Our asana practice doesn’t always have to be a strength-building workout or a reach for greater flexibility. Sometimes what’s needed is just slowing down and taking some time to rest. Many yoga poses can be done in a passive manner and, on certain days, that may be just the ticket to help you slow down, relax, and recharge.
Keeping up the pace of a busy lifestyle, working, exercising, keeping the house together, doing the shopping, cooking—whatever a busy lifestyle means for you—can be pretty stressful. If we don’t take the time to rest and let go of that stress, it can build up and become chronic, leading to a wide variety of health problems. Heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems are just a few. The risk of disease increases as we age, too, so it’s wise to try to reduce stress as much as we can.
As our bodies get older, there’s a natural tendency to take it a little easier anyway. You may notice that you run out of energy sooner, need a mid-afternoon nap, or that you can’t play your favorite sports for quite as long. Giving yourself permission to do a restorative asana practice, rather than a more vigorous one, is a good way to give your body a break, without skipping your yoga poses altogether.
So what makes a pose restorative? It’s the ability to get into a pose, relax completely, and rest there for several minutes. Props are essential for most poses in a restorative practice. Cushions, bolsters, blankets, blocks, straps, or even just a wall can help you do your asanas passively, making them more restful. You may also like to add a lavender-filled eye pillow for supine poses.
It’s well worth taking the time to set up your props so you’re comfortable. It may take a few different configurations before you find the “sweet spot,” so if you’re feeling discomfort anywhere, come out of the pose and make adjustments until you have that “aaaahh” moment.
For example, you can practice Sunset Pose (Paschimottanasana), a seated forward bend, with a bolster or stack of cushions on your legs. Make the stack high enough—and it might be quite high—so you can bend forward comfortably with no backache, and rest your arms and head on the cushions. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees and place a folded blanket under them. You can prop yourself up in almost the same way for Alternate Leg Stretch (Ardha Paschimottanasana).
Our asana of the week is Lying Hero, where you lie back on several cushions (or a bolster/blanket/cushion/block combination) as you rest in the pose. Lying Cobbler is another pose you can do lying over the cushions; just bring the soles of your feet together. My Flexibility DVD (Yoga for Everyone Series) has another version of Lying Cobbler using a wall, which you can make restorative simply by relaxing.
Another good restorative pose, especially if you’ve been on your feet all day, is simply lying on your mat or even on a firm bed with your legs up the wall. The eye pillow is especially comforting here, and it sometimes feels good to put a bit of weight on your belly as well—like a folded blanket or your pillow.
Be creative with your restorative practice. Choose poses that are comfortable for you, and that you can passively hold for 5 minutes or even twice that. It’s up to you. If time is short, you can even choose just one pose and stay in it, until you need to get on with your day, or go to bed. I really appreciate the benefits of restorative poses at the end of the evening. They help me wind down and fall into a restful slumber.
To make your session even more restorative, add Yoga Sound Meditation. I have several CDs and a meditation kit with relaxing tracks to spiritualize your practice while in the poses. After all, it’s one thing to relax the body, but often quite another to relax the mind. When you focus your mind on spiritual sound, and let it flow through your ears into the core of your being, you can let go of your thoughts, worries, and concerns, and truly rest in the heart of yoga.