Restorative yoga is a different pace than the yoga that many of us practice on a regular basis. It is a restful practice that focuses on slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching. It is an accumulative practice and you may hardly move at all, doing just a few postures over the course of a class.
My mom just turned 70 and for her birthday some close family came together to celebrate her. I taught a family yoga class and since we are all different ages and levels, I decided to lead a restorative class. It took a while to get everyone to settle down into resting postures, this was a first for a few but by the end everyone was feeling recharged and restored. Here are some of the poses that we did and can be repeated as often as you like. Bundle up because the body will cool down quickly. Most of us chose a blanket for Savanas so keep one on hand for the end. You will be holding the poses for about 3 minutes so scan down from head to toe throughout to make sure every part of your body is happy. Do not do it if it hurts.
Salamba Matsyasana – Mountain Brook
For this pose, you will have one yoga bolster under the chest, one under your knees, and a small blanket roll under your head. Placing the bolsters or blankets in the right position ensures your greatest comfort and relaxation. The yoga bolster under your chest should be placed right under the bottom tips of your scapula. The upper parts of your shoulders should be on the ground. The yoga bolster at your lower body should be placed under your knees. Your legs should feel relaxed, comfortable, and supported. If your feet have a tendency to fall outwards in a V-shape, you can loosely buckle a yoga strap around your legs to keep them level. The blanket roll under your head should go just below your neck where your spine and head connect. Make sure your chin is level, not pointing too far back or too far down.
Marjaiasana – Cat-Cow
Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward. Begin by moving into Cow Pose: Inhale as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. Broaden across your shoulder blades and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Exhale and move into Cat Pose: As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Think of a cat stretching its back. Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but do not force your chin to your chest. Inhale, coming back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose. Repeat 5-20 times, and then rest by sitting back on your heels with your torso upright.
Urdhva Mukha Pasasana – Thread The Needle
Start on all fours, place your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. With your fingertips pointed to the top of your mat, place your shins and knees hip-width apart. On an exhalation, extend your right arm toward the ceiling and then slide your right arm underneath your left arm with your palm facing up. Let your right shoulder come all the way down to the mat. Rest your right ear and cheek on the mat, then gaze toward your left. Keep your left elbow lifting and your hips raised. Do not press your weight onto your head; adjust your position so you do not strain your neck or shoulder. Let your upper back broaden. Soften and relax your lower back. Allow all of the tension in your shoulders, arms, and neck to drain away. Hold for up to one minute. To release, press through your left hand and gently slide your right hand out. Return to all fours. Repeat on the left side.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Supported Bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms on the floor with your fingers reaching toward your heels. You should be able to just barely touch the backs of your heels with your fingertips. Keep your feet parallel. Maintain that position throughout the pose. Press down into the soles of your feet to lift your hips off the floor. Slide your yoga block under your back directly under your sacrum, letting it rest securely on the bolster. Your arms can stay outstretched on the floor next to your body. This should be a comfortable position. You may want to stay here several minutes as your body settles into the stretch and gets the benefits of a passive backbend. If the pose causes your back to hurt, remove the block and come down. To come out, press down into your feet and lift your hips again. Slide the block out from under your sacrum and gently lower your back to the floor.
Supta Kapotasana – Reclined Pigeon
Lie down on the floor with your back resting on the mat, knees bent, and soles of the feet on the floor. Bring the right knee into the chest. Flex through the foot and cross the right ankle over the left knee. You are welcome to hold here or if you would like to take it deeper, lift the left foot off of the ground. Thread both hands through the legs to grab a hold of the back of the left thigh. Make sure that your ankle is on the knee. Keep the right foot flexed to protect the knee. Relax the shoulders and jaw, and breathe deeply. To come out of this posture, slowly lower the left foot to the floor and uncross the legs. Repeat with the left ankle over the right knee.
Ananda Balasana – Happy Baby
Lie on your back. Exhale, bending your knees into your belly. Inhale, grip the outsides of your feet with your hands (if you have difficulty holding the feet directly with your hands, hold onto a belt looped over each sole.) Open your knees slightly wider than your torso, then bring them up toward your armpits. Position each ankle directly over the knee, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Flex through the heels. Gently push your feet up into your hands (or the belts) as you pull your hands down to create a resistance.
Viparita Karani — Legs Up the Wall
To practice this pose restoratively, you will need a prop to elevate the pelvis. Kneel next to the bolster or blanket with your buttucks against the wall. Drop down onto your elbow that’s closest to the prop and roll onto your back. Your buttocks should be flush with the wall, so scoot forward if needed. Place your hands on your lower belly or above your head in cactus. Stay for 10-30 minutes. Exit the pose slowly by sliding the legs down the wall and allowing the blood to return. Coming out too quickly can cause head rushes or feinting.
Salamba Balasana — Supported Child’s Pose
Begin in a kneeling position on your yoga mat. The yoga bolster should be placed in the middle of your mat. Be sure to keep a blanket nearby in case you get cold during the pose. Because it has a cooling action, you might feel slightly cold once the pose starts to work. Straddle the bolster and lay the front of your body forward over the support. If you have pressure in your knees, you can place a blanket roll under your knees and another between the back of your legs and shins. Turn your head to one side, but keep in mind you want to shift it to the other side halfway through the pose.
Lay a bolster lengthwise on the head end of a yoga mat. Sit sideways on your yoga mat with your hips about 4-8 inches from the end of the bolster. With your hands on either side of the bolster, gently lay your torso down onto the bolster, chest down. Adjust your distance from the bolster, if necessary, to keep your abdomen free and your rib cage supported. Turn your head in the direction of the twist and rest your arms on either side of the bolster. Take a few deep breaths, settling onto your bolster as you exhale. Then allow your body to breathe naturally. Rest here for five minutes or more. To move out of the pose, press your hands into the floor, straighten your arms, and come to an easy sitting pose for a few breaths before turning around and twisting in the other direction.
Savasana – Corpse Pose
End your practice with at least 10 minutes of Resting Savasana. Lie on your back, legs stretched out, arms slightly away from your body, palms facing up. Legs slightly apart and feet fall out to the side, soften your shoulder, back of the neck long. Gently close your eyes, let the body become heavy and melt into the support of the ground. Soften the muscles across your forehead, releasing all tension, gaze inwards. Let all the muscles and bones of your body release. Breathe in appreciation for your body, breathe out any doubt any uncertainty and fear.