Restorative Yoga is one of my absolute favourite styles of asana practice. The focus isn't on creating big stretching sensations or building big time strength like it sometimes is in Vinyasa Flow but rather on explicitly prioritizing the health of the nervous system; we want to intentionally dial down, drop inward and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to come on board so that real healing can truly occur. It's like the spa component of your self care routine; it's immensely valuable and all about indulging in pampered relaxation.
For this practice, you'll need one bolster, two cork blocks, two blankets, one strap and a little throw pillow. In Restorative Yoga, we use props to create an impeccable level of comfort for the body so that it can let out a big sigh of relief, recognizing that it is, in fact, fully supported, safe and being given permission to finally rest. This is your body's opportunity to rejuvenate itself.
1. Downward Facing Dog with Brow Supported on Block (1 minute)
Begin by gently pressing into an easeful expression of Downwards Facing Dog. Don't muscle your way into it; just imagine your own working with bones and breath right now. Choose a height for the block that allows you to rest your brow softly while ensuring your neck still feels long and spacious rather than compressed as though you're diving into a too shallow pool. Depending on your proportions, the block may or may not work for you; it should feel supportive, not cumbersome -- if it's the latter for you, drop the block and just stick with an easy feeling Downwards Facing Dog.
2. Supported Child’s Pose on Bolster (5+ minutes)
Straddle the bolster and draw it deep toward your groin; lower your torso onto the bolster and snuggle in with a big ol' hug. Place your brow or one ear on the bolster; if you've chose the latter, switch ears halfway through. (Option: Add a block underneath far end of the the bolster or folded blankets on top of the bolster to increase the elevation of your support so as to decrease the level of hip flexion present. Place a blanket under your knees for added comfort.)
3. Supported Fish Variation A (5+ minutes)
Create a "Burrito" shape* with your blanket and place it horizontally across the back of your mat. Lay back over top of your Burrito blanket so that it is in place beneath the bottom tip of your shoulder blades. Place your arms out to the sides, palms to the ceiling. (Option: Keep the knees bent, feet on the floor; Prop up your head with a pillow to reduce any discomfort felt in the neck)
* Burrito Blanket: a blanket that is carefully rolled up (round)
4. Supported Fish Variation B (5+ minutes)
Create a "Quesadilla" shape* with your blanket and place it lengthways along the back of your mat. Sit on your in front of the base of your Quesadilla blanket and lay back so that it is in place to support the entire length of your spine. Place your arms out to the sides, palms to the ceiling. I like to create a mound with my blanket underneath the curvature of my neck for increased support. (Option: use two Quesadilla blankets for extra elevation; prop up your head with a pillow to reduce any discomfort felt in the neck)
* Quesadilla Blanket: a blanket that is carefully folded up in layers (flat)
5. Prone Facing Twist Variation (5+ minutes each side)
Place a block underneath far end of the the bolster (on its lowest or second highest height). Sit with the right hip flush to the base of the bolster with the right leg placed straight out in front of you, bend the left knee and draw the left heel as close toward your bottom as your comfort will allow. Turn your torso to face the bolster and place one hand on either side; lower your torso over top of the bolster and rest with either your right ear on the bolster (less twist) or your left ear on the bolster (more twist). (Repeat on the left side)
6. Supported Reclined Hero Pose (3-5 minutes)
Keep the block underneath far end of the the bolster. Sit your bum between your heels on the mat in front of the bolster and recline backward over top of the bolster. I like to either rest my arms at my sides, palms up, or place my palms on around my heels. (Option: Sit your bum up on a pillow, folded blanket or 2" foam block to reduce the level of knee flexion; IMPORTANT: if this pose causes *any knee pain,* simply extend your legs straight out in front of you for another Supported Fish Pose variation)
EXIT: Lift yourself off the bolster and right up into a Downwards Facing Dog to relieve your knees.
7. Supported Wide Angle Forward Fold (5+ minutes)
Keep the block underneath far end of the the bolster. Sit on the edge of a a folded blanket as close as possible to the base of the bolster with legs open wide to either side (roughly 90 degrees) so that the bolster is close to the groin. Fold over the bolster and lower the front of your torso down to rest; allow your arms to drape on either side with brow on bolster or stack your forearms to rest your brow or chin on your arms. (Option: Place a folded blanket at the bottom of the bolster to provide extra support for your low belly)
8. Supported Seated Butterfly with Forward Fold (5+ minutes)
Move gently from your position in Supported Wide Angle Forward Fold. Use your hands to help bend your knees so that the soles of your feet touch the sides of the block beneath the bolster, continue to forward fold. (Option: provide support for your knees with folded blankets or blocks)
9. Ultra Supported Reclined Butterfly (5-7+ minutes)
Place a block underneath far end of the the bolster (on its lowest or second highest height). Sit at the base of the bolster with knees bent and soles of the feet together. Take your strap across your low back and hold it out in front of you on either side of your hips so you can make it into a loop. Take the strap across the front of your inner thighs, over top of your inner ankles and around the outer edge of your feet. Tighten the buckle as much as necessary to draw the heels closer toward your groin. Make sure the buckle is placed near your hip for an easier release from the pose later on. Consider placing blocks under your knees for extra support. Recline back overtop of your bolster; place your arms out to the sides, palms to open to the sky. (Option: Skip the strap; use a pillow underneath your head for extra neck comfort)
10. Supported Seated Forward Fold (3-5 minutes)
Sit up on the edge of a folded blanket to elevate your hips and make forward pelvic tilt more accessible. Extend both legs out in front of you. Place your bolster overtop of your legs, lengthways. Gently fold overtop of the bolster and reach for your feet or the end of the bolster. Rest your brow on the bolster or on a block on top of the bolster. (Option: Remove the bolster and place your brow on a block resting across your shin bones for a deeper expression)
11. Savasana (as long as possible)
Lay back into your final resting posture. Consider placing the back of your skull on your pillow and the bolster beneath the back of your knees. Take a few deep abdominal breaths and then let your breath fall into its natural rhythm. Let yourself disappear into yourself for a few minutes.
Namaste, beautiful yogi.