“We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to relax. Restorative yoga poses help us learn to rest deeply and completely.”Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD.
In our modern, busy world we spend more time “on” than “off” leading to exhaustion and burnout.
Add to that our intensive exercise routines – power yoga, boot camp at the gym or running – and we’re depleting our already low energy rather than recharging where we can to fill up our cups.
So how do we make a change and start to recharge in our downtime, not just physically but truly nourishing ourselves from the inside out? Enter, Restorative Yoga, a gentle, restful style of yoga developed in the 1970s based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar.
In this article we’ll learn:
- What is Restorative Yoga?
- The origins of Restorative Yoga
- 21 Restorative Yoga benefits
- Props you need for your own Restorative Yoga home practice
- 4 simple poses to get started at home
Let’s gently ease in!
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative Yoga, often referred to as Deep Rest, is a practice that focuses on slowing down, stretching the body and supporting the body with various props to open up and ensure complete relaxation.
Unlike many other styles, with Restorative Yoga, you may only do a handful of postures in a class, perhaps barely moving from the floor.
The Origins of Restorative Yoga
Judith Lasater, an early disciple of B.K.S. Iyengar, started teaching yoga in 1971 and developed Restorative yoga based on Iyengar-style asanas focused on alignment and primarily on supporting recovery from illness or injury.
Often used interchangeably with yin yoga, the styles actually differ in approach – as outlined in this article explaining the differences.
So other than helping with recovery and focusing on alignment, what are the actual restorative yoga benefits? This style of yoga really supports us on many levels, supporting not only the body and mind but even our soul, or more spiritual, meditative needs.
21 Restorative Yoga Benefits
There are seemingly endless benefits to this wonderful practice as it slows us down on so many levels, and as we mentioned before, in our busy modern lifestyles that is needed more than ever!
For now, we’ll focus on 21 restorative yoga benefits, categorized into sections focused on Mind, Body, and Soul or Energetics.
5 Restorative Yoga Benefits On The Mind
#1: Brings stillness to a busy mind
Spending time in silence, focusing on the breath as a meditative practice allows the mind to
release the busyness and constant thoughts
#2: Aids in managing and lowering stress
The practice of regular stillness, breath focus and rest is helpful to reduce stress as well as
give tools to manage stress in more stimulating situations
#3: Encourages relaxation
The supported poses and darkness allow the mind to let go and soften
#4: Practice sitting with ourselves without distractions either external or internal
Meditative approach gives us time with ourselves without the need to distract whether it’s from our thoughts or seeking distraction from external sources
#5: Develops resilience
The more we practice the more this state of gentleness, stillness and softening becomes our normal, it helps us come back to this state often
11 Restorative Yoga Benefits On The Body
#1: Brings relaxation to the body
Restful time in the dark with full support allows the body to relax
#2: Encourages the release of muscular tension
The use of props for full support of the body eases muscular tensions
#3: Improves flexibility and mobility
A long time spent in the poses without pushing helps to improve flexibility and mobility
#4: Rebalances the nervous system
Bringing balance to a system used to spending too much time in action and doing by calibrating with purposeful rest
#5: Expands body awareness
The gentle approach to the practice, as well as the slow release, allows the awareness to expand to the whole body
#6: Boosts energy
Bringing much-needed rest restores vital energy in the body
#7: Assists more restful sleep
The calming effects on the mind and mindfulness encourage a deeper and more restful sleep
#8: Aids in pain management
Gentle, elongating without pushing, breath-focused, all support pain management
#9: Improves eye health
Practice in the dark and the use of eye pillows bring a practice of Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses or gathering within, giving our eyes a break and boosting eye health
#10: Helps with injury rehabilitation
A restful break from the more active styles of yoga, Restorative Yoga can give injuries time to heal and gently encourage mobility and flexibility in the process
#11: Supports menstruation, lessens PMS symptoms
Often exacerbated by stress and doing too much, PMS symptoms can be supported with this gentle practice which is nourishing during menstruation when more vigorous forms of yoga may be too much
5 Restorative Yoga Benefits For The Soul / Energetics
#1: Brings a stillness to our pace of life
A mindful approach brings spaciousness and stillness
#2: Practice of mindfulness
Focus on the breath, practice in the dark and removal of distractions
#3: Introspective practice bringing self-awareness
The practice of sitting with ourselves with whatever comes up and without judgment
#4: Generates safety within
The pace and gentleness of this practice generate safety, as well as the practice of taking care of yourself and being within encouraging a sense of safety within yourself
#5: Self-nurturing practice
The no-push approach, if you don’t feel it, you’re doing it right – encourages an ethos of nurturing the self
What do you need to get started at home?
One of the things that sets Restorative Yoga apart from Yin Yoga is the use of (quite a few) props to fully support the body in each posture.
This comes from the Iyengar foundations, as the props are used to ensure correct alignment is reached and thus allow the body to settle in the pose and also aid in avoiding injury by over-stretching or incorrect alignment.
In Restorative Yoga at a studio, you will likely use many props to ensure your body can fully relax into the pose and hold no tension.
When practicing at home you could also use some home alternatives we’ve added to the list to achieve the same effect – full support to enable complete relaxation.
- Bolster, rolled-up towel or blanket or cushions of varying sizes
- Blankets or towels
- Yoga blocks or books or boxes
- Strap or belt or a fabric scarf
- An eye pillow or a scarf
- Sandbag or towel or cushion – this one is for weight so something heavier is more effective here
The last two are optional but are a really lovely addition to encourage the body into a deeper state of relaxation.
4 Tips For An At-Home Practice
Whichever pose you choose and whatever props you have to hand your goal is to consider these main principles :
- Warmth and comfort: Layered clothing, blankets, pillows, supportive props
- Minimal stimulation: Low lighting, eye pillow, silence or soft music, minimal stretching
- Grounding: Focus on reclined postures and gentle inversions, stay close to the ground, eye pillow which adds gentle pressure to the eyes – aiding in reducing the heart rate
- Time: It takes time to allow the body to soften and release, so aim to give yourself plenty of time in each pose – perhaps just doing one for 20 minutes
4 Simple poses to get started
#1: Supported child’s pose (Balasana)
Props: blanket x 2, bolster (or similar), sandbag (or weight)
1. Place a blanket on the floor for softness and warmth.
2. Using a bolster or something of similar size (see section above for ideas), come to sit in front of it,bent knees, and shins to the floor.
3. Take your knees out wide and bring the bolster or prop in between, elongate your torso and come to lay yourself on top of the bolster.
4. Bring a blanket on top of you for warmth and if you have a small sandbag or weight you can add that to the lower back area.
#2: Supported fish pose (Matsyasana)
Props: blanket x 2 or 3, yoga block, eye pillow, sandbag (or weight)
1. Place a blanket on the floor or use somewhere with a carpet or rug for softness.
2. Use a yoga block (or similar, see above) come to lay with the block horizontally behind your chest (around the bra-line or mid-thoracic)
3. Lengthen your legs out long or support under your knees with a bolster or rolled-up towel.
4. Open your arms out to the side at a 45-degree angle or alternatively can come out in a cactus shape, support if needed, use a blanket to keep warm, an eye pillow and weight on the belly or pelvis area.
#3: Supported reclined bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Props: blanket x 2, bolster (or similar), yoga strap or yoga block x 2, eye pillow, sandbag (or weight)
1. Start with a blanket, carpet, or yoga mat for a soft, warm base.
2. Using a bolster (or similar), lay with your pelvis either on the floor at one end or on the end of the bolster (see which feels most comfortable for you) and recline over the bolster.
3. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow the knees to come out to the sides.
4. Using either a yoga strap to bind the legs or yoga blocks (or pillows) to support them from below.
5. Arms can come down alongside you at a 45-degree angle.
6. Bring a blanket on top for warmth, an eye pillow and if you have a sandbag or weight to your belly or pelvis area.
#4: Supported forward fold pose (Paschimottanasana)
Props: blanket x 2, bolster. Optional cushions, yoga blocks.
1. Starting with a blanket on the ground, or on a carpeted surface or yoga mat, sit with your legs
stretched long in front of you.
2. Support under the knees with a bolster, rolled-up towel or small cushions.
3. Bring a bolster or something of similar size on top of your outstretched legs, perhaps an extra cushion on top if you like and fold your torso on top of the bolster, so that your entire upper body is supported and at rest.
4. If this is too low you can bring blocks underneath the bolster or more cushions to raise it up higher.
5. Allow your head to rest to one side, bring a blanket over your back, and bring your arms to rest over the bolster or down towards the ground on either side of you.