We’re winding up National Stress Awareness Month with the low down on restorative yoga. What it is, why it’s so special, and how you can do it easily from your own home
The truth behind Restorative Yoga
Whether you’re just starting out in beginner yoga classes, or you’re an old hand, you may have heard the term ‘restorative yoga’ being bandied about. At some point you may also (like me, I’m ashamed to say!) have dismissed it as ‘the slow one’, in favour of more physical classes.
The truth is, restorative yoga is a modern label. It’s a focus, of sorts, on one specific part of classical yoga taught in the ancient scriptures. In one lineage of classical yoga, we learn that every yoga pose fits one of four ‘bhavas’, or feelings. Ideally, when you undertake that pose, you intend to consciously embrace that specific feeling (bhava). So-called ‘restorative’ yoga poses are almost all related to the feeling (bhava) of Vairagya – letting go. Letting go emotionally, physically and mentally.
With me so far?!
Restorative yoga sequences are therefore made up of postures that allow you to let go. They relax your central nervous system and give you time to disconnect. And this is necessary. It’s not just about relaxing the body, which I think is why I found it a bit… let’s say… dull at first. I was expecting yoga to be all about touching my toes and getting my body moving, but it takes time to appreciate that stillness is just as beneficial as movement. Sometimes, even more so.
Yoga poses that embrace the feeling of Vairagya, or letting go, tell your central nervous system that you’re in a safe place to stay still and release any stresses or anxieties that may be bothering you. So restorative yoga is excellent for managing stress, and encouraging you to relax, stretch and work out some of the kinks.
How do you know if it’s time for a restorative yoga class?
1. If you’re feeling irritable (and it’s starting to show)
2. If your back has been feeling painful recently (also insert knees/neck/shoulders/calves…)
3. If you’re finding it difficult to focus on work or other tasks
4. If you’re feeling tired, lethargic and run down
5. If you’re constantly doing two (or three, or four!) things at once
The Frog Project’s online yoga classes are all built to include restorative yoga poses, whether at the start or end of a class (or both!). So you’ll get a holistic yoga experience no matter which class you join.
But also, restorative yoga poses are really simple to do yourself, at home, any time that you just need a little extra TLC. See back to our five points above. Anytime you’re feeling these ring true for you, just take ten minutes to yourself and sink into some of these gentle yoga poses. You’ll feel better in no time.
10 of the best restorative yoga poses (see below for guided practice video)
1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Sit in a cross-legged position with your hands resting on your legs. Check that your spine is tall and your shoulders and jaw are relaxed. This is a great way to begin a practice and connect to your breath. If there is discomfort in the knees, back or hips, sit on a cushion or two.
From your cross-legged Sukhasana, uncross the legs and then bring the soles of the feet together, sliding the feet away from your groin into a sort of diamond shape. With the knees falling outwards, a deep stretch is created along the inner thighs and groin, so if you find this uncomfortable you can put a cushion or blanket underneath the thighs to help support them a little. Take a big breath in and feel your chest opening up. Then let out a nice long exhale as you slowly begin to lean forward with that nice open chest. When you feel ready, take another big breath in and this time as you exhale, let your head and neck fall forward and feel a lovely stretch along the back of your neck and into your shoulders. Stay 3-5 minutes.
Keeping your right leg still bent, and moving the foot into the groin, stretch the left leg out long in front of you. If the back of your left knee doesn’t rest comfortably on the floor, you can rest it on a cushion or folded blanket. Sit tall and breath in deeply, then breath out and twist slightly to the left so that you’re facing down your extended left leg. Breath in again, and on the exhale fold over the left leg as much as is comfortable. You can even prop your entire body on a blanket here if you’re straining to fold over the leg. Stay for a minute or two, and then change legs and repeat.
4. Seated Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana)
Now bring both legs wide apart in front of you, to a point where you can feel your hamstrings stretch. Flex your feet, with your toes and knees pointing towards the ceiling. Keep your back straight and sit tall. Start bending forward from the hips. Go as far forward as feels comfortable for you and allow a little bend in the knees if you're feeling any discomfort in your lower back. Let your head and neck relax and breath deep. Hold for 3-5 minutes.
Use your hands to help guide your legs together, and move over into Child’s Pose. From kneeling, allow your tummy to come towards the top of your thighs and reach your arms out in front of you. Lower the forehead towards the floor, or rest it on your hands or a cushion. Take a big breath in and fill your body up with breath, and as you exhale, feel everything sinking towards the floor. Stay as long as you like.
From Child’s Pose, come onto all fours. Bring your left leg forward, laying it down on the mat. The ideal is that the shin will be parallel to the short edge of your mat, but for many people this isn’t accessible to them. Try and get your left knee behind your left hand, and edge your left foot up to your right hand as far as feels right for you. The right leg is laid straight back behind you, and your left foot will be resting in the right-side of your groin. You can use your hands to support you, staying upright, or fold forward over the leg for a deeper stretch.
Moving out of Pigeon, stay on your front and lie down fully. Bring your big toes together and let your heels flop out to the sides. Bring your right hand (palm down) underneath your face and rest the left hand on top (palm down). Rest your left cheek on the back of your left hand and relax. Let your belly sink heavily into the floor and breath. Swap your hands and turn your head to the other side.
Gently uncross your arms, and roll over onto your back. Bend your knees, bringing your feet to the fall and rest your knees together. Open your arms out into a T-shape. Take a big breath in and as you exhale drop your knees to the right and turn your head to the left. This posture is great for your digestion, for back pain and period cramps. Stay for a minute or two, then inhale back to centre and exhale to repeat on the other side.
9. Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
This next pose is great for your circulation, a fantastic stress reliever, and is one of the easiest yoga poses out there. You can even do it in bed with your legs up the head board. Sit up against a wall with your hips as close to the wall as you can, recline backwards and climb your legs up the wall until they are perpendicular to your body. You may want a cushion underneath your hips or your head. Equally, if you find it difficult to keep your legs straight up the wall for several minutes at a time, you can do this pose with your legs resting across a chair instead. This still provides an inversion with the legs being above the heart.
10. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Every good yoga class should finish with savasana. A conscious relaxation to allow the whole body to process and let go of the practice, and everything else! Recline fully with your legs and arms relaxed and palms facing the sky. Make sure you are warm and cover yourself up with a blanket if needs be. Try to stay aware as you relax and focus on your breath.
And all 10 poses in a lovely 20 minute flow. Enjoy.
Ready to create a little bit of space for you? Why not try our Live Online Yoga classes, bringing you accessible yoga for all, from our living room to yours? Sign up now for 15 days of free unlimited classes.
Carmel is a travel professional and lover of literature and Latin America. In her day job at a tour operator she whisks people away to far off destinations, while in her spare time she moonlights as a freelance copywriter. You can find her portfolio here https://carmelhendry.journoportfolio.com. While not writing, or dreaming about travel, she can be found playing the piano, cycling or practising yoga. She’s spent the last year learning how to do a headstand, but mostly can be found relaxing in child’s pose! Join her and the Frog Project Community with 15 days of free unlimited classes. It’s just yoga.