by Patti Shelton, MD, RYT
It’s the end of a long day, and you’re exhausted, but you feel too stressed and frazzled to sleep. Or you’re feeling like you really should do a yoga practice, but you simply don’t have the energy for downward dog. Restorative Yoga is perfect for these moments. Here are a few yoga poses that can help you unwind and relax.
Legs up the wall
This one is particularly great if you’ve been on your feet all day, or after disembarking from a flight. It drains the stagnant blood and lymphatic fluid from your legs, helping relieve the ache and swelling that you may feel in those situations. It also feels great for the low back, and it’s incredibly relaxing.
Most people prefer to do this pose with a folded-up blanket or pillow beneath the hips (though you can do the pose without the prop if you prefer). Place this prop right up next to the base of the wall. Sit down on the edge of it, facing the side. Looking away from the wall, come down onto your elbows, and flip your hips so that your sit bones are resting on the wall. You can then come down onto your shoulder and swing your legs up, so you’re resting on your back with your legs straight up. Feel free to bend your knees slightly if that feels good. If your hamstrings are tight and being right on the wall is too intense, you can place your prop and your hips a few inches away from the wall; you’ll still get the benefits of the pose. Stay in the pose for several minutes, breathing deeply and slowly.
Many people enjoy having something placed on their heels in this pose; the extra downward pressure massages the feet and also roots the legs more strongly downward, relieving the hips and low back. In the yoga studio, sandbags are often used for this purpose; at home, a bag of rice or flour works nicely. You can place the prop yourself, by bending your knees and reaching up, but this proves challenging for many people. For extra relaxation, have a friend or family member place it for you (and remember to offer to return the favor for them later!).
Supported Bridge Pose
This one is great for when you’ve been sitting all day and your hips and low back feel tight.
It’s a gentle backbend that stretches the hip flexors while simultaneously relaxing the muscles of the whole area.
Have a yoga block handy; if you don’t have one at home, you can use a firm pillow or couch cushion, or even a stack of paperback books. Lie on your back with bent knees, placing the soles of your feet a few inches in front of your hips. Press with your feet to lift your hips, and slide your prop under your sacrum (the bony part of your low back). You choose how high the prop is; you can flip your yoga block onto any of its edges to control how tall it is, or change the height of whatever prop you’re using. Allow your back and hips to relax into the prop, releasing any effort; if you find that your glutes are tensing, you may want to reduce the height of your prop just a bit to reduce the depth of the backbend. Rest your arms wherever they’re comfortable: maybe out like cactus arms, down by your sides, or up above your head. Remain in the pose as long as you like. Three to five minutes is usually perfect.
Reclining Cobbler’s Pose
This one is helpful when you feel contracted and want to open up. It gently stretches the inner thighs and groin, while simultaneously relaxing the whole body.
Start on your back. Some people love to make an incline for the upper body using a few pillows arranged into a wedge shape; if you want to do this, start by sitting right in front of it and leaning back. Bring the soles of your feet together in front of you, making a diamond shape with your legs. Don’t worry about tucking them in tightly to get a good stretch; by staying in the pose for a few minutes, it’ll get plenty deep. Instead, find your “first edge,” the place where you feel a gentle opening, but nothing too intense. Allow your knees to flop out to the sides and your back to relax into the floor or pillows. If having your knees floating in space feels uncomfortable, place one or a few pillows under each knee. All the set-up is worth it; once you’re in the pose and fully supported, you can relax into the opening and let go of your tension.
Virtually every yoga class ends with this relaxation pose. But you don’t have to do a sweaty yoga practice to reap its benefits. If you’re feeling exhausted, savasana may be just the restorative pose that you need.
Simply lie on your back. Do whatever you need to do to ensure your comfort for the next few minutes. If your low back hurts when you lie flat, bend your knees and support them with a pillow or rolled-up blanket. You may like a pillow or blanket under your neck as well. Some people like to lie on a pillow along the spine; place your hips just in front of the short side of the pillow, and lie back onto it. Cover yourself with a blanket if your environment is chilly. Let your feet flop out to the sides, and let your hands rest as far from your body as necessary to remove all the tension from your shoulders. Many people love an eye pillow; if you don’t have one, a folded washcloth placed over your eyes may feel good to you.
Drop all your tension. Let your eyes be soft in their sockets, and your forehead muscles relax. Let your jaw unclench, your teeth separating slightly. Let your neck and shoulders relax. Let go even of the effort of breathing, and melt into the floor. Enjoy this relaxing pose for as long as you like. You may want to visualize yourself somewhere relaxing and enjoyable, such as on a beach or in a meadow. Or you may prefer simply to enjoy the sensation of being, with nothing to do.
Doing one or more of these poses is sure to help you feel more open and relaxed. This can rejuvenate you and allow you to return to work refreshed, or get you ready for going to bed and experiencing deep and restorative sleep. So if you’re feeling stressed, instead of reaching for a glass of wine or a sleeping pill, try some restorative yoga – you’re sure to enjoy it!
Dr. Patti Shelton, in addition to owning Radiance Yoga, also teaches classes at AIM on Tue/Thurs starting at 4:15PM. You can find the entire Yoga schedule, course descriptions, and instructor bio’s, at our website.