In our fast-paced world, carving out moments of tranquility and inner peace has become increasingly vital — and difficult. But in just a few minutes, you can achieve that elusive total-body calm with restorative yoga.
Restorative yoga is a gentle, calming, therapeutic form of yoga that uses props to support the body as it eases into relaxation and balance. Grounded in the principles of relaxation and mindfulness, this yoga practice embodies the essence of surrendering to stillness and releasing tension.
"Amidst the rush of our busy lives, restorative yoga can offer a sanctuary for the mind and body to recalibrate," says Diane Ambrosini, E-RYT, C-IAYT, certified yoga therapist and author of Instructing Hatha Yoga. "It can provide a pathway to profound relaxation and inner peace."
4 Benefits of Restorative Yoga
Scientific research supports the whole-body benefits of restorative yoga.
1. Decreases Symptoms of Depression
A small April 2017 study in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities found that regular engagement in restorative yoga postures can alleviate symptoms of depression in certain populations.
Similarly, a March 2017 study in PLOS ONE by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland reported significant improvements in depression symptoms for individuals practicing yoga, including restorative postures, twice a week.
2. Boosts Cognition
An April 2016 study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that restorative yoga can enhance mental clarity, focus and memory in older adults.
"Restorative yoga is more than just relaxation; it can provide more mental clarity, which can improve your focus and memory," Jennifer Chang, DPT, C-IAYT, E-RYT, says. "These benefits can lead to increased productivity and improved quality of life."
3. Enhances Quality of Life
Through the emphasis on passive stretching and mindfulness, restorative yoga offers a powerful antidote to the strains of modern life. In fact, an October 2020 study published in BMC Geriatrics found that practitioners in a 12-week restorative yoga program experienced reductions in chronic pain and improvements in energy and social functioning.
4. Improves Sleep
Restorative yoga promotes a state of relaxation, making it easier to transition into restful sleep. A BMC Psychiatry study published in May 2020 found that individuals who engaged in regular yoga sessions that included restorative poses experienced improvements in sleep parameters, including increased sleep duration and reduced sleep disturbances. This suggests that restorative yoga may serve as a beneficial intervention for managing sleep-related issues.
What do you do in restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is a practice that involves the use of props to support the body in various gentle yoga poses. The aim is to achieve physical, mental and emotional relaxation while stretching the body without strain.
How long should you hold restorative yoga poses?
Restorative yoga poses are typically held for a longer duration than traditional yoga poses, ranging from 1 to 20 minutes. The precise duration may depend on your comfort level and experience as well as which posture. Staying longer in more grounding restorative yoga poses, like Legs-up-the-Wall or Savasana, can often feel soothing. Ultimately, it's up to you.
How hard is restorative yoga?
Physically speaking, restorative yoga is not considered hard as it involves gentle, passive stretching with the support of props. The challenge may lie more in the mental discipline required to stay present and relaxed in each pose for extended periods.
Does restorative yoga count as exercise?
Yes, restorative yoga does count as exercise, but it's more focused on relaxation and stress relief than on building strength or cardiovascular fitness. It involves passive stretching, which can improve flexibility and promote better circulation (both important aspects of physical health).
10 of the Best Restorative Yoga Poses
Restorative yoga is not about reaching the peak of a stretch, but rather finding the place where your body can rest and relax. Be gentle with yourself, and enjoy the peace and tranquility that this practice brings.
1. Child's Pose (Balasana)
- Place a folded blanket on the mat to pad your knees.
- Sit back on your heels with the toes untucked and the knees wide.
- Take a bolster lengthwise and pull it in between your knees.
- Sit up straight and lengthen your spine.
- Exhale and bow forward, draping your torso over the bolster.
- Arms can be forward alongside the bolster, or relaxed next to your body.
- Gently turn your head to one side, resting your cheek on the bolster for 10 breaths (up to 2 minutes), then do the same on the other side.
2. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
- Sit next to a wall and place a loop strap above your knees on your thighs.
- Lie onto your back, bringing your legs up to rest against the wall.
- Allow your legs to relax out into the strap.
- Extend your arms out to the side, palms facing upward.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply for 10 breaths or 2 to 3 minutes, allowing gravity to aid in the relaxation process. This can be one of the most grounding restorative yoga poses.
3. Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
- Sit on the floor with the bottoms of your feet together.
- Place a lengthwise bolster behind your back.
- Take a looped strap over your head and secure it to the back of your waist and the outside of your feet.
- Pull your heels toward your pelvis and lean back onto the bolster.
- This is where you may need to adjust your looped strap to be tighter or looser. You should feel a gentle traction of the spine with a stretch through the inner thighs.
- Relax your arms alongside your body and hold here for 15 to 20 breaths or 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Seated Forward Bend Pose (Paschimottanasana)
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
- Place a lengthwise bolster over your extended legs, adding more blankets for extra height if desired.
- Inhale and raise your arms overhead, reaching forward.
- Exhale and bend at the hips, lengthening the front of your body over the bolster.
- Do not force yourself to fold too deeply; be relaxed and at ease.
- Hold here for 5 to 10 breaths, or 1 to 2 minutes, as long as it is comfortable.
5. Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Place a folded blanket near the top of the mat where your hand and shoulders will be.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your arms at your sides with palms down.
- Lift your hips off the floor and slide a yoga block under your sacrum.
- Let the weight of your body rest on the block.
- Breathe here for 5 to 10 breaths or 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Reclining Twist Pose (Jathara Parivartanasana)
- Place a bolster on a stack of blankets next to your right knee.
- Lie on your back, and place a block between your knees.
- Draw your knees to your chest and extend your arms out to the sides.
- Lower your knees to the right onto the bolster or blankets as you turn your head to the left.
- Keep your shoulder blades on the floor.
- Relax here for 5 to 10 breaths or up to 2 minutes.
- Repeat on the other side. This can be one of the best restorative yoga poses for beginners.
7. Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
- Sit on the floor with two yoga blocks.
- Place one block at medium height behind your thoracic spine.
- Place the other block at the lowest height behind where your head will rest.
- Lean back, blocks placed behind you, running parallel with your spine.
- If this is not comfortable, change the heights of the blocks.
- Breathe here for 10 breaths or up to 3 minutes.
8. Half Pigeon Pose (Ardha Kapotasana)
- Set a bolster lengthwise on a yoga mat.
- From tabletop position, bring your right knee forward toward your right wrist and extend your left leg behind you.
- Lower your hips to the floor, using a block or blanket for support if needed.
- Pull the bolster toward you in front of your right knee.
- Fold your torso forward over the bolster, propping extra blankets over the bolster if you need more height.
- Turn your head to rest your cheek on the bolster for 5 to 10 breaths, or 1 to 2 minutes.
- Switch sides.
9. Supported Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
- Sit upright and spread your legs wide.
- Place a bolster or rolled-up blanket in front of you.
- Place another blanket horizontally across the bolster, near the top, where your forehead will rest.
- Exhale and lean forward from your hips, placing your hands on the bolster.
- Rest your forehead on the blanket over your bolster.
- Do not force the forward bend. If you need more height, add more pillows or blankets.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths or 1 to 2 minutes, or as long as you are comfortable, but not for more than 3 minutes.
10. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
- Sitting up with your legs extended, roll a blanket or place a small bolster under your legs.
- Fold a blanket behind you where you will lie back and your head will rest.
- Lie back on to the mat with your arms at your sides, palms facing up.
- Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.
- Allow your body to feel heavy on the ground as you relax each part of your body.
- Savasana is the ultimate relaxation posture. Relax here for as long as you like.