Relax and Unwind

Restorative Yoga Poses Foster Healing

Meredith Montgomery

In classical yoga, teachers often sequence instruction toward reaching a pinnacle pose such as an inversion or arm balance. In restorative yoga, the peak pose is savasana—in which the practitioner fully relaxes while resting flat on their back. Leeann Carey, author of Restorative Yoga Therapy: The Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being, explains, “This passive asana practice turns down the branch of the nervous system that keeps us in fight-or-flight mode and turns up the system allowing us to rest and digest. It feels like a massage for the nervous system and encourages self-inquiry, reflection and change, rather than perfection.”

The physical, mental and spiritual benefits are similar to those of active yoga, but because poses are held longer and supported by props such as bolsters, blankets, belts and blocks, “There’s no stress on the tissue and joints. Each pose gifts us with longerlasting benefits, including more time for the mind to unwind,” advises Carey.

“Restorative yoga allows both muscles and the brain to recover from fatigue, so we are stronger, sharper and better able to act in the world afterward,” explains Roger Cole, Ph.D., a certified Iyengar yoga teacher in Del Mar, California, and a research scientist studying the physiology of relaxation, sleep and biological rhythms. He attests that it also serves as preparation for pranayama (mindful yoga breathing) and meditation, which require a clear, well-rested, focused mind.

Perfect for beginners and used by longtime practitioners to complement other yoga styles, restorative poses are designed to accurately realign and reshape the body. They also can be therapeutically tailored to support natural healing for issues related to tension, premenstrual syndrome, weak immune functioning, back pain, pregnancy and recovery for athletes. “Poses for healing may require targeted gentle stretching, but prop use will coax the body into desired positions without requiring muscular effort,” says Cole.

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