Savor the deep relaxation of restorative postures by preparing for them carefully.
By Claudia Cummins
Let's face it: Some yoga poses taste a little bit sweeter than others. And if yoga were a smorgasbord, restorative postures would most definitely be at the dessert table. These soothing and well-supported poses offer us the opportunity to linger quietly for a few moments and savor the simple sweetness of life.
In an ideal world every asana would feel restorative. But those that fall into the special category of restorative poses have a particular ability to leave us nourished and well rested. These postures are usually deeply supported by blankets, blocks, or other props and are held for several minutes at a time.
Restorative practice can be intimidating to beginners—all those props! But just a few guiding tips will help you start a regular restorative practice of your own.
Start out with a few minutes of gentle movement before settling into a restorative pose or practice. A little stretching will warm the muscles and create space in the body to prepare it for relaxation. Movement will also give your body a chance to shed its restlessness and busy-ness before settling into a place of stillness.
Don't skimp on the props. Blocks, straps, blankets, balls, towels, chairs, walls, sandbags, eye bags, and pillows are all considered fair game when supporting yourself in these poses. The more fully your body is supported, the deeper your sense of relaxation and surrender will be. So go ahead: Raid the linen closet—your body will thank you with profound sighs of relief.
Take the time to get comfortable on your props and make any necessary adjustments before you settle in. In restoratives the distance between heaven and hell can be as little as half an inch. A small adjustment to a blanket or a minor shift in the body's position can transform a moment of exasperated agony into pure rapture. Be creative and use your inner wisdom to guide you toward greater comfort, making any modifications you need.
Incorporate restoratives into your yoga practice in a balanced way. Peruse several yoga books—Judith Lasater's Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times is a great place to start. You might be inspired to include just one or two restorative postures in your daily practice. Or you may choose to devote one entire practice each week to restoratives.
Although they look peaceful, restoratives can be challenging for beginners. Just because the body rests quietly doesn't mean the mind will settle into stillness too. Be patient, and be prepared for days when every inch of you rebels.
In time and with practice, you will be rewarded with the ability to drop with ease into a place of deep contentment. This is what yoga is all about, after all: stilling our fidgety bodies and calming our rambling minds so that we may rest quietly in the present moment and see clearly the peace that resides within.
Claudia Cummins teaches yoga in Mansfield, Ohio. At the moment, her favorite pose is Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose).