Restorative yoga is a practice that is all about slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching. If you take a restorative class, you may hardly move at all, doing just a few postures in the course of an hour. It is a completely different experience than most contemporary yoga.
The majority of yoga classes are an active practice in which you move from pose to pose, building heat and increasing your strength and flexibility in equal measure. The general trend in yoga is toward more athletic and acrobatic styles of practice.
During the long holds of restorative yoga, however, your muscles are allowed to relax deeply. It’s a unique feeling because props, rather than your muscles, are used to support your body. Restorative classes are very mellow, making them a good complement to more active practices and an excellent antidote to stress.
In restorative yoga, props are used extensively to support your body so you can hold poses for longer periods of time. Postures are usually adapted from supine or seated yoga poses with the addition of blocks, bolsters, and blankets to eliminate unnecessary straining.
For instance, a seated forward bend (paschimottanasana) can become restorative by placing a bolster or several folded blankets on top of your legs. This fully supports your forward bend by allowing your entire torso to rest on your props.
Legs up the wall (viparita karani) is a classic restorative pose that you might already know. In this case, the wall acts as a prop to support your legs. Other positions you may be familiar with, such as the bridge pose can also be adapted into restorative poses.
What to Expect in Class?
Prepare yourself for deep relaxation when you attend a restorative class. Expect the teacher to arrange for the necessary props to be available for you. The lights may be dimmed, and soft music played.
If it is chilly, keep your socks and sweatshirt on since you will not be warming up the body the way you would be in a regular class. In some poses, the teacher may even cocoon you in blankets for extra warmth and coziness.
After you are set up in a pose with all your props, you will hold the pose for an extended period, often up to ten or twenty minutes. Although you are supported, you will definitely still feel the stretching, which will probably help keep you awake.
You will continue to focus on your breath throughout. The teacher may talk you through meditation or play music, depending on their style. You may only do four or five poses over the course of an entire class.
At the end of the session, your body feels open and refreshed. You may even be a little sore the next day from the deep stretching.
Restorative yoga can be an excellent way to relieve stress and enjoy long, meditative stretches. Consider joining a class to get a feel for the pace before trying it at home. Have patience and enjoy the stillness of your body and mind. It takes some getting used to, but after a while, it becomes easier and you may be amazed at the benefits.