You live an exciting life. You play hard — do you restore just as hard? Restorative yoga is a gentle way to repair your physical body, your mind and your heart after all that exciting activity.
Our culture is highly yang-based—that’s to say that we live mostly in a world that uses words like “accomplish,” “do,” “task,” and “win.” While all of that’s totally fine, we also need to invite balance into the yin side of ourselves, where we can rest, restore, be, and breathe consciously.
One of my teachers once said, if we live completely in the yang, we’ll explode; if we live completely in the yin, we’ll implode.
Neither of those sounds ideal, so let’s look at a restorative yoga practice that brings balance to yin in our very yang lives.
Restorative Yoga Sequence
This restorative yoga sequence is meant to move slow, holding each shape for up to five minutes each. The more you relax and release your muscles, the more you’ll be able to switch gears into your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest” vs “fight or flight”) and your body and mind can receive the healing benefits of a restorative practice.
If any of these poses create pain in your body, do not continue with that shape.
Dangling (Ragdoll Forward Fold)
Stand with your feet at least a couple inches apart, bend your knees, and let your torso hang over your thighs. Completely relax your upper body.
Hold for up to one minute. To release, sink your hips down (instead of standing up, which might cause a head rush).
Variations: Grab opposite elbows or let your arms hang. Sway your torso side to side. Gently shake your head side to side.
Start in a tabletop position (hands and knees) and tuck your toes under. Walk your hands back to your knees so you’re sitting on your heels with toes tucked under. If your toes have other agendas, use your hands to manually tuck them under.
Hold for up to one minute. This pose can get really intense really fast, so come out earlier if there is any sensation of pain or numbness. To release, plant your hands in tabletop and let your feet lift above the ground until it feels comfortable to wiggle your toes and move your ankles.
Variations: Place a blanket, pillow, or yoga block under your seat and/or knees to relieve pressure. Walk your hands forward into tabletop for less intensity.
Ankle Stretch (Rocking Horse Pose)
Sit on your heels with the tops of your feet on the ground. If you have healthy knees and ankles, you can lean back and lift your knees off the ground.
Hold for a few breaths. To release, lower your knees to the ground and sit upright.
Variations: Place a blanket under your seat and knees to release any knee pressure. Place a rolled up blanket or towel between your ankles and the group to release any ankle pressure.
Seated Torso Stretch
Still on your heels, interlace your hands and press your palms overhead. Relax your shoulders and focus your breath on the area around your naval.
Hold for a few breaths. To release, lower your arms to your sides.
Variations: Gently move forward and back, side to side, and in twists.
Seated Side Stretch
Seated on your heels (or on a block), drop your right hand to the ground and reach your left arm overhead, stretching your left side. Keep your weight evenly distributed on your seat.
Hold for up to a minute then add the neck stretch (below).
Variations: Sit on a block or blanket. Place your lowered hand on a block or blanket to bring the ground closer to you.
Still in the seated side stretch, relax your head and reach your left arm out to the side. By moving your hand to slightly different placements, you may find a different sensation. By moving your chin closer to your shoulder or out to the side, you may find different sensations. Move slowly so you can feel the differences.
Hold for a few breaths. To release, reach your left arm back overhead and support the right side of your head. Without using your neck muscles, let your arm pull you upright.
Repeat the seated side stretch and neck stretch on the other side.
Extend your left leg long and place the sole of your right foot on the inside of your extended leg. Stay upright or fold forward over the extended leg or between your knees, using supports to help you relax.
Hold for up to five minutes. To release, press yourself up to seated and use your hands to move your legs so your feet are planted on the ground. Counter pose might be to drop your knees from side to side (windshield wipers) or plant your hands behind you and open your heart (reverse tabletop variation).
Repeat on the other side.
Variations: Sit on a blanket or pillow to release any low back or hamstring tension. If you have any pain behind your extended knee, place a blanket under it. Option for blocks under your forearms and/or a bolster under your forehead.
Legs Up the Wall
This is the mother of all restorative yoga poses.
Sit sideways against a wall with your shoulder and hip touching the wall. Have a bolster, blanket and strap handy.
Pivot your torso down as you raise your legs up the wall (get it?). Relax your arms wherever they’re most comfortable. Close your eyes or place something over your eyes. Relax and breathe.
Hold for up to ten minutes. To release, slowly slide your heels off the wall, squeeze your knees into you chest and thank your body for all of the incredible things it lets you do.
Variations: Place a bolster or blanket under your hips. If your legs feel like they’re working to stay on the wall, grab your strap loop and pull it tight around your calves so they can relax. Place an eye pillow over your eyes. Place a blanket or block on your belly.