Restorative Yoga is something that I've become a huge fan of over the last year. I find that it's a terrific complement to the more powerful vinyasa practices that I do. Often in fact, I take breaks from doing any vinyasa flows and just stick with Restorative for a week or two depending on how I'm feeling and what else I have going on in my life.
It's important to listen to and ASK your body what it needs before each practice. Many times I find that I hit the mat with the intention of doing a more vigorous practice and I end up never even leaving the ground because the Restorative postures that I do to warm up are all that's needed (and they feel so good besides).
The reverse is also true in that sometimes I hit the mat intending to do only Restorative postures, but the low lunges lead to a simple sun salutation which in turn leads to a more active practice. I love how yoga can be unpredictable like that if you really take the time to listen, adjust and be in the here and now during your practice.
Something else that really draws me to Restorative Yoga are the props. Blocks, bolsters and straps, oh my! Using props helps open the doors of yoga to many more people who might not be up to the task of tackling a full vinyasa flow. Props also help in targeting specific muscle groups and aid one in going deeper into a posture and releasing more fully.
Floors and walls can used for a full Restorative yoga sequence and are terrific aids to accomplish deeper, longer held postures and fuller releases.
Another couple of items that most people may not think of using as props are two of the simplest ones and they don't cost a thing: the floor and a wall. Floors and walls can used for a full Restorative yoga sequence and are terrific aids to accomplish deeper, longer held postures and fuller releases. They are also excellent for supporting your body and allowing you to surrender because they - as you may have guessed - don't give way.
Here's a Restorative sequence that I use not only for myself, but for clients who may not have the initial flexibility it requires to do them without assistance. All of these are done by setting your mat up next to the wall and using the wall and floor for support. You won't even need to leave the ground for this sequence, and if done slowly, mindfully and with conscious breath, it should take you about 45 minutes to complete.
Legs up the wall
Just what it says. Place your mat against the wall and scoot your butt as tightly to the wall as you can. While lowering down on to your back, raise your legs one at a time and rest them vertically up against the wall. The focus here is release your hips and pelvic bones as flatly onto the ground as you can. This pose is good to open up the lower back, calm the mind and turn your focus inward. A variation is to put a bolster underneath your sacrum and lower back for support and comfort.
Legs open wide
Beginning with Legs up the wall, simply and slowly begin to spread your legs apart, leading with heels and allowing them to guide your legs down the wall into what will ultimately be a wide V formation. Don't go for depth right off the bat, ALLOW your inner thighs to open naturally on their own. This is a good posture for you to witness your muscles warming and opening as the V becomes wider and wider. LET GRAVITY DO THE WORK FOR YOU!
Working with a strap
Anything that utilizes a strap are great postures to learn how to sync your breath with movement. Grab a strap and wrap it around your right foot at the ball of the foot while holding the strap firmly in both hands.
- legs off of wall
Inhale to begin and bring the foot slowly off the wall on the out-breath. Bring it out to about the distance of your other foot to begin with. Hold this posture and breathe through it for a breath or two, deepening it (pulling it out further) on your exhalations only. Make sure your pelvis stays squarely on the floor with your leg as straight as it comfortable while pushing up gently through your heel. Inhale and lower your foot back to the wall on the out-breath
Abduction describes any movement that leads AWAY from the center of the body.
Begin the same as above but this time slowly lower your leg out to the side as much as you are comfortable (bring the foot out, THEN lower on the out-breath) using your right hand (the hand on the same side as the leg you are working on). Again, you will not go too far at first and you will be able witness the leg lowering slowly to the floor as you give it time. Lead with the heel and let gravity do its thing. Once your leg is on the floor, bring your focus back to your rear-end and the pelvis keeping both hip bones as squarely the floor as you can. Let go of all tension.
Adduction describes any movement that leads TOWARDS the center of the body.
Begin the same as above but this time bring the leg over towards the other leg across the centerline of your body using your left hand (the hand opposite of the leg you are working on). Don't go very deeply at first as a little goes a long way in this posture. As I like to say, "Millimeters are miles" with a posture like this. Remain mindful and confident with this pose as you don't want to let gravity take over too much. This is a good one to open your glutes and all of the smaller underlying muscles of your backside.
- happy baby
Start as before, but this time once you get your leg out to about the distance of the resting foot, begin to pull your towards your armpit on that same side of the body. Place the strap about 2 inches more toward your heel than the ball. You will keep the strap in both hands and choke up firmly on it. Pull with a moderate amount of force and make sure you keep the knee coming in toward the armpit instead of splaying out to the side. Another important thing is keep the shin of the leg (from the knee to the ankle) at a 90 degree angle to the floor, that is, straight up and down.
- knees to chest
Time for a little break to rest and open your lower back. Pull both knees to your chest, hug them in and rock gently on your lower back and sacrum. This gives you a little break and resets your lower back into a more neutral state before working on the other leg.
*Do the other leg and then do another knees to chest.
Reclined Cobbler (Baddha Konasana)
Lie on your back, legs up the wall vertically. Bend your knees while bringing the soles of your feet together, resting the outside edges of your feet against the wall. Gently push your knees back towards the wall, opening your inner thighs. Over time, your knees will sink lower towards the floor. Stay in this posture for 1 - 5 minutes. Using the wall for this posture is different than simply doing it while in reclining postion as the wall helps to take the pressure off of your lower back.
Begin with both legs up the wall. Bend your right leg and place your right ankle on your left leg, just below your left knee. Keeping your right shin (knee to ankle) perpendicular to the left leg, begin to bring your left knee towards your chest by sliding your foot down the wall on the out-breath. Thread your arms through your legs and grip your left shin for added assistance, stability and control. This is another one of those "MAM" postures (Millimeters Are Miles) and you'll begin to feel this one very quickly. It does not take much to achieve depth so be mindful of how low down the wall you bring your foot. Hold for 1 - 5 minutes or 10 full breath cycles to give this one time to work. This is good for opening up the neglected glutes and can be considered somewhat of a variation of pigeon.
*Do the other leg and then do another knees to chest.
Stacked knees to the side
Begin with legs up against the wall and on the out-breath lower your feet towards your butt by sliding them down the wall. Bring them down as far you are able. Once there is a nice bend in both knees (keep the knees and feet together), SLOWLY lower them down to one side, again on the out-breath. The goal here is to rest both legs on the ground, thus giving you a nice spinal twist. Once your knees are resting on the ground, again let gravity do its job. Bring both arms out to the sides in a T-formation and breathe. Let go of all tension.
Finally, finish your sequence with Child's pose to do a final spinal reset, quadriceps loosening and lower back opening before ending with final Savasana. Stay in Child for 1 - 5 minutes and work on returning your focus inward. Breathe as deeply as this posture will allow you.
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