In YJ's newest course, Restorative Yoga 101, Jillian Pransky, director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga teacher training for YogaWorks and author of Deep Listening, will have you rethinking rest one deep breath at a time. This four-week program offers students an in-depth look at eight essential poses that will help you elicit the relaxation response, simple prop setups that will help encourage deep mind-body release and healing, guided meditative sequences and breathing exercises, mind-body alignment lectures, and personal inquiry. Eager to learn more? Sign up now.
Whether you're new to restorative yoga or a seasoned pro, little tweaks can help you get more relaxation out of your practice. From longer holds to deeper breathing to props to prep, here are 7 ways to get the most out of your restorative yoga practice.
1. Timing is everything.
A typical vinyasa class may offer a 5–8 minute Savasana. Usually, just when you've stopped wiggling around, you slide into stillness. Restorative yoga offers you time to adjust, and readjust, and readjust again, which helps you settle and drop in. Time is essential in this practice. In order for the brain to get the message that you are safe enough to switch off your stress response and turn on your relaxation response, it is said that your body and mind need to be at ease and your breath full and deep for approximately 20 minutes.
Generally, restorative poses can be held anywhere from 5–20 minutes or longer. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to stay longer in the pose. On the flip side, the more frequently you practice, the more quickly you may settle. Plus, repeated practice helps you re-establish relaxation more quickly and easily over time.
2. Grow still but let your breath flow.
Restorative poses create good alignment to make space for the breath to flow freely. As you learn to let your body truly rest on the ground and be held up by your props, you make more room for the breath to flow through you. Full, deep, natural breathing sends messages to the brain that you are safe, which deepens relaxation and furthers the healing potential of the practice. Learn more about how to breathe in restorative yoga.
3. To feel more spacious, prepare your space.
Relaxation is enhanced when the area where you practice is as stress-free as possible. The room should be neat, warm, and softly lit. Before you begin, be aware of what props you need for your whole practice. Have all your props ready, e.g., blankets folded and towels rolled and arranged around your mat in an organized manner.
4. Keep it simple.
I like to plan each sequence so I can use the same props for each pose that I do. This helps promote relaxation, as I am not busy pulling in, taking away, or re-folding. And remember that less is more. Two well-constructed postures with time to sink in are more beneficial than half a dozen poses done quickly or poorly propped.
5. Warm up.
I offer my students (and myself) a gentle warm-up of gentle rhythmic movements before practicing restorative poses. This usually includes breath-based slow flows such as Cat-Cow and easy half Sun Salutations, as well as Low Lunges, twists, and reclined hip openers. Warming up creates an opportunity to shed some of the body and mind’s restlessness so that it will be easier to settle into a place of stillness. It also helps ready the muscles to release tension, allows for deeper and freer-flowing breathing, and draws attention to your body. Sometimes students enjoy repeating some of the warm-up movements as they transition between poses. Just make sure your movement is not too stimulating, as that may prevent you from settling in.
6. Stay warm.
Make sure there are no drafts in your space, and have an extra blanket nearby. Dress in layers. Consider leaving your socks on, as you may feel cooler as you progress deeper into stillness.
7. Use music (or don't).
Personally, I love music—but not always. Sometimes it's perfect, and sometimes it gets in the way. Also, while some students love music, others don't. If you choose to use music, ensure that it is non-invasive. Don’t choose music that requires "listening." Restorative yoga is a meditative experience that allows you to move inward, so you don't want something that pulls you "outward." I prefer instrumental music or chanting. When I need more grounding, I use warmer, lower sounds, like the incredible Garth Stevenson, and when I need more expanding, I go with softer, higher sounds like the angelic vocals of Wah!