knees the width of the mat, big toes touching, rest hips on heels and fold forward so your torso rests the length of the bolster.
To transition, roll yourself back upright. Option to take neck stretches: slowly draw right ear towards right shoulder, right arm outstretched. Use your right hand on your right check to lift your head back to center. Then slowly move to the other side.
The Ultimate Stay-cation
We often think that relaxation and de-stressing requires a day at a spa or a month-long Caribbean holiday. Don’t get me wrong, you can sign me up for either of those anytime, but we all need solutions that are cheaper to afford, easier to plan and don’t require a passport. Restorative yoga poses and breathing techniques can be added to your yoga practice anytime, anywhere. Cultivating a consistent restorative yoga practice can have a deep and measurable affect on decreasing stress and anxiety. Just think of it as the ultimate Stay-cation.
Yoga Nidra Meditation: Best Kept Secret to Deep Relaxation
Chances are you’ve been in a yoga class where the teacher gives verbal cues or instruction during a usually silent savasana. You’re encouraged to breathe deeply, visualize, or focus on specific body parts, one at a time. As you leave the studio, you wonder: What happened during final savasana? Why do I feel so great? How did I get this incredibly calm and relaxed? It’s not magic–your teacher most likely just incorporated a few aspects of Yoga Nidra meditation into the final posture.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Is it a pose? Guided imagery? An affirmation? A visualization tool? Mind-body therapy? A relaxation exercise? Yoga Nidra can be all of these things, and more–in essence, it’s a highly effective meditation technique that’s been around for thousands of years. Here’s a primer from some of our Gaia experts to help explain and demystify the practice of Yoga Nidra:
Armand Sagredo says that the method is so inherently powerful it had been kept secret for nearly 4,000 years, until the 1960’s. Through Yoga Nidra you can enter the realm of the subconscious and create effective, seemingly magical changes in your life, and relax your nervous system in the most powerful way available to humans without chemical agents. read more from Armand
Yoga Nidra is a secret weapon many yogis swear by and one hour of the meditation can be as effective as three hours of regular sleep. It’s not about conscious effort, but about conscious relaxation.
Gwendoline Odeluga tells us that Yoga Nidra is a scientific method for achieving a deep state of relaxation, and is also a bridge to the higher branches of Yoga. During a session, she says, you are not in a deep sleep–you are still fully aware. You relax physically yet stay mentally alert and in a place of great creativity. Yoga Nidra makes it possible to effect profound change in your body, mind, and life. read more from Gwendoline
Yoga Nidra is a technique that increases awareness of sensation in the muscular, connective and nerve tissues, David Flores explains, by breathing into those areas and sending signals for relaxation. You can feel energy flowing up and down the chakras–it’s even possible, with ongoing practice, to dissolve sensations from the body altogether. He says that Yoga Nidra is like a “voice-guided eraser that slowly fades your body into the ether.” read more from David
Doesn’t a “voice-guided eraser” sound like an amazing tool for relaxation and stress-reduction? It is! And it’s so simple and effective, you can practice anytime you need to take the edge off disturbing thoughts, raging emotions, bodily tension or a combination of all three.
According to the Yoga Nidra Network’s resource guide, there are a variety of approaches to the practice of Yoga Nidra, each with its own value and purpose. The easiest way to begin is to have a yoga teacher walk you through the steps or follow an audio version of a guided meditation. The recordings are all a little different: short or lengthy; music in the background or quiet; deep or soothing vocals; various scripts for sleep, tension relief, focusing, intention, and more. Choose an audio guide with the voice, tone and sequencing right for you.
A 10 Step Guide to Deep Relaxation with Yoga Nidra Meditation
Here’s a sample of what a Yoga Nidra session might look like. Thanks so much to our gaia.com expert Jill Miller for providing the template for this beginner’s guide. And remember that this is just one example–there are many Yoga Nidra practices to choose from!
- Take time to get comfortable. Give yourself at least 10-15 minutes for a short version of the practice. Lie down in a quiet, calm environment. Cover yourself with a light blanket; you can also cover your eyes with a towel, if helpful. Try to remain still and present. Close your eyes and relax–get ready to follow the sound of the voice guiding your practice.
- Set your sankalpa. Visualize a deep resolve or positive intention for your Yoga Nidra. You can say it out loud or to yourself a few times. Feel the sankalpa spread throughout your body, suffusing your awareness. Then release the intention and let it go. The seeds of the intention will remain even after you drop your conscious focus. You can learn more about the power of sankalpa in Cheryl Lyn’s informative article, Magical Map to Manifesting with Yoga Nidra.
- Open your senses. Welcome any smells, tastes, sounds or sensations in your current environment. Notice feelings, thoughts and images as they arise and fade away–let your body and mind just “be.” With eyes closed, allow your internal vision to take shape. Rest easy, but stay curious and open to the practice. Focus your attention on each particular instruction as prompted by the audio guide.
- Become aware of your breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose with simple, welcoming breaths. Notice the flow–invite your breath in and then out. Remember to take slow, relaxing breaths, not ujjayi breaths. Release a bit of tension with each successive outbreath. Vijai Sharma, Ph.D., says to use the imagination in order to increase the exhalation. He encourages us to imagine inhaling through the crown of the head straight to the heart, and then exhaling from the heart all the way down to the toes and soles of the feet. Imagine taking a whole body inhale, and then a whole body exhale. Repeat a few times.
- Practice countdown breaths. Next, breathe in while mentally saying the number ’40.’ Breathe out and mentally say the number ’39.’ The next inhale is ’38,’and the next exhale is ’37.’ Keep counting backward all the way down to ‘1.’ There’s no need to rush. Don’t get frustrated if you miss a number. Be friendly to yourself if you fall asleep or forget to count–begin counting again when you get the next cue from the instructor. Feel yourself relaxing more deeply with each outbreath as you count backward from 40 to 1.
- Progressively relax your muscles. Relax every muscle in your body by squeezing and releasing–focus on each unique muscle or muscle group as you go. For example, your instructor might ask you to tighten your hands as much as you can–tighter, tighter–and then release. Each Yoga Nidra uses different sequences or progressions to take you through the body; just go with it. Don’t overthink or force yourself to concentrate; simply follow the guiding voice from location to location within your body. You can subtly encourage each muscle to “breathe a little with you,” in and out, as you tighten and release.
- Become aware of your whole body. Now let go of the tightening sequence and take a full body tour. First, become aware of your whole body all at once. How do you feel? Let yourself be light and weightless, or heavy and dense–just experience whatever arises. Your guide may ask you to move your awareness to different parts of your relaxed body–organs, muscles, joints, skin and more–maybe into places you never even knew existed! Welcome any sensations you find there. Keep still as you continue to focus attention on each body part.
- Bring in the light! As you move through the sequence, the instructor may prompt you to imagine your awareness as a golden light touching each part of your body. Caress your eyes, your fingers, the space between your organs, your navel–suffuse your entire body, heart and mind with soothing light. Next, radiate that light outward–first to friends and family, then to everyone you know. Finally, radiate light everywhere, to all beings, and imagine light being sent back to you just as you are sending light out to them. Continue giving and receiving; let your sense of self and others start to dissolve. Bask in the radiant, shared sensation.
- Take some final breaths. Now come back to your breath. Don’t think too much about it–just experience the movement, in and out. Let your breath hold you, nurture you. You might be asked to revisit your sankalpa (intention).You can do so on an inbreath, and let it go again on an outbreath. Then return to the gentle rhythm of your natural respiration.
- Close the practice. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Start to move your body around. Notice: Do you feel energized and awake? Relaxed and peaceful? Tender and loving? Gently roll onto your side and sit up. Open your eyes and come back to waking life. Has your awareness changed? Feel any warmth, joy or soothing feelings you’ve generated in your body, mind, spirit…and beyond.
Sound intriguing? Yoga Nidra can be used as a tool for deep relaxation, but it’s also a fulfilling spiritual practice. Try this Yoga Nidra guided meditation and enjoy a dose of yogic “deep rest”–try it today.
And don’t just read about it: Get comfortable, open your ears, and give a listen. Remember how good you felt after your instructor incorporated just a few elements of Yoga Nidra into that final savasana? You can come home to yourself every day with that same deep relaxation–all you have to do is practice Yoga Nidra meditation.