Yoga Basics, Part 5: Restorative Poses

Woman in a reclined butterfly restorative yoga poseat oakville physiotherapy clinic

Welcome back to Yoga Basics! Today we will demonstrate five of the most common Restorative Poses.

What are Restorative Poses you may ask?

There are many reasons to practice yoga… Some seek a challenge, looking for a yoga practice that feels more like a workout. Others think of yoga as a way to maintain mobility and flexibility.

Restorative Practice is for everyone. Sometimes you need to unwind… not everything has to make you sweat!

Here is a check list to see if you would benefit from some Restorative Practice:

  • Do you wake up tired and groggy?
  • Do you have a hard time falling asleep?
  • Are you recovering from an injury?
  • Are you more stressed, or on edge, than usual?
  • Do you struggle with anxiety?
  • Do you find it hard to shut off your brain?
  • Are you struggling with concentration?
  • Do you find yourself constantly checking your smartphone throughout the day, even while at work?

Then maybe you should give Restorative Yoga a try!

A class is usually 5-6 poses, often supported by yoga blocks and bolsters, so that you can relax into each stretch for 5-10 minutes.

If trying these Restorative Poses for the first time, start with 3 minute holds. You can set a timer to go off and then slowly come out of each position to the next…

1. Sukhasana, Easy Sit Pose

While Restorative Yoga uses yoga blocks and bolsters to set up supports for most of the positions, you may not have all that at home. That’s okay. Blocks are meant to be smaller and more firm supports, while bolsters are larger, softer objects. You can use pillows and cushions in lieu of bolsters, and a mini step stool, or a big textbook, or a foam roller in lieu of a block.

  • Place a thickly folded blanket, or a horizontally-placed block, on the ground. Sit cross-legged on the floor, your sit bones on the support and your legs off of it.
  • Note: A higher support will be easier if you have issues with the knees, hips, or low back.
  • Place your hands on your knees, palms down.
  • Keep pelvis in a neutral position, so that your low back is not arched or slouched. (You may play around with some movement by arching your low back, opening up the chest, and gazing upward for a Seated Cow Pose. Then, slouching your whole spine and neck to bring chin down to chest for a Seated Cat Pose. Then, returning to a neutral pelvis position once again.)
  • Relax, close your eyes, and lengthen your breathing.
  • Depending on the length of time in this pose, it is good to alternate the cross of the legs.
Burlington Physio showing Easy Sit Yoga pose supported onto a block for Restorative yoga blog
Supported Easy Sit Pose

2. Balasana, Supported Child’s Pose

  • Position a bolster / pillow on an incline. Ideally, with two blocks: one midway underneath the bolster on its horizontal edge, and one underneath the far end of the bolster, on its vertical edge. If you cannot achieve a perfect incline, that’s okay.
  • Sit back on your calves in front of the lower end of the bolster. Your knees should be on either side of the bolster.
  • Then, lay your body onto the bolster, arms on the floor and palms down, relaxing. Your head will be turned to one side for half the time, and the other side for the other half. If you have neck pain turning to one side, then stay on the other side only.
Burlington Physio showing a supported child's pose using a bolster and blanket for Restorative Yoga Blog
Supported Child’s Pose
  • Note: if sitting back on your calves bothers your knees, you can substitute with Supported Wide-Legged Forward Fold Pose. Using the same support and your torso laid on top, have your legs extended out on each side of the bolster, the width between them based your comfort.

3. Matsyasana, Supported Fish Pose

  • While sitting with legs extended out in front of you, place a bolster or a long pillow behind you, touching your lower back. (Alternatively, you can use one vertical and one horizontal block as shown in the picture!)
  • Then, lay back your head and torso onto the bolster, your arms spread outward and palms facing up.
Oakville physiotherapist showing a supported fish pose, using yoga blocks, for a restorative yoga session
Supported Fish Pose

4. Supta Baddha Konasana, Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose

You can try this one with some, all, or none of the supports, based on what is most comfortable for you!

  • Use the same bolster set-up as with Child’s Pose, but create a steeper incline if able.
  • Sit with your low back to the lower end of the bolster. Then bend knees and bring the soles of the feet to touch, as the knees drop down on either side of you.
  • Lay back your head and torso onto the inclined bolster behind you.
  • You can place your left hand over your heart and the right just under the ribcage, or have the arms stretched out on the ground on either side of you, palms up.
Oakville physio showing a supported reclining bound angle pose using yoga blocks and a pillow, for a Restorative Yoga Blog
Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose

Note: If you have knee or groin pain, you can place blocks / bolsters underneath each knee so you are not overstretching and feel supported. Alternatively, when you initially bend your knees, do not bring the soles of the feet together or drop the knees to the sides. Instead, place a bolster directly underneath the knees and allow them them to comfortably rest on top.

5. Jathara Parivartanasana, Master Revolved Abdomen Pose

Most commonly known as Supine Twist (or Supine Spinal Twist Pose), you can either perform it with both legs at the same time, or one leg straight while the other goes over it.

  • Variation 1: lie on your back with knees bent and feet on ground.
  • On an inhale, spread out the arms at shoulder height and lay them on the ground, palms up.
  • On an exhale, drop the bent knees to the tight side so that the right outer knee is on the ground (and approximately level with the pelvis), and the left knee and hip are stacked directly over the right.
  • Ground down the left arm and shoulder blade as a counterbalance.
  • Revolve your abdomen back so that it is facing upward as much as possible.
  • Hold position for 2-3 minutes, then slowly return to start position, and repeat the same for the other side.
Mississauga physio showing a master revolved abdomen yoga pose, AKA supine twist stretch, for a restorative yoga blog
Supine Spine Twist Pose
  • Variation 2: lie on your back with both legs straight. Bring left knee to your chest.
  • On an inhale, spread out the arms at shoulder height and lay them on the ground, palms up.
  • On an exhale, bring left knee over the right thigh and toward the ground. The left knee will be approximately level with the right hip and the left foot will also be on the ground, approximately level with the right knee. You can use your right arm to hold down on the left outer thigh and keep the leg in place, controlling the amount of stretch.
  • Ground down the left arm and shoulder blade as a counterbalance.
  • Hold position for 2-3 minutes, then slowly return to start position, and repeat the same for the other side.
Supine Spine Twist Pose Variation

Bonus pose: Viparita Karani, Legs-Up-To-The-Wall Pose

This pose is referred to as a “restorative inversion.” It is great for venous drainage and improving circulation, especially for swelling in the feet. Additionally, the position stretches the hamstrings, relaxes the pelvic floor, and may relieve some low back tension. Contrary to the name, it does not necessarily have to be done with legs against the wall.

  • Variation 1: Bring your mat or a blanket next to a wall at home. Then, getting close to the wall, lie on your back and place your feet onto the wall.
  • Scoot your hips as close to the wall as you are comfortable, then straighten out the knees, so that you for an “L” shape in this position.
  • You may place a cushion underneath your head or tailbone for increased comfort.
  • Spread your arms out about 45 degrees away from your body, palms up. Relax into the pose.
  • Note: if you are less flexible, use a lower cushion under the hips and tailbone and position yourself a bit further from the wall. If more flexible, you can use a higher cushion and get closer to the wall!
Burlington Physio showing Legs-up-to-the-wall yoga pose for restorative yoga session
Legs-up-to-the-wall Pose
  • Variation 2: Waterfall Pose is an alternative position of Legs Up that does not require a wall!
  • Begin by laying down on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground.
  • Lift up the hips to slide a block (at its horizontal positioning) underneath the sacrum (the bony part just below the low back and just above the tailbone). You are now in a Supported Bridge Pose.
  • Bend one knee up toward you, then the other, with the block feeling like a comfortable support underneath.
  • Then, straighten out the knees so that the legs point up to the sky. If you have tight hamstrings, having the knees slightly bent to accommodate the tightness is okay.
  • Spread your arms out about 45 degrees away from your body, palms up.
  • Relax your breathing and enjoy the feeling the legs elevated!
Burlington physio showing a waterfall yoga pose using yoga block supports for a Restorative yoga educational blog
Waterfall Pose
  • Note: if preferred, you can even stay in a Supported Bridge position, with the block underneath the sacrum, the knees bent, and the feet still on the ground (hips and knees hip-width apart)!
Oakville Physio showing a supported bridge post, using a yoga block, for a Restorative Yoga session at home
Supported Bridge Pose

Congratulations! You have completed a session of Restorative Yoga! Practice for a few weeks to reap the benefits, expanding the 3 minute holds to 5-10 minutes, and modifying your supports as needed. Remember, it’s not about perfection but rather what feels like a comfortable and restful position for you.

If you are having difficulty with these poses, or they are aggravating a pre-existing pain, let us know so we can help!