How to Practice Restorative Yoga – Complete Guide to the Practice & Benefits

What is Restorative Yoga?

The practice of Restorative Yoga can be defined as a yoga practice in which we support the body to such an extent that we feel safe enough to completely relax the body and mind. The postures are restful and are held for a long time in order to release mental and emotional tensions.

Yoga is so much more than just the physical shapes we assume during practice. In a true yoga practice, we connect with our innermost Self – our true Self.  Yoga asanas and breathing exercises, performed in a state of mental and physical equanimity are the backbones of the ancient yoga tradition that guides us on the way to reconnecting with our spirit.

Restorative Yoga allows us to truly stop. Thanks to the use of supports, we are able to completely relax every cell of our body and to nudge it into the state of parasympathetic nervous system arousal. Restorative Yoga provides precisely the right kind of physical and mental activation that allows us to enter a deeply relaxed state.

What is the purpose of Restorative Yoga?

Restorative Yoga primarily seeks to let the body enter into a state of rest and relaxation and activate the parasympathetic nervous system more easily. As the word ‘restore’ connotes, Restorative Yoga seeks to bring the body and mind to a natural state of calmness and harmony by gently and mindfully allowing the body to move between movement and stillness.

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Restorative Yoga is often regarded as active relaxation because the poses do not involve too much stretching and straining. Moreover, as we hold the poses for longer duration, the body gets enough time to drop into a state of complete relaxation. The mind slows down, the breathing deepens, and the bodily functions get balanced.

Restorative Yoga nourishes and soothes the body and mind. As such, a regular practice not only heals and strengthens a weak and tired body but also brings about deep emotional healing. Thus, Restorative Yoga becomes more of a therapeutic yoga style than simply a fitness oriented practice.

How to practice Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga focuses on two main points: letting go and grounding.

In the practice of Restorative Yoga, props are essential to reach our goal. When we say props, we also mean simple props that you can find in your own home. They do not need to be special yoga props.

How to do Restorative Yoga at home?

Common props that you will need for the practice of Restorative Yoga at  home:

  • One yoga mat
  • One bolster or two rolled blankets
  • One chair
  • Three to five blankets or towels
  • One trouser belt or bathrobe belt
  • Two yoga bricks or two fairly large books
  • One eye pillow of 15 or 150 grams or a small hand towel

For how long do we hold poses?

Restorative Yoga poses are held for five to 30 minutes, and the final relaxation in Shavasana is up to 25 minutes.

Who should do Restorative Yoga?

The biggest plus of Restorative Yoga is that it can be adapted to everyone, regardless of age and experience. The use of many supports allows everyone to practice the postures. There are seemingly infinite variations for each pose which makes sure that everyone can experience relaxation in each pose.


Restorative Yoga and the nervous system

Relaxation is the solution to truly rest and to reactivate the physiological functions of the body. Relaxing does not mean sleeping. In fact, if sleep is disturbed, we do regenerate at all, but we feel even more exhausted.

During sleep, there are dreams and other stages that can create muscle and mental activation. Relaxation is the time when there is no physical or mental effort, and the mind is completely calm.

In the practice of Restorative Yoga, the relaxation is “active.” And through the mindful performance of the postures and the focus on the breath, we quickly enter a parasympathetic state.

What happens when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated?

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating the body’s unconscious actions.

The parasympathetic system is responsible for “rest and digestion” responses, which are all activities that occur when the body is at rest, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation.

The action of the parasympathetic nervous system is complementary to that of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the activities associated with the “fight or flight” response.

When we are in a state of relaxation and tranquillity, and consequently, when our mind is calm, our nervous system enters the parasympathetic state.

Benefits of Restorative Yoga

Improves digestion

When the body is under stress, non-essential functions such as digestion, cell reproduction, intestine, and cell growth are blocked. Restorative Yoga, by rebalancing the nervous system, helps digestion to perform its basic functions and the intestine to absorb nutrients and generate waste material.

Improves memory, concentration, and mental clarity

There are countless scientific studies that show how the balance of the nervous system and a witty and tamed mind leads to stages of deep concentration that cannot occur in stages of agitation and anxiety.

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Regulates blood pressure

Stress states cause blood pressure to rise and interfere with its balance; states of relaxation slow down the heartbeat and regulate blood pressure to healthy levels.

Supports women during pregnancy, menopause, and menstruation

Restorative Yoga, with all its modifications and variations, is an excellent practice to rebalance the entire female hormonal system. This is especially true in so-called altered stages,  such as moments of hormonal change like adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause.

Helps with managing endometriosis

Restorative Yoga helps in pain management and hormonal balance. It helps women to regain physical and mental peace, activates hormonal rebalancing, and reduces the perception of pain. For years now I have been part of a research group that works closely with women who suffer from endometriosis and with women from all over Lombardy who decided to combine medical treatment with a path of Restorative Yoga and therapeutic Yoga to alleviate the situation.

Supports the body during periods of grief

Restorative Yoga helps after major trauma, such as the loss of a loved one or after an accident or illness.

Supports in case of trauma

Practicing Restorative Yoga helps in case of physical trauma, but also of psychological trauma. When practiced regularly, it induces a process of self-healing and awareness of our reactions to the difficulties of life. I find the practice of Restorative Yoga to be of great support for rehabilitation therapies of all kinds and as a support to mental professionals, such as psychologists and therapists.

Helps to lose weight

Restorative Yoga teaches us how to become more aware, and it lessens the need to overeat. Regular practice, even just for 20 minutes a day, increases the awareness of our actions, teaches us to love ourselves, reduces the need to compensate for the malaise of modern life with food or “junk food.” It is a great starting point to redefine our eating and lifestyle habits.

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About the Author: Tung Chi