Restorative yoga is a style of yoga that encourages physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. Appropriate for all levels, restorative yoga is practiced at a slow pace, focusing on long holds, stillness, and deep breathing.

Unlike more active yoga styles such as vinyasa or Bikram, you can expect to hold a pose for 5 minutes or more, only performing a handful of poses in one restorative yoga session.

Read on to learn more about restorative yoga, poses to try, and the benefits of this gentle style of yoga.

Gentle, supportive, and therapeutic are just a few words that describe restorative yoga. At its core, restorative yoga is a practice of passive healing.

This yoga style is known for its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system that helps keep basic functions working as they should.

As the name suggests, this style of yoga “restores” the body to its parasympathetic nervous system function, which, in turn, helps the body rest, heal, and restore balance.

By allowing time for longer asanas (postures or poses) and deeper breathing, restorative yoga helps elicit the relaxation response. This response can help slow breathing, reduce blood pressure, and produce a feeling of calm and increased well-being.

A key feature in restorative yoga is the use of props such as blocks, bolsters, or blankets. The props help you hold passive poses for longer without exerting or tiring out your muscles. It also allows you to feel comfortable and supported, regardless of your experience with yoga.

And, since you’re encouraged to relax fully in the pose while focusing on your breath, restorative yoga allows you to release tension in your muscles for longer periods without discomfort.

The benefits of restorative yoga are similar to many of the benefits you may experience with other forms of yoga. Key benefits, supported by science, include the following:

  • Relaxes your mind and body. Yoga is linked to reduced stress and anxiety, and lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Soothes the nervous system. Restorative yoga helps shift the balance from your fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system) to your relaxation response, or the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Enhances your mood. Yoga promotes relaxation and deep breathing, which, according to research, may reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Reduces chronic pain. Research has shown that yoga may help reduce pain associated with headache or back pain, as well as osteoarthritis.
  • Improves sleep. Studies have shown that adding yoga to your daily routine may help boost the quality of your sleep.
  • Improves well-being. In addition to lower levels of stress, researchers have also found that doing yoga regularly may result in less fatigue, more vigor, and improved well-being.
  • Gentle on your body. Restorative yoga is generally safe and often recommended for people with acute or chronic injuries.
  • Works as part of an overall treatment plan for chronic health conditions. People with a chronic illness may benefit from a regular practice of yoga. A 2018 review of studies found that people with cancer who practiced yoga reported an improvement in their psychological and physical symptoms, as well as improved quality of life.
  • Safe to perform during pregnancy. Restorative yoga is easy to modify and safe to practice during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ranks prenatal yoga as one of the safest ways to exercise during pregnancy.
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Restorative yoga is known for its reliance on props such as bolsters, blocks, or folded blankets to make poses gentler and more supportive. That said, you can also practice any restorative yoga poses without the use of props.

In general, you can expect to hold poses in restorative yoga for a minimum of 5 minutes. If you want to hold a pose for longer, you can do so, as long as it feels comfortable. Some people hold restorative poses for 20 minutes or more.

This restorative pose is an excellent choice if you spend a lot of time sitting during the day.

The Fish Pose can help elongate your spine, release tension in your neck and shoulders, and open up your chest.

To make this pose more comfortable, you can use a bolster or two folded blankets or towels under your shoulders and head.

To do this pose:

  1. Place a bolster or two folded blankets on the center of your mat, parallel to each other with a small gap between them.
  2. Start in a seated position with the blankets at your back.
  3. Lie back and rest your shoulder blades on the blanket closest to you. Rest your head on the second blanket. You can keep your legs folded, or extend them in front of you.
  4. Rest your arms at your sides, or extend them above your head, palms facing upward.
  5. Close your eyes and take deep breaths while releasing tension in your body. You will feel your entire body sink into the blankets and floor.
  6. Stay in this pose for 10 minutes or more. Focus on deep breathing and releasing the tension in your muscles.

This pose helps relieve stress and fatigue, and gently stretches your spine, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and shoulder muscles. It has the ability to help relieve back and neck pain if your head and torso are supported.

To do this pose:

  1. Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart, big toes touching, buttocks on your heels.
  2. You can place a cushion or folded blanket between your thighs and calves for support.
  3. Exhale and lean forward with your torso between your thighs. bringing your head down toward the floor.
  4. Extend your arms out in front of you, above your head, with your palms on the floor. If this is too difficult, you can allow your arms to rest alongside your body with your palms facing up.
  5. For extra support, you can add a cushion or folded blankets under your head and arms.
  6. Remain in this pose for up to 5 minutes, inhaling and exhaling deeply.
  7. Release by lifting your torso up into a seated position.

For deep relaxation and stress relief, consider trying the corpse pose, also known as savasana.

To do this pose:

  1. Place a folded blanket at the top of your mat, and a bolster or two folded blankets stacked on top of each other towards the end of your mat.
  2. Sit between the folded blankets with your knees bent and back straight.
  3. Extend your legs so the back of your knees are resting on the bolster or folded blanket.
  4. Slowly lie back until the back of your head is resting on the blanket.
  5. Place your arms in a natural position at your sides with palms facing up. You will have a gap between your arms and body.
  6. Stay in this pose for 10 minutes or more. Focus on deep breathing and releasing the tension in your muscles.

The legs-up-the-wall pose helps relieve tired legs and feet, gently stretches your hamstrings and back of the neck, and may help ease mild backache.

To do this pose:

  1. Place the narrow end of your yoga mat against the wall. Place a folded blanket in the middle of the mat. Your head will rest on the blanket. You can also use a folded blanket or cushion to support your neck if you like.
  2. Sit with your right side against the wall, then lie back as you swing your legs up against the wall.
  3. Check the distance between your buttocks and the wall. Try to get your buttocks as close to the wall as is comfortable for you. For extra support, you can place one to two folded blankets on the mat about 5 to 6 inches from the wall, so your lower back rests on top of it.
  4. Bring your arms out to the sides, or let them rest on your torso.
  5. Breathe in, and as you exhale, let your body relax, releasing your hips, back, and neck into the floor. Rest in this position for 10 minutes. Focus on deep breathing and releasing the tension in your muscles.

Restorative yoga is a passive, meditative form of yoga that allows you to focus on your breath while releasing tension in your body. Unlike other forms of yoga, restorative yoga requires you to hold asanas or poses for an extended length of time, typically 5 minutes or more.

Restorative yoga often uses props like folded blankets, blocks, or bolsters. These props help support your body and allow you to deepen the pose and more fully relax your body.

Restorative yoga is gentle and generally considered safe for most people. If you have concerns about the safety of restorative yoga, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before practicing this type of yoga.