Reasons You Should Practice Restorative Yoga
Want to quiet the chatter of the mind and just let go of all your worries and tensions? We have a sequence that will put you right at ease and slow everything down.
Restorative yoga provides the physical and mental balance that prevents stress and anxiety. The use of props will further allow you to hold poses longer and relax even deeper with access to deep passive stretching.
The Benefits of Restorative Yoga
- Benefits from full and deep stretches
- Increase your flexibility safely
- Boost your immune system through deep relaxation
- Balance your nervous system
- Quiet your mind
- Recover from illness
- Heal emotional pain
- Carve a path towards a meditation practice
Ready to try out this special restorative yoga sequenced that we’ve created for calming and relaxing? Grab your bolsters, pillows, straps, blocks, etc. to support your body in a full, long, and comfortable stretch. Take as much time as you need in poses like Child’s Pose, Legs-Up-the-Wall, and Supine Twist. You can stay for as little as a few minutes or up to 15 minutes in each pose.
#1 Easy Pose or Sukhasana
Easy Pose — Sukhasana (soo-KAHS-uh-nuh) — is a basic seated yoga posture. It is a combination of two Sanskirt words: “Sukha” — meaning “easy,” “comfortable,” and “asana” meaning “pose.” It is depicted in some of the oldest images of ancient yogis in India, some of which are at least 2,000 years old. Sukhasana is intended to be comfortable and calming.
Sukhasana is a very common pose for practicing meditation and breathing exercises (called “pranayama”). Sukhasana is especially good to practice if your hips are very tight — just be sure to prop yourself up on a block so your hips are higher than your knees. Regular practice will gradually open your hips and bring your spine into correct alignment.
Sukhasana strengthens the back and stretches the knees and ankles. It also opens the hips, groin, and outer thigh muscles (abductors). Sitting upright with your spine aligned also reduces stress and anxiety. It calms the mind and is known to be therapeutic for stress.
How to Get Into Easy Pose/Sukhasana
- Sit on the edge of a blanket or block (if you have tight hips). Extend your legs in front of your body and sit up straight (Seated Dandasana or Staff Pose). Beginning with the left leg, cross your legs in front of you at the shins.
- With your knees wide, place each foot beneath the opposite knee. Fold your legs in toward your torso.
- Place your hands on your knees. Palms can be down on the knees, up facing the ceiling or at the chest in Anjali Mudra (pictured).
- Balance your weight evenly across your sit bones. Align your head, neck, and spine in one column. Lengthen your spine towards the sky, but soften your neck. Relax your feet, hips and thighs.
- Gaze straight ahead with soft eyes or close your eyes.
- Stay in Sukhasana for up to one minute or for the duration of your meditation or pranayama practice.
- Release and change the cross of your legs.
#2 Cat (Marjaryasana) and Cow (Bitilasana)
Benefits of Cat and Cow Pose
Cat Pose — Marjaryasana (mahr-jahr-ee-AHS-uh-nuh) — is often paired with Cow Pose — Bitilasana (bee-tee-LAHS-uh-nuh). Flow through cat and cow for a gentle warm-up. When practiced together, the poses help to stretch the body and prepare it for other asanas.
Cat-Cow warms the body and brings flexibility to the spine. It stretches the back torso and neck, and softly stimulates and strengthens the abdominal organs. It also open the chest, encouraging the breath to become slow and deep. The spinal movement of the two poses stimulates the kidneys and adrenal glands. Coordinating this movement with your breathing relieves stress and calms the mind.
This sequence also helps to develop postural awareness and balance throughout the body. It brings the spine into correct alignment and can help prevent back pain when practiced regularly.
How to Get Into Cat and Cow Pose
- Start in table top position, take a moment to find yourself on your mat. Ensure that the shoulders are aligned over the wrist, hips over knees.
- As you inhale, press the mat away from you as you lift your chest and tailbone towards the sky. Let the belly sink towards the earth. Lift your head to look forward. You are now in Cow Pose.
- As you exhale, round the spine, continue pressing the mat away as you tuck the chin towards your chest and tailbone in. Keep the belly drawn in and spine curved towards the sky. You are now in Cat Pose.
- Repeat this sequence 3 – 5 times.
#3 Child’s Pose or Balasana
Benefits of Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose — Balasana (bah-LAHS-uh-nuh) — is a common beginner’s yoga pose and is often used as a resting position in between more difficult poses during a yoga practice. The word “Balasana” comes from the Sanskrit words “bala” (meaning “child”) and “asana” (meaning “pose”).
Child’s Pose gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles while reducing stress and fatigue. It gently relaxes the muscles on the front of the body while softly and passively stretching the muscles of the back torso. This resting pose centers, calms, and soothes the brain, making it a therapeutic posture for relieving stress.
When performed with the head and torso supported (block or bolster underneath), it can help relieve back and neck pain. Child’s Pose is sometimes used as a counter-pose to backbends by restoring balance and equanimity to the body.
How to Get Into Child’s Pose
- Begin on your hands and knees.
- Spread your knees as wide as your mat while keeping your big toes touching towards the back of your mat. Exhale and rest your buttocks on your heels. Those with very tight hips can keep their knees and thighs together.
- Sit up straight and lengthen your spine up through the crown of your head.
- On an exhalation, bow forward, dropping your torso between your thighs. Your heart and chest should rest between your thighs. Allow your forehead to settle onto to the floor.
- Keep your arms long and extended, palms facing down. Press back slightly with your hands to keep your buttocks in contact with your heels. Lengthen from your hips to your armpits, and then extend even further through your fingertips. For deeper relaxation, bring your arms back to rest alongside your thighs with your palms facing up (embryo pose). Completely relax your elbows.
- Broaden your shoulders away from the spine. Soften and relax your lower back. Allow all tension in your shoulders, arms, and neck to drain away with every exhale.
- Keep your gaze drawn inward (umpada drishti) with eyes closed.
- Hold for up to a minute or longer and breathe deeply but gently.
- To release the pose, gently walk your hands back to your knees and sit the torso upright over your heels.
#4 Seated Forward Fold or Paschimottanasana
Benefits of Seated Forward Fold
Seated Forward Fold — Paschimottanasana (PAH-shee-moh-tun-AHS-uh-nuh) — is a calming yoga pose that helps to relieve stress. This pose is often practiced later in a sequence when the body is warm.
Though commonly referred to as “Seated Forward Fold” its Sanskrit name translates to “Intense West Stretch.” This comes from four Sanskrit words: “Paschima” — meaning “west,” “Ut” — meaning “intense,” “Tan” — meaning “to stretch,” and “Asana” — meaning “pose.”
Ancient yogis would practice facing the sunrise and Paschimottanasana would deeply stretch the entire back, or “west,” side of their bodies as they folded forward toward the sun. The pose can feel “intense,” but it’s important to remember never to force it or push too hard. The more you can learn to relax in this pose, the deeper your stretch will be.
Paschimottanasana stretches the spine, shoulders, pelvis, and hamstrings. It also stimulates and balances the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, ovaries, and uterus. And while traditional yoga texts say Paschimottanasana can cure disease, modern-day yoga teachers agree to its many other benefits, which include:
- Relief from stress
- Improved digestion and appetite
- Relief from menstrual pain and symptoms of menopause
- A calmer mind
- Reduced anxiety and fatigue
- Improved sleep and relief from insomnia
This pose is also believed to be therapeutic and great for relieving high blood pressure, infertility, and sinusitis. It is known for treating obesity as well.
How to Get into Seated Forward Fold
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket with your legs extended in front of you in Staff Pose (Dandasana). Reach actively through your heels. Beginners should bend their knees throughout the pose, eventually straightening the legs as flexibility increases.
- Inhale as you reach your arms out to the side, and then up overhead, lengthening your spine.
- Exhaling, bend forward from the hip joints. Do not bend at the waist. Lengthen the front of your torso. Imagine your torso coming to rest on your thighs, instead of tipping your nose toward your knees.
- Hold onto your shins, ankles, or feet — wherever your flexibility permits. You can also wrap a yoga strap or towel around the soles of your feet, holding it firmly with both hands.
- Keep the front of your torso long; do not round your back. Let your belly touch your legs first, and then your chest. Your head and nose should touch your legs last.
- With each inhalation, lengthen the front torso. With each exhalation, fold a bit deeper.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, draw your tailbone towards the floor as you inhale and lift your torso.
#5 Supine Pigeon (using the wall)
Benefits of Supine Pigeon Pose
Supine Pigeon Pose also known as Eye of the Needle when not against the wall is a supine (or lying-down) yoga pose that relieves stiffness in the outer hips and lower back. If you spend a lot of time sitting, those muscles become tight and short due to the lack of use. This pose can feel great at the end of a long day of sitting at work, school, or in a car or airplane. It is often taught near the end of a yoga class as a relaxing way to soothe and open the spine, hips, and low back.
This pose stretches and opens the outer hips and low back and increases the range of motion in the lower body. It also improves circulation throughout the legs, hips, and back, which can help reduce pain caused by stiffness and inactivity. In addition, this pose can help you keep the entire low back limber. It is a soothing counter-pose to backbends and spinal twists. Drawing your limbs in toward your torso causes your mind to naturally turn inward, which helps calm your thoughts, relieve stress, and soothe anxiety. Supine Pigeon increases blood flow to the pelvis and surrounding organs, which helps reduce digestive discomforts and menstrual pain in women.
How to Get into Supine Pigeon Pose
- Bring your mat to the wall and begin by lying on your back with your legs extended up the wall. Leave about 1′ of space between your buttocks and the wall.
- Bend your knees, placing the soles of your feet flat on the wall. Separate your feet so they are hip width apart and the thighs are parallel to one another.
- Straighten your left leg upward, extending your heel toward the ceiling. Then bend your left knee and cross your left ankle over your right knee. Bring your left, outer ankle to the outside of your right knee so your foot hovers in the air. Then flex your left foot, actively pressing through your heel while simultaneously pulling your toes back toward the left.
- On an exhalation, draw your right knee in toward your chest. Slide your left hand and forearm through the space between your legs and clasp both hands around the back of your right leg’s thigh. If it is possible for you, hold onto your shin, instead.
- Keep your back flat on the mat (includes shoulders and tailbone). Release your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Broaden across your collarbones.
- Draw your tailbone and sacrum down toward the mat to lengthen the spine even more.
- Tuck your chin softly and gaze down the center line of your body. Close your eyes.
- Hold for up to one minute. Keep your breath smooth and even.
- With an exhalation, release your leg and place your right foot on the floor. Extend your left leg straight up to the ceiling again, and then bend your knee and place your left foot on the floor. Repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same amount of time.
#6 Supine Twist or Supta Matsyendrasana
Benefits of Supine Twist
Twists are a great way to decompress and squeeze out the anxiety and frustrations of your day — just like wringing out a sponge. They also stimulate and detoxify the organs of your torso. If you’ve ever felt worn out at the end of a workday or after a weekend of over-indulgence, Reclined Spinal Twist is a great pose to help restore balance.
In Sanskrit, the pose is called “Supta Matsyendrasana” (SOOP-tah MAHT-see-en-DRAHS-uh-nuh). It’s named after an ancient yoga master, or “siddhi,” called Matseyendra. The name “Matseyendra” literally means “lord of the fishes;” so, this pose is sometimes referred to as Reclined Lord of the Fishes Pose.
Reclined Spinal Twist offers many benefits, many of which are listed below:
- It stretches the back muscles and glutes.
- It massages the back and hips
- It helps to hydrate the spinal disks.
- It lengthens, relaxes, and realigns the spine.
- It massages the abdominal organs and strengthens the abdominal muscles. As a result, this pose tones the waistline and also helps to remove toxins.
- This twist also encourages the flow of fresh blood to your digestive organs, increasing the health and function of your entire digestive system.
This pose is particularly beneficial (and feels good!) after practicing backbends, such as Upward-Facing Bow/Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and Camel Pose (Ustrasana).
Reclined Spinal Twist is generally considered gentle and can be therapeutic for stress. However, if you have back pain or degenerative disk disease be aware before attempting this pose, as twisting can make back pain much worse.
How to Get into Supine Twist
- To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can rest your head on a pillow or blanket for extra neck support. Let your arms rest at your sides.
- On an exhalation, draw both knees to your chest and clasp your hands around them. This is Knee-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana).
- Extend your left leg along the floor, keeping your right knee drawn to your chest. Extend your right arm out along the floor at shoulder-height with your palm facing down.
- Shift your hips slightly to the right. Then, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Exhaling, drop your right knee over the left side of your body. Keep your left hand resting gently on your right knee.
- Turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze toward your right fingertips. Keep your shoulder blades pressing toward the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knee even closer to the floor. If your right toes can touch the floor, allow your foot to rest.
- Hold the pose for 10-25 breaths. On an inhalation, slowly come back to center, bringing both knees to your chest in Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana).
- Exhale, and extend your right leg along the floor. Repeat steps 3-6 on the opposite side.
- When you’re finished with the pose, hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths in Knee-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana). Then, slowly exhale as you extend both legs along the floor.
#7 Legs up the Wall Pose or Viparita Kirani
Benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose
Legs Up the Wall is a rejuvenating inverted pose that brings relief to the legs, feet, spine, and nervous system. It is a gentle way to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation and renewal. This pose is recommended for all yoga students, no matter their level of experience.
Its Sanskrit name, “Viparita Karani” (VIP-uh-REE-tuh kah-RAH-nee), literally translates to “inverted action.” When you take time out of your day to reverse the forward motions of doing, acting, and accomplishing, you allow your brain and body to settle into a state of pure being. Settling into this state, then, conditions the mind for deeper meditation, serenity, and self-awareness.
Because of its calming benefits, Viparita Karani is often done at the end of a yoga practice, before the final relaxation pose (Savasana) or meditation. However, it can also be practiced on its own, as an everyday restorative pose.
Ancient yoga texts claim Viparita Karani will destroy old age. Many modern teachers agree to its other benefits, including relief from:
- Mild depression
- Muscle fatigue
- Digestive problems
- High and low blood pressure
- Respiratory ailments
- Urinary disorders
- Varicose veins
- Menstrual cramps and premenstrual symptoms
In addition, Viparita Karani also helps to promote balance and well-being throughout the systems of the entire body, including a:
- Strengthened immune system
- Balanced hormonal system
- Calmed nervous system
- Stabilized digestive and elimination systems
- Regulated respiratory system
Some yoga traditions also recommend Viparita Karani as an important post-coital pose for women to increase the possibility of conception.
How to Get into Legs Up the Wall Pose
There are two ways to practice Viparita Karani: Using props as a supported pose, or without props. Both options will provide the same benefits, but the supported version may be more relaxing for some people. Both versions require a wall or sturdy door upon which you can rest your legs.
- If you are practicing the supported version, set a bolster or firm, long pillow on the floor against the wall.
- Begin the pose by sitting with your left side against the wall. Your lower back should rest against the bolster, if you’re using one.
- Gently turn your body to the left and bring your legs up onto the wall. If you are using a bolster, shift your lower back onto the bolster before bringing your legs up the wall. Use your hands for balance as you shift your weight.
- Lower your back to the floor and lie down. Rest your shoulders and head on the floor.
- Shift your weight from side-to-side and scoot your buttocks close to the wall. Let your arms rest open at your sides, palms facing up. If you’re using a bolster, your lower back should now be fully supported by it.
- Let the heads of your thigh bones (the part of the bone that connects in the hip socket) release and relax, dropping toward the back of your pelvis.
- Close your eyes. Hold for 5-10 minutes, breathing with awareness.
- To release, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs down to the right side. Use your hands to help press yourself back up into a seated position.
We hope you enjoy this restorative sequence!
[Photos by Sukha Design & Photography]
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