What Is Restorative Yoga? What to Expect & Types to Try

by | Feb 25, 2023

Restorative Yoga: Rest, Repair, Breathe

FIND OUT MORE:Restorative Yoga

For the purposes of understanding the different types of yoga asana, I categorize any style of yoga that essentially keeps you on the mat as a restorative yoga style. To be fair, all yoga asana is ultimately designed to be restorative in nature, helping you to improve circulation, increase range of motion, release tightness and tension, and heal injury, but some yoga styles ask less of you physically than others.

When I refer to a style of yoga as restorative, I simply mean that it is easy on the body and likely does not even ask you to stand up at any point in the practice.

How Was Restorative-Style Yoga Born?

If we are defining a yoga asana style as restorative only due to the amount of physicality required, then theoretically speaking, Yoga practice that is not asana is pretty restorative.

By that I mean that, when we look at the 8 limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali, everything after the third limb asks nothing more of you physically than to sit still. While it’s true that sitting can be tiring, it’s not more tiring than, say, asking you to do 100 Sun Salutations or perfect a handstand, so it’s pretty accessible to everyone on a physical level.

All this to say that true restoration of the mind and body doesn’t require any physical asana, and is instead found when working toward perfect inner focus and sense withdrawal that occurs in meditation.

What Styles of Yoga Are Considered Restorative-Style Yoga?

Just a quick reminder that all yoga asana is ultimately restorative, but for the purposes of a broad understanding of the different types of yoga asana available to you, I define restorative yoga here as any yoga that doesn’t really ask you to stand up, much less perform the up/down/up/down/up/down required of most asana sequences.

Chair Yoga

As suggested by the name, Chair Yoga has you sitting in a seat for the entire class, so there is never any pressure on your knees. In some postures, you may have the opportunity to shift your weight onto one leg or the other, but with the seat right there, you can modify that to meet your needs.

Of all the restorative yoga styles listed, this is one of the most active and yet still accessible as it is appropriate for all body types and abilities.

NOTE: The chair matters in Chair Yoga. While some postures can be done from a motorized chair or a wheel chair, others will require the ability to scoot to the end of the seat. For this reason, it is important to make sure that the chair will not slip (e.g., that the chair is heavy enough not to move and that the surface it sits upon is non-slip). There are yoga chairs available for chair yoga that you can buy that have all the right attributes, but you will still want to make sure that the surface you place it upon is non-slip for added traction.

Strength and Stability

Some classes are more active on the mat but do not require you to stand up or do the up/down thing that happens with most classes. Think sun salutations but on your knees where Downward Dog is replaced by Child’s Pose, longer holds in postures, and plenty of time to get in and out of poses as well as long rest times after “work” postures.

These classes may be called “mat classes” or “stability classes” and will vary from studio to studio so if you are seeking this kind of class specifically, be sure to speak to the owner or fast forward through the class online to make sure that it’s what you want and need in advance.

In some cases, strength and stability classes will use small hand weights to help you grow stronger but these are usually optional and all the poses can be done without them.

Restorative Yoga

Truly restful, restorative yoga makes use of all the bolsters, blankets, and blocks to set you up in a pose that is deeply supported, giving you plenty of time to get into the posture and then stay there.

Each pose will usually require multiple bolsters and/ or blocks so it can take some time to transition from one posture to another, and though you may need to sit up to make that happen, you won’t need to stand.

These classes are often dimly lit and have soft music playing to promote full relaxation. Though some poses are on the belly, you may also like to use an eye pillow for the postures where you are on your back and keep a blanket nearby for when your body temperature starts to drop as your heart rate slows. I like to use a weighted eye pillow with removable covers for easy cleaning and a blanket that doesn’t shed.

Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a relatively modern style of yoga and is attributed to Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley, and Sarah Powers.

Paulie Zink, a martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher, developed a style of yoga in the 1970s that focused on long-held, passive postures, which he called “Yin and Yang Yoga.” Paul Grilley, a student of Paulie Zink, refined and popularized this style in the 1980s and 1990s, calling it Yin Yoga, and then Sarah Powers, a student of Paul Grilley, further developed the practice by combining the long holds of Yin Yoga with mindfulness meditation and Buddhist principles, creating a practice that is now known as Yin Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation.

The idea of yin is to get into a posture on the mat and then allow gravity to do the work. Even if you feel a little tight getting into, for example, a supine twist, after a minute or two, your body will start to relax and you’ll feel yourself going deeper and deeper into the pose.

Though some teachers will have you hold a posture for up to 20 minutes on each side, many yin classes will ask you to hold a pose for about 5 minutes on each side.

Again, the room is usually dim with soft music playing to enhance the relaxation effect, and bolsters and blankets may be used. Most yoga studios have bolsters for you to borrow, but if you prefer to bring your own, I like this one with the carrying handle and case for hygienic purposes and easy transport.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra translates to “yoga sleep” and it’s a very specific kind of guided meditation that takes you into a place between asleep and awake to give you an incredibly restful and restorative experience.

Relatively new to the yoga world, the practice of Yoga Nidra as a system was created by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in the last century and employs a step-by-step method of progressive relaxation followed by guided visualizations that takes you into a deep state of relaxation and heightened awareness.

There is research to support the notion that the effect on the brain and body that occurs with one hour of Yoga Nidra practice is equivalent to three hours of restorative sleep – and it’s amazing.

The room is often dim for Yoga Nidra practice, but there is no music. The entire meditation happens in Corpse Pose, or Savasana, and you are encouraged not to move at all throughout the process to allow for that deep internal focus.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Restorative Yoga?

Anyone and everyone. Not only is it good for people who may not have the fitness level or physical ability to take part in a hatha yoga or vinyasa flow class, but it is recommended for people who do those classes all the time so that they can incorporate a deeper meditation into their practice, especially if they struggle with meditation on their own.

 

FIND OUT MORE:

Tips for Choosing the Right Type of Yoga for You

Hatha Yoga

Vinyasa Yoga

Hybrid Yoga

 

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga styles are often thought of as being only for those who “can’t” do more active styles of yoga, but the truth is that they are recommended for every practitioner no matter their abilities on the mat.

Incorporating at least one restorative style yoga practice into any yoga and/ or athletic regimen is recommended to help counter repetitive stress injuries and relieve stress.

 

Do you want support in building a sustainable yoga practice that helps you to reach your goals? 

Download my free guide, 21 Teachers Share How to Find Time for Yoga, and get ready to kick start a life changing daily yoga practice!

Written by Valeria Weber Williamson

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