We’ve heard about the benefits of building an at-home yoga practice. And in some ways, an at-home restorative practice seems like it might be easier than coming up with your own flow sequence. Restorative yoga is a form of gentle yoga that utilizes props to help practitioners ease into a relaxed state. To practice restorative at home, just pick a few poses, hold them for 5-10 minutes, and you’ve got it! Say hello to relief from chronic stress and a better night’s sleep.
Now, there is that tricky little issue of props. After all, who the heck has blocks, straps and two or three bolsters lying in their closet? Not to mention a stack of those brightly colored Mexican blankets. And who will ring that little bell when it’s time to flip over? It’s easy to let the sound of practicing restorative yoga at home seem complicated—but I assure you, it’s not.
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Restorative yoga doesn’t have to be complex. A pillow, rolled up comforter or couch cushion isn’t much different from a bolster. Another option for an at-home bolster is to fold up a blanket and put it inside of a pillow case. Blankets don’t have to be multicolored with fringe to be a yoga prop: you can use a bath towel or couch throw. Books can be used for blocks: do the pillowcase trick again, and put the books inside the case to hold them together. You can also keep some small sofa pillows nearby if you may want extra support in certain poses. If you need a strap, a belt or scarf will work just fine. Use a simple egg timer or the timer tool on your phone (you can even pick a soothing bell sound) to alert you that it’s time to change postures.
In general, a well-rounded restorative sequence can include twists, forward bends, heart openers, passive backbends, inversions and Shavasana. These poses will allow you to move the spine in all directions, while still completely supporting the body with props. There aren’t any super strict rules about what a restorative sequence should look like, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
- Start in a comfortable pose to ground yourself. Try 5-10 minutes in Supta Buddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) or Mountain Brook Pose to let the mind settle, heart open and body relax. Try focusing on your breath for a few minutes as you enter the pose, and use an eye pillow to help keep the eyes closed and forehead relaxed.
- Do unto one side as you do to the other. For example, in this supported twist, be sure to do one side after completing the other. Hold both sides for the same amount of time.
- Integrate poses that compliment each other. For example, a forward bend, such as this Supported Seated Forward Fold (which closes the abdominal region) is typically followed by a backbend, like this Simple Supported Backbend (which reopens the abdominal region, sending fresh circulation to that area).
- Include an inversion. This one usually comes last before Shavasana, but if you have time for only one restorative pose, Viparita Karani, or Legs up the Wall Pose is a great to reverse the effects of gravity and support your heart. If extending your legs up the wall won’t work for you, bend your knees and place them on the seat of a chair instead, or just simply support your legs with a few pillows.
- Hold each pose for 5-10 minutes. As with any yoga pose, readjust or come out of the pose if you are no longer comfortable.
Remember, if you’re practicing alone, be sure to follow the same guidelines you would for any class, including coming out of poses early if they don’t feel right, and making modifications to ensure that you’re supported in the poses without strain. The point of restorative yoga is not to power through an uncomfortable pose—or even to stretch! The goal of restorative is to simply allow opening and ease to come into the body so that our physical, mental and emotional bodies can come into fully relaxed states.
What are some of your favorite at-home restorative yoga poses and props?