Restorative yoga strives to rest the muscles and the mind. Poses are held for minutes at a time -- as long as 15 minutes after an initial warm-up that can include Sun Salutations or gentle vinyasas -- moving between poses with each breath. Jillian Pransky, national director of restorative yoga for Yoga Works, says that "you can lose track of your physical shape," while within a meditative, restorative yoga pose.
At the root of modern restorative yoga classes are the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, who taught his students to use various props for the purpose of perfecting poses. His teachings developed into an official style of yoga, appropriately named Iyengar yoga. Iyengar's teachings directly inspired the creation of restorative yoga. Judith Lasater Ph.D., one of his students, popularized restorative yoga as it is known today.
Restorative yoga works to heal your body emotionally and physically. You may relish a restorative practice while dealing with a traumatic time in your life or when you simply need to unwind the body and mind completely. As with regular formats of yoga, restorative yoga poses can treat the entire body at once or work to target more specific areas. For example, supported relaxation helps the entire body and mind relax, while the reclining bound angle pose generally focuses on opening the hips.
Many regular yoga poses become restorative yoga poses with the assistance of props and modifications. Some popular restorative poses include Child's pose -- hips rest on heels and upper body cradles a pillow or bolster; Legs-Against-the-Wall -- bolster under the back, hips and/or legs; Reclining Bound Angle -- props under legs, arms and head; and Savasana -- feet rest on a blanket, legs on a bolster and head on a pillow. In all poses, your teacher may encourage you to cover parts of your body with a blanket for a comforting effect.
Expect to use a variety of props in a restorative yoga class. Teachers may cue you to use pillows, bolsters, blankets, blocks, chairs and straps to achieve the poses. These props allow the body to stretch and relax with support. Restorative yoga instructor, Claudia Cummins, emphasizes the importance of having ample props on hand, "In restoratives, the distance between heaven and hell can be as little as half an inch." For example, when practicing side-lying Savasana, where one leg is straight and the other leg bends at a 90-degree angle across the body, a bolster or pillow should be underneath the bent knee so that it is as high as the same side hip.
Restorative yoga does not necessarily mean you remain free of challenges during your practice. Because of the sense of shapelessness and being motionless, a wide range of underlying emotions in you may emerge. Pranksy emphasizes that students may feel vulnerable for periods of time during their restorative practice and recommends comforting the body by putting feet against a wall or by placing an eye pillow over the eyes.