Restorative yoga is a mind-body practice and therapeutic system of yoga rooted in rest and relaxation. These yoga sequences attempt to relieve the effects of chronic stress through the incorporated use of props, which provide the body with supplementary support and make poses more accessible.
After the initial Vinyasa exercises or Sun Salutations, practitioners perform a series of relaxed, meditative poses (called asanas), each of which is held for up to 15 minutes. The extended duration of the asanas allot the body enough time to relax, balance and heal, making restorative yoga an effective form of physical therapy.
B.K.S. Iyengar is often credited for the development of restorative yoga, as the discipline appears to be a derivative of his own. Specifically, both Iyengar and restorative yoga integrate props into traditional postures in an effort to relieve muscular tension. The difference is that Iyengar yoga uses props to enhance the experience of beginning, elderly and injured students, allowing them to achieve certain postures despite their lack of training. Restorative yoga, on the other hand, employs props to alleviate the body of all strain and maximize the benefits of relaxation.
While Iyengar may have initiated therapeutic yoga, P.T. Judith Lasater, Ph.D., is largely responsible for popularizing the discipline. Her book, Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, is a practitioner’s guide to the basic benefits and movements of restorative yoga. As the first work wholly devoted to the subject, Lasater’s book is a major resource for yoga instructors, providing lessons on the basic positions and sequences, as well as guidance on ways to incorporate and modify the use of props.
The primary health benefit of restorative yoga is signified by its name: restoration. The practice aims at relieving an individual’s stress and fatigue, consequently promoting relaxation of the mind and body. Restorative sequences also promote health and well-being by strengthening the spine. They utilize postures that position the back in various directions; and the resulting spinal extension aids in improving balance, posture and alignment.[i]
Because they typically include inversions, restorative sequences are also able to reverse some of the effects of gravity on the body. Most people spend a significant portion of the day either standing or sitting, which causes fluids to accumulate in the lower half of the body; but in an inverted pose, this relationship is reversed, and fluids may return to the upper half of the body. This improves functions of the heart and reduces the risk of certain health conditions, such as leg swelling.
Psychologist and Yoga Teacher Roger Cole, Ph.D., recommends that individuals suffering from adrenal exhaustion practice this particular discipline of yoga. While more strenuous yoga practices stimulate the adrenal glands, restorative postures turn off adrenal hormones, promoting anabolic hormones instead.
- Get comfortable. These poses are held for several minutes so comfort is key.
- Make sure you have enough support. Use as many props as you need to completely support your body so you can relax.
- Keep warm. The heat will cause your muscles to relax, making postures easier to hold.
“Learn to Practice.” Restorative Yoga Teachers. restorativeyogateachers.com/learntopractice.html. Accessed Oct. 1, 2013.