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How to Do Restorative Yoga

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 23, 2022

Restorative yoga centers around relaxation and gentle movement. Unlike more athletic types of yoga, the goal of restorative yoga is rejuvenation through stillness and easy stretching. Restorative yoga is an ideal way to unwind after a long, stressful day or to relax before bed. 

What Is Restorative Yoga?

In restorative yoga, there is no intense effort or strain. Your body can completely relax and let go. You use props to either support your limbs or apply a gentle, grounding pressure. You can practice restorative yoga however it works best for you. Some people prefer to do a session three times a week, while others do one or two poses every night or whenever they feel particularly stressed.

What Muscles Does Restorative Yoga Work?

The goal of restorative yoga isn't to build your muscles, but it can improve your flexibility over time. Depending on the poses, or asanas, that you choose, you'll feel a gentle stretching in the muscles involved. However, the primary benefit of restorative yoga is relaxation and rejuvenation, not increased muscle strength.

How to Do Restorative Yoga

Here are some relaxing yoga poses that are suitable for restorative yoga: 

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)

This is a great pose for people who spend a lot of time on their feet. Legs Up the Wall is an inversion pose, which means gravity can act on your body in a way that it normally can't. Unlike a headstand or other arm balances, the Legs Up the Wall pose can be done by almost anyone without any risk of injuring or straining your neck. Here's how to do it: 

  • Place your yoga mat or blanket on the floor next to the wall. If you think you'll need it, you can use a thin pillow for your head.
  • Lie down and scoot your buttocks close to the wall. Your tailbone should be on the floor, a few inches from the wall and your upper body should be perpendicular to the wall. 
  • Rest the backs of your legs against the wall with your knees relaxed. You should feel a gentle stretch but no intense sensation. 
  • Relax and breathe deeply while you hold the pose. Start with two to three minutes, but you can hold it longer if you want. 
  • When you're ready to come out of the pose, move carefully into a seated position for at least 30 seconds. You shouldn't come out of an inversion too rapidly. 

Supported Child's Pose (Salamba Balasana)

This is a forward-bending pose that promotes calmness and well-being. A bolster, pillow, or folded blanket provides extra support so you can relax into the pose fully.

  • Kneel on your yoga mat with your knees hip distance apart.
  • Slide a bolster between your legs. 
  • Bend at your hips and rest your torso on the bolster. 
  • Adjust the height of the bolster or pillows until you're comfortable. Your shoulders and hips should be at the same level. 
  • Allow your arms to rest comfortably on either side of the bolster. 
  • Turn your head to one side and rest it on the bolster. Turn it to the other side halfway through the pose. 
  • Hold for five to twenty minutes or as long as you feel comfortable. 

Corpse Pose (Savasana) 

Most yoga routines end in Savasana, but it's also a great stand-alone pose for deep relaxation. This version uses props to help you fully relax into the pose. 

  • Begin by placing a rolled-up blanket against a wall. Lie on your mat with the soles of your feet against the blanket.
  • Place another rolled-up blanket or bolster under your knees.
  • Put another folded blanket over your lower belly to help your hips drop down. 
  • Rest your head on a thin pillow or blanket so your chin is perpendicular to the floor. 
  • Relax your arms, palms up, on either side of your body. 
  • Breathe slowly and deeply, allowing your body to sink deeper into the pose with each exhalation. 
  • Bring awareness to each part of your body, deliberately relaxing it. 
  • Hold the pose for 10 to 20 minutes until you feel fully relaxed. 
  • When you're ready to leave the pose, slowly roll onto your right side. Stay there for 30 seconds before gently pushing up into a seated position. 

Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

This pose provides a deep stretch to your hip and groin area that can be modified to any level. If you have a groin or knee injury, you should only perform this pose with support under your outer thigh. 

  • Sit on your mat with your back straight and a bolster or pillow behind you. 
  • Lean back until your back is resting on the bolster. 
  • Spread your knees and bring your toes together. 
  • Use blocks, pillows, or bolsters to support your legs until you feel a comfortable stretch. 
  • Place your arms on your stomach or by your sides with palms facing down. 
  • Take slow, deep breaths while you hold the pose.
  • Hold the pose for four to five minutes. 

Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

This version of fish pose is supported and relaxing. Fish pose is a back-bending pose, so it's good for people who spend a lot of time hunched over a computer. It also supports deeper breathing from the diaphragm. 

  • Roll a thin yoga mat or blanket up from the short side. 
  • Place the rolled-up mat horizontally on your yoga mat.
  • Lie down on the mat so that it's running horizontally across your lower back or behind your ribs. 
  • Place a thin pillow or blanket under your head. 
  • Stretch your arms out to your sides, palms up. 
  • Take slow, deep breaths and hold for five to 20 minutes. 

Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

This is a restorative spinal twist that gently stretches the neck, spine, back, shoulders, and thighs. It can help relieve lower back pain and tight shoulders. Avoid doing this pose if you have a spinal, hip, or knee injury. 

  • Lie on your yoga mat with your arms stretched out horizontally in line with your shoulders.
  • Bend your right knee and hug it to your chest while your left leg remains extended.
  • Slowly cross your right knee over your midline and move it onto the floor, or a bolster, on the left side of your body. 
  • Turn your head to the right and look at your right hand. 
  • Both of your shoulder blades should be touching the floor, even if your knee is not. Use additional supports under your knee if necessary. 
  • Relax into the pose with each slow, deep breath.
  • Hold the pose for several minutes.
  • Repeat on the other side of your body with the other knee. 

Restorative Yoga Adaptations

Restorative yoga uses props to support your body. You can use bolsters, blankets, pillows, bean bags, blocks, or straps. You can substitute couch cushions or whatever else you may have on hand if needed. Ultimately, the goal is to completely release tension in your muscles. Props can be used under body parts to provide support or on top of your body to provide grounding pressure.

Restorative Yoga Benefits

Restorative yoga activates your body's relaxation response, which can help you avoid the toxic effects of too much stress. The benefits of restorative yoga are extensive and include: 

Evokes the relaxation response. Restorative yoga activates your body's parasympathetic nervous system, which is the "rest and digest" response. This counteracts the negative effects of the "fight or flight" response that you experience in response to the stressful events of everyday life. The hormones you release in response to stress can adversely affect your health, causing high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and muscle tension. 

By triggering the relaxation response, restorative yoga can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption. It can also help with the symptoms associated with many conditions such as:

Reduces chronic pain. Yoga can help improve the daily function and mobility of people with chronic pain conditions, including: 

  • Fibromyalgia osteoporosis-related curvature of the spine
  • Arthritis
  • Migraines
  • Low back pain

Restorative Yoga Mistakes to Avoid

Restorative yoga is extremely gentle and shouldn't pose any risks. However, you should gradually come out of inversion poses and avoid them if you have the following conditions: 

You shouldn't feel any pain or discomfort while you're doing restorative yoga. If you do, stop and discuss it with your health care provider. You should also discuss it with your doctor if you have any injuries that could be aggravated by doing restorative yoga. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Council on Exercise: "Restorative Yoga for Fitness Professionals."

American Psychological Association: "The power of the relaxation response."

The Art of Living: "Restorative Yoga: What it is and How to do it," "Savasana - Corpse Pose," "Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)."

Cleveland Clinic: "The Yoga Pose You Need: The Health Benefits of Legs Up the Wall."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Yoga for pain relief."

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