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Yoga Basics: Restorative Poses

May 21, 2010
Let’s face it, some yoga poses taste a little sweeter than others. And if yoga were a smorgasbord, restorative postures would most definitely be at the dessert table. These soothing, well-supported poses offer us the opportunity to linger quietly for a few moments and savor the simple sweetness of life.

In an ideal world every asana would feel restorative. But those that fall into the special category that bear this name have a particular ability to leave us nourished and well rested. These postures are usually deeply supported by blankets, blocks or other props, and they are held for several minutes at a stretch. Gravity becomes your best friend, encouraging every ounce of you to surrender delightedly into the earth beneath you.

Keep in mind the following tips as you dip into your favorite restorative postures.

Start out with a few minutes of gentle movement before settling into a restorative pose or practice. A little stretching will warm the muscles and create space in the body to prepare it for relaxation. Movement will also give the body a chance to shed its restlessness before settling into a place of stillness.

Don’t skimp on props. Blocks, straps, blankets, balls, towels, chairs, walls and pillows are all fair game when supporting yourself in these postures. The more fully your body is supported, the deeper will be your sense of relaxation and surrender. So go ahead, strip your bed and raid the linen closet. Your body will thank you with profound sighs of relief.

Give yourself plenty of time to readjust your body and the props before you settle in. In restoratives, as my friend Marcia likes to say, the distance between heaven and hell can be as little as an inch. A small readjustment of a blanket or a minor shift in the body's position can transform a moment of agony into pure rapture. Be creative and use your inner wisdom to guide you toward greater comfort, making any modifications that encourage deep support and relaxation.

Incorporate restoratives into your yoga practice in a balanced way. Peruse a few yoga books for ideas about crafting a well-rounded restorative practice. You might be inspired to include just one or two restorative postures into your daily practice. (Judith Lasater’s book Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times is a great place to start.) Or you may choose to devote one entire practice each week to restoratives. In addition, stay attuned to specific periods in your life - while recovering from an illness, suffering from emotional loss, or traveling, for example - when restorative yoga may be a particular comfort.

Although they look peaceful, restoratives can be challenging for beginners. Just because the body rests quietly doesn’t mean the mind will settle into stillness, too. So be patient, and be prepared for days when every inch of you rebels. In time and with practice you will be rewarded with the ability to drop with ease into a place of deep contentment. This is what yoga is all about, after all: stilling our fidgety bodies and calming our rambling minds, so we may rest quietly in the present moment and see clearly the amazing truths of life.

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal (May 2003)