What is restorative yoga? Poses and benefits

  • Restorative yoga is a gentle form of yoga designed to stretch the body and soothe the mind.
  • The benefits of restorative yoga include promoting relaxation, relieving back pain, and improving sleep.
  • Restorative yoga poses include Child Pose, Happy Baby Pose, and Modified Sphinx Pose.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

While some styles of yoga, such as vinyasa and hot yoga, are intense and stimulating, restorative yoga is said to be restful. It helps calm the mind and body through gentle, meditative poses.

Restorative yoga is a passive form of yoga that is radically different from many types of yoga that focus on active movement from pose to pose. It uses bolsters, a type of cushion and other accessories to support the body in different poses, so that you can relax completely without making any effort to maintain the position.

One of the best parts about this style of yoga is that it is accessible to almost anyone, as the poses can be changed to suit your unique needs.

During a restorative yoga session, an instructor will show you how to use props to enter the pose, such as how to use pillows to support your torso comfortably. “Then you lay down and relax. It’s very nice,” says Cyndi Lee, a yoga teacher who trains restorative yoga teachers.

You can expect to hold restorative yoga poses for between 5-20 minutes, which is much longer than other typical yoga styles, where the poses can be held for a few seconds to a few minutes.

Common accessories used during restorative yoga include:

  • Yoga mat
  • Yoga bolster
  • Yoga blocks
  • Yoga strap or belt
  • Pillows
  • Sofa cushions
  • Firm blankets, such as Mexican-style yoga blankets
  • Ottoman
  • Eye pillow

However, depending on your flexibility, you may not always need an accessory.

If you are new to restorative yoga, Laura Meihofer, Yoga Teacher, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Pelvic Floor Therapist, recommends a short class or one-on-one session with an instructor, who can teach you modifications tailored to your needs. Once you’ve learned how to support yourself in different poses from a teacher, you can practice on your own.

Some benefits of restorative yoga include:

  • Promotes relaxation. Restorative yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the body’s relaxation response. In fact, a small 2019 study of Japanese nurses working night shifts found that four weeks of restorative yoga improved their psychological and physical stress levels.
  • Relieves pain, like Back ache. Restorative yoga allows your back or other painful areas to relax.
  • Improves sleep. Because these poses reduce stress, they can help you sleep better.

Restorative yoga can also help manage certain medical conditions. For example, a 2014 study of underactive adults with metabolic syndrome compared those who practiced restorative yoga with those who practiced stretching. Over a year, the restorative yoga group saw their blood sugar drop more than those who stretched.

Depending on your overall health when you start to practice restorative yoga, you might immediately see benefits, such as better sleep. Or it can take constant practice, especially if you need to learn how to relax and familiarize yourself with your body, Lee says.

Here are some poses Meihofer recommends for beginners. You have to hold each of them for 5 minutes.

To note: You can practice restorative yoga at any time of the day, although some poses, like lying on your stomach, can be more energizing, and others, like leaning forward, can be more relaxing, Lee says.

1. Child’s posture

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a table position.
  2. Bring your toes together behind you, in line with your tailbone.
  3. Sit down and get back on your feet. Spread your knees wider.
  4. Place a yoga bolster or sofa cushion between your legs.
  5. Slowly lean forward and rest your chest and the side of your head on the bolster.
  6. Place your hands on the floor or on the bolster under your cheek.

2. Deep inclined squat

  1. Start by moving to the side of a wall and facing it, then lie down with your back on the floor with your feet close to the wall.
  2. Place your feet flat on the wall, with your knees at an angle of about 90 degrees.
  3. Slowly bring your butt closer to the wall.
  4. Let your knees relax to the side, keeping your feet on the wall.
  5. Put your hands on your sides or on your abdomen.
  6. Get in or out of the wall and adjust your knee opening so that your hips are relaxed and comfortable.

3. Modified happy baby pose

  1. Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Put an ottoman or a stack of pillows under your feet and calves, so that your legs are supported.
  3. Cross your feet at the ankles.
  4. Slide your ankles slightly closer to you and let your knees gently open to the sides.
  5. Place your hands on your abdomen.

4. Tilting bound angle pose

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
  2. Place a yoga block or pillow on the outside of each hip.
  3. Let your knees open to the sides, resting the outside of your thighs on pillows or blocks. Your feet should touch each other.
  4. Do not hesitate to bring your feet closer or further away from you until it is comfortable.
  5. Place your hands on the floor next to you or on your abdomen or chest.

5. Modified sphinx pose

  1. Start by lying on the floor face down with your legs straight behind you.
  2. Bring your legs together, but let them stay relaxed.
  3. Place your hands near your head, palms facing down, and rest your forehead or cheek on it.

Insider takeaways

Restorative yoga is a gentler, more calming form of yoga. Allowing your body to rest and relax is a form of self-care. Meihofer says that once she adopts a yoga posture, she sometimes uses the time to meditate.

“Restorative yoga is called restorative yoga because it restores something that is natural to us, but we have lost the ability to be very good, which is to rest and relax,” says Lee.

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