Restorative poses are created by using props such as chairs, blankets, bolsters and blocks to support and hold the body in a particular shape for anywhere from 5-20 minutes. It is a passive practice where muscular effort is minimized so the body can rest and the relaxation response can turn on.
Jillian Pransky, the director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga for YogaWorks, explains that, “when practiced regularly, restorative poses lead to overall improved health…they have a great therapeutic impact during times of illness, injury, pain…they also help create a healing environment in the body by balancing the nervous system and allowing all systems’ optimal energy flow, restoring us at a physical, physiological, energetic, and emotional level.”
One of my favorite restorative poses is Supported Supta Baddha Konasana. My body just loves the opening this pose brings to the hips, groin, abdomen and chest and the ease a long hold provides to my breath and mind.
Before you begin: have your props (I use a round bolster, zafu and pranayama bolster) and a timer near by. Gentle breath and movement prepares the body nicely for a restorative practice. Cat/cow coordinated with breath or hip circles are a good option before Supta Baddha Konasana. This is especially helpful if you find stillness a challenge or if your body is really stiff. The idea is to support your body in a way that feels effortless. The opening in the hips and chest is almost undetectable - it’s not about sensation so much as creating ease.
Prepare: Stack a bolster over a zafu so the end of the bolster is lifted by the zafu. Sit with your pelvis at the edge of the bolster with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Place a pranayama bolster beneath your knees and open the knees wide with your feet touching. Recline over the bolster so that your entire spine and head are supported. Roll the arms at the shoulder sockets so the chest broadens. Place palms up or down, whichever feels most comfortable for your body. Make ANY adjustments you need so the body feels supported and at ease. If the low back is bothered by the height of the bolster, try stacking a blanket or two beneath your seat. If the chin lifts up and the throat opens, place a folded blanket beneath your neck and head.
Once you are in the asana, set your timer for 5 - 20 minutes. I’ve been taught it takes 20 minutes of rest for the relaxation response to turn on, so if you’ve got the time, go for 20!
To begin: Close your eyes. Observe your body as it releases toward its support. For many it is difficult to drop right into stillness. If this is true for you, try opening and closing your palms on your breath, or sweeping the arms overhead on your breath until the system settles.
As you practice: Eventually, shift into an observation mode and scan the body. Notice each region as it releases toward your support - creating space. As if every muscle could move away from its bone a little more with each moment. Once you’ve scanned the body, notice your breath and watch it as it moves through your relaxed body. Continue to watch your breath, as if each exhale were an invitation to release more completely.
Take your time shifting out of the pose. Hug your legs gently into your chest to release the low back after the hold.
Practice at least 2-3 times a week for optimal benefit — you’ll notice the effect your restorative practice has on your body, mind and energy.
Jillian is a yogini based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She leads weekly public yoga classes for adults and specializes in yoga for kids and families. Her studies have led her to complete trainings at YogaWorks, Karma Kids and Yoga Playgrounds. Jillian feels blessed to practice and teach yoga and is particularly passionate about empowering her students with tools to navigate the modern world with ease.Please read our disclaimer