By Jill Levy
There are many different types of yoga — such as Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyassa, Hatha and Yin (also called restorative yoga), just to name a few. If you’re looking for a slower-paced type of yoga that focuses on gentle stretching, deep breathing, and relaxation, then restorative yoga is a great option.
Compared to other styles of yoga, restorative yoga involves holding postures for a longer period of time — about 5 to 10+ minutes on average — with assistance from props that help you to stay comfortable. This allows your body to release tension, your breathing to slow and your mind to hopefully reach a calmer state.
Whether you’re a beginner or experienced yogi, a restorative yoga practice has many mind-body benefits to offer, such as help relieving anxiousness and coping with stress, improving your sleep and potentially managing body discomfort.
6 Relaxing Restorative Yoga Poses to Try
Throughout an entire restorative yoga class, you can expect to do about only about 5 to 7 poses, which intentionally gives your body plenty of time to deeply settle into each one.
Before learning about the restorative yoga poses described below, first choose a good place and time to practice. Ideally you want to practice somewhere that’s calm, quiet and dimly lit, perhaps with calm music or nature sounds playing in the background.
Because the practice is a lot like meditation, it’s best to be free of distractions. If it helps you to feel more relaxed or focused, try wearing an eye mask or keeping your eyes closed. Props such as a blanket, bolster and pillow can also come in handy, since they support your body so your muscles can “release” and let go.
How long should you practice? Anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes is a great goal. We recommend beginning with the following restorative yoga poses, which are popular in classes and other types of yoga, too.
1. Supported Fish Pose
Fish pose is a back and chest-opening pose that makes a great start to a yoga class. It’s done while laying down on your back on a comfortable mat.
Use a bolster or a big, long pillow and place it under your back, running from your upper to lower back so your spine is supported. Lay down on the bolster, let your legs relax in front of you, and allow your arms to lay on the floor next to you with your shoulders “melting” open. Breathe deeply for 5+ minutes.
Props: 1 or 2 large bolsters or 1–2 long pillows
Benefits: Relaxing; stretches the chest and back.
2. Supported Child’s Pose
This is often one of the first poses done in many yoga classes. It’s typically done while on the floor, on top of a mat, with your knees bent.
Begin by sitting on your heels with your knees bent. Lean forward until your belly’s comfortably resting between your thighs. Place a bolster or long folded blanket between your thighs for extra support and lay your belly, chest and head on it if that’s comfortable.
Reach your arms straight out in front of you to rest them on the ground. Take steady breaths in and out of your nostril for about 5 minutes. Focus on softening throughout your body, especially in your back and hips.
Props: 1 bolster or 2 folded blankets under your belly, chest or head.
Benefits: Calming; allows you to deepen your breath; helps stretch your hips and legs; releases tension in your back and soldiers.
3. Spinal Twists
Lay on your back, bend your right leg and bring your knee up to your chest. Then allow your right leg to fall over your body to your left side, letting it rest on the ground or a block if needed.
Keep your torso and shoulders facing upward so you gently twist through your back. Try having your shoulders stay open and resting on the mat. Extend your arms outward to form a “T” shape if that’s comfortable. Hold for 5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
Props: Blocks for under your leg/foot if needed.
Benefits: Stretches the spine, shoulders, hips and abdominal muscles.
4. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon pose is one of the ultimate hip-opening poses practiced in yoga. While it’s a static pose, it’s included in many different types of yoga classes because it calms the breath while also deeply stretching the lower body. It’s recommended most for people interested in hip and nerve benefits.
Start on all fours, then lift your right leg and put your right shin down on the front of the mat. Your left leg should remain as straight as possible. Bring your right foot close to your pelvis, resting it on top of a blanket or block for support. Use another blanket or block under your right hip, which will probably be lifted off the mat slightly.
Allow your body upper to drape forward over your legs, extending your arms straight. Rest your head on a bolster and breathe deeply for 5+ minutes. Then repeat on the other side.
Props: 1 block, 1 blanket, 1 bolster
Benefits: Stretches the hips and can increase flexibility in the hip flexors; may help manage lower back discomfort or nerve discomfort; relieves tension in the upper body.
5. Supported Bridge Pose
For helping relieving back discomfort and stretching the lower back, bridge pose is one of the best restorative yoga poses. It can be done without props as more of a strength-building exercise, or with props to help make it gentler.
Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-distance apart. Place a yoga block under your low back/sacrum on the lowest height.
Let your arms spread out to form a “T” shape and allow your shoulders to melt towards the ground. Hold for 5+ minutes while taking steady breaths. If it feels better to have your knees drop inward towards each other, you can do this too.
Props: 1 block (optional blanket under your shoulders)
Benefits: Stretches the low back; can help reduce back discomfort and improve flexibility in the lower body.
6. Reclining Bound Angle Pose
This is a pose that can be done at the beginning or end of a yoga class to help promote relaxation throughout the whole body. It’s also a great stretch for the lower body, especially the thighs and hips.
Lay on your back and bend your knees so the soles of your feet come to meet. Place a block under each knee for support. If it helps, wrap a strap around your feet to bind them together so your legs can release a bit more. Allow your knees to keep falling apart so you feel a gentle stretch through your hips.
Relax your shoulder blades back and feel the muscles in your face (especially your forehead/temples) soften. Breathe deeply for 5+ minutes.
Props: 2 blocks for under your knees (optional: use a blanket or bolster under your spine)
Benefits: Relaxing and helpful for deepening your breath; stretches the hips and thighs; may help manage hip or knee discomfort.
In order to avoid risk of injury, please seek advice directly from your physician, especially if you have existing medical issues, before beginning any exercise or nutritional program. Also, be sure to stretch after exercise to avoid muscle and joint tightness.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill is also a certified yoga instructor.