Restoratives always seem to get a bad rap. Many believe that they’re boring, easy, only for beginners, or for those who are injured, and some believe they’re not really poses at all. When I was taking my first teacher training program, we had a wonderful teacher instructing the module on restoratives. We were all looking forward to a day of lying around on our backs and taking it easy. Boy, was I fooled!
One of the first things he had us do was a variation of uttanasana (standing forward bend). We had our hands on blocks, with our fingers in the shape of a claw on top of the block, and the crown of our heads down on another block (or two, or with blankets, depending on one’s flexibility). We held this for what seemed like ten minutes. We were instructed to extend the sit bones up to the ceiling, rotate the thighs inward, resist the shins forward while pressing the tops of the thighs back, lengthen the spine, and draw the scapulae up and into the back. This was not boring, this was not easy, this was not for beginners, and this was definitely a pose! Of course, like many poses you hold for awhile, it started to become lighter, a little easier, and as my hamstrings stretched and my breathing took over, I was able to find a place of ease. And then it became almost meditative. This was just the beginning of what can be called a restorative sequence.
He went on to explain to us that many people, especially city-dwellers, find it hard to just come into a classroom, lie down, and begin to relax in a pose like supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose, or reclining cobbler’s pose). Many people find it easier to get out some of their energy and stress first, before delving in to the more supportive and restorative poses. For instance, you could start out a restorative sequence with some surya namaskar asanas (sun salutations), or a short sequence of inversions, or maybe some standing poses. All that frenetic energy needs to come out first, for some, before they’re able to handle the supported poses, otherwise they might actually feel more agitated than relieved by them. What I liked most about hearing this from our teacher was that it gave me permission to do what I need on any given day, that suits my body and my mood. Obviously a restorative sequence needs to somehow eventually lead to restorative poses. But even that can be what you make of it. The uttanasana variation we did was considered restorative because it was supported and was held for a longer time than we might hold in a regular class. I often do sirsasana (headstand) during my restorative sequence because it allows me to go inward and I can do it against the wall. My point is that these practices are for you – it’s a time you can check in with yourself, see what you might need that day, and recharge the batteries and the nervous system with some refreshing supported poses.
In my current teacher training program we are required to practice a restorative sequence once a week. In the beginning I sort of hemmed and hawed about it because, as a driven, energetic person I wasn’t sure I would always feel like taking time out to slow down and reflect. But now that I’ve been doing it consistently for several months, I often look forward to it. The surprising thing has been that sometimes I have to force myself to do it because I don’t think I need a restorative practice that day, but afterwards I realize just how much I really did need it.
Here is the restorative sequence I’m currently practicing. Try it out and see if you surprise yourself too.
- Urdhva Prasarita Padasana -upward extended leg pose, done with legs up the wall
- Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana – two legged inverted staff pose over crossed bolsters
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward facing dog, with head on a block, feet at the wall
- Supta Baddha Konasana – reclining bound angle pose, over bolster with belt around ankles and hips
- Salamba Sarvangasana – shoulderstand, done in a chair
- Ardha Halasana – half plough pose, done with legs in chair with bolster under thighs
- Bharadvajasana – seated twist, done in a chair
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – bridge pose, done over a bench or on bolsters
- Viparita Karani – legs up the wall pose
- Savasana – corpse pose, can be done with blankets or bolster