Restorative Yoga

Woman practices Restorative yoga with the help of a yoga bolster prop

Restorative Yoga

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Definition

Restorative yoga is a relatively new style of yoga in which practitioners hold various poses for a much longer time than most yoga practises, sometimes up to 20 minutes at a time. It is possible for a single class to feature only four positions for the whole duration.

Many may notice obvious connections to another popular “slow yoga” style, yin yoga. They are not the same though. In yin yoga, the idea is that the student learns to embrace the discomfort of sitting in the same position for a long time without the use of props and assistance, whereas restorative yoga is meant to be easier and more supportive by the use of blocks and blankets to eliminate discomfort.

Restorative yoga was developed by Judith Lasater in 2007. She followed the teachings of yoga pioneer B.K.S Iyengar, who believed that the most important aspect of yoga was correct positioning of the body during the poses. To achieve this, he and later Lasater encouraged the use of props such as straps, blocks, and blankets, thus allowing the students to comfortably reach more difficult positions.

After teaching Iyengar yoga for years, she then began to find a more therapeutic form of yoga, thus restorative yoga was born.

Portrait of Judith Hanson Lasater
Judith Hanson Lasater
American Yoga Teacher / Writer
(1947 – )
Restorative Yoga is the use of props to support the body into positions of comfort and ease, to facilitate health and relaxation.

Practice

Restorative Yoga for Relaxation

Restorative yoga classes have more of a focus on relaxation instead of flow and building heat within the body. Therefore, there is limited movement. Some classes may only have a few poses, due to them being held for up to twenty minutes.

Not every pose can work in a restorative yoga practice. For example, one will not find many standing poses. Instead there are more supine and seated ones. Some common asanas in a class are corpse pose, “legs against the wall”, reclined goddess pose, or seated forward bend.

See How to Practice Restorative Yoga with a simple device.

The important difference is that props are used so that the muscles are not strained, but supported by blocks and blankets, allowing one to achieve deep relaxation. Like other yoga practices, proper deep breathing techniques are essential.

Relaxing Atmosphere of The Room

It is not uncommon for teachers to try to control the atmosphere of the room by dimming the lights or playing relaxing music and to speak with very soft tones. However, many of these techniques are employed in other types of yoga classes too.

Because there is less movement, students are encouraged to wear warmer clothes and socks to prevent from getting cold, something that may interfere with the deep meditation of the practise. Sometimes a teacher may even put a blanket upon the student to help them keep warm. It is not uncommon for people to fall asleep during a class. This can even be beneficial.

Yoga class room with a relaxed atmosphere with yoga mats and natural lights
The atmosphere of yoga room is very important. Dimming the lights or playing relaxing music can make the experience perfect.

Benefits and Risks

Restorative Yoga is Less of a Form of Exercise

Because of its slow pace and large amount of support, restorative yoga is less of a form of exercise than many other modern yoga styles. Therefore, it lacks much of the typical benefits such as strength building, balance, and muscle toning. It does still give some of the other physical benefits though, such as an increase in flexibility.

One study has shown that restorative yoga can help burn fat, at least when compared to simple stretching exercises. There is also some suggestion that restorative yoga may lower one’s blood pressure.

Restorative Yoga Can Help Recover From Injuries and Illness

There is some evidence that when used as a supplementary therapy, it can have a positive effect of those going through cancer treatment, especially in helping patients sleep better, cognitive functioning, and managing fatigue. It has also shown to be correlated with a reported decrease in pain for breast cancer patients.

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It is a style of yoga that is often recommended for people who are recovering from injuries because they are gently eased into the poses, and with the support, it is unlikely to cause further injury. Yet it can still give people some of the usual benefits of yoga and stretching. Yoga in general has been shown to reduce lower back pain.

Restorative Yoga Can Help Reduce Anxiety and Stress

It has been claimed that restorative yoga can help reduce anxiety. Due to its meditative nature, it can help encourage mindfulness and a deeper awareness of the body. When one has a stronger focus on the body, they can better notice the areas that carry stress. This can direct one to the areas that need further stretching or massage.

Some have suggested that restorative yoga can be used to help one build up to a proper meditation routine. Like other types of meditation, it can also cause a reduction in stress. Given how much stress can have negative effects on both our mental and physical health, healthy activities that reduce it can be seen as beneficial.

Sleeping woman during calming restorative yoga class
It is very common for people to fall asleep while doing restorative yoga as it is very calming.

Deep Stretching may Cause Soreness

Even though there is little movement, it is not completely uncommon to have some soreness after a class, due to the deep stretching that holding a pose for such a long time can induce. It has been suggested that some people may feel emotionally vulnerable during this practice, but it is often temporary and can be controlled through deep breathing.

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