Restorative Yoga For Beginners
Yoga is not just touted for it’s many benefits, but now has been researched to back-up some of these mind-body benefits. Yoga is truly multidimensional. It can help improve your body from a physical perspective (endurance, stretch, flexibility & strength) as you perform poses/sequences. Furthermore, help to improve and increase a sense of mindfulness. Consequently, making practices like yoga and meditation even more effective when practiced together. Today we discuss restorative yoga for beginners, and others a like
Restorative style yoga. What it can bring to the table, both from a physical and mental perspective. Firstly, let’s cover the basics and some research in regards to restorative yoga. Then, we’ll dive into 4-5 starter poses for those of you who wish to give restorative yoga a go.
What is Restorative Yoga?
For many, yoga is not just about physical benefits, or making them feel better from a mental perspective. Yoga can also be deeply spiritual, in it’s own set number of ways. Why we touch upon the “spirit” part of things, is that oftentimes restorative yoga is linked to an ability to heal the inner self. Additionally, a way to “open your heart and find internal peace”, spiritualityhealth.com states.
An article at Yoga Journal, discusses restorative yoga as a way of developing the skill of conscious relaxation. It’s truly about trying to look within and face challenges we have, in a different way.
Restorative yoga is often described as gentle, healing, “simple” poses, and therapeutic. As some of these words are on the right track, they can give you a false reality. Oftentimes this is a very subjective perspective. Truly, restorative yoga, in some ways, is looked at as a more advanced from of yoga, as it can be very challenging.
Like other forms of yoga from Hatha style, to Vinyasa, the challenges are different for each. What’s challenging to some, others may more easily conquer, which is one of the reasons yoga can be so individualized to each practitioner.
Why so challenging?
Surely, if you ever partake in a restorative yoga class, you may only do a few poses throughout the entire session. Restorative yoga can be very different then other styles of yoga. An intense effort is placed on mind-body connection.
It’s a complete counter balance to what “most” of our lives are, which is face-paced, hustle and bustle, go, go, go, all the time. Restorative yoga challenges you to do a 180 degree turn, and for many, it’s not easy. Furthermore, this intense focus on healing is not just physical healing, but just as much mental healing. Oftentimes, it takes skill to truly discover within yourself, what and why you hold on to so much tension. Moreover, understanding then, how to release it.
Restorative style yoga oftentimes includes the use of yoga blocks, blankets and/or bolsters, which for some is a new concept and adds a new dimension. These yoga props are used in an effort to help hold passive poses for a more substantial amount of time, while still remaining comfortable and relaxed.
Restorative yoga combines positions with awareness of breathing patterns. It works by aligning your physical and mental state. It’s a way your body can elicit relaxation responses, helping to physiologically reduce blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and overall create a better sense of calm.
Benefits of Restorative Yoga & Yoga in General Studies
The practice of yoga in general, has several researched benefits for the practitioner. Here are some of those benefits!
a. Reduces Stress:
Probably the most abundant amount of studies we found were yoga and and it’s potential effects on stress, anxiety, & depressive symptoms. For example, one study examined it’s effect on all three in women specifically. In conclusion, found that yoga should continue to be used as a conjunct from of therapy, or as a complementary from of therapy, aiding in the reduction of stress, anxiety and depression.
Another female focused study on the effects of yoga was conducted. Specifically, Iyengar style yoga. Similarly, providing evidence of “significant” improvements on measures of stress and psychological outcomes. This study included a 3-month yoga program, with a relatively low inclusion, of 24 self-referred females.
A more comprehensive look at yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was completed via a meta analysis. This was a systematic review and meta analysis of randomized control trials. Furthermore, it “compared practices that included yoga asanas with and without mindfulness-based stress reduction, to an active control”, which you can read more a out here. 42 total studies were included in the analysis, concluding that yoga asanas are at least linked to reduced stress.
Yoga has even been touted as an option for treatment of depression. A systematic review of 5 randomized controlled trials concluded that there are indications of potential beneficial effects of yoga interventions (like deep breathing, relaxation) on depressive disorders.
* It’s important to note, we always have to proceed with caution. If you’re someone who suffers from stress, anxiety, depression or any other medical condition, it’s important to not abandon any current treatment, but rather to further discuss the potential of adding complementary forms of therapies (like yoga or meditation) to help aide in care of certain conditions with your provider or a licensed professional.
b. Reduces Cortisol Levels (Cellular Level?)
A particular study published in 2017, included participants in 90 minutes of yoga, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks. Yoga sessions consisted of postures, breathing and meditation. At the end of the 12 weeks, researchers identified lower levels of inflammation and decreased levels of cortisol. Additionally, concluded that we can indeed slow the pace at which we age by adopting yoga and meditation based lifestyle interventions (YMLI). This is a fairly impressive finding of yoga in general, and proves that yoga can certainly be an impactful part of an individuals life.
Similarly to the study mentioned above, this one focused on yoga (postures, breathing & meditation), for a 3-month yoga retreat, which you can read more about here. The study included 38 individuals with a mean age of about 35. Measures included psychometric measures, brain derived neurotrophic factor, salivary cortisol levels, pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Results of the study were positive for self reported anxiety and depression and showed reduction in inflammation and stress in the body.
According to another study, hypercortisolemia (high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone) is well-known in depression. Yoga has been known to reduce stress and cortisol levels. This study concluded that yoga may actually act at the level of the hypothalamus (to reduce cortisol) bringing about relief in depression symptoms.
c. Reduces Pain
Yoga is also suggestive as a safe and effective way to reducing pain. One study concluded that certain styles of yoga (restorative yoga, Bikram, Iyengar yoga) are helpful interventions for management of musculoskeletal pain.
Other studies have shown evidence that yoga and other mind-body practices may be a way to aide in pain associated symptoms with conditions like fibromyalgia.
Several studies also linked yoga with helping to manage symptoms of lower back pain, like this review of 25 randomized control trials looking at the effects of yoga, tai chi, and Qigong for back pain patients.
d. Effect on Hot Flashes/Menopause Symptoms
A small study which included 14 postmenopausal women experiencing hot flashes was conducted. Thus, investigating potential effects of restorative yoga poses. Both mean number of hot flashes per week and mean hot flash score decreased from baseline to week 8 with no adverse outcomes noted.
e. Better Sleep Quality
One systematic review and meta analysis on the effectiveness and safety of yoga of women with sleep problems included 19 studies, totally 1832 participants. The analysis of research (including restorative yoga) found that yoga interventions in women can be beneficial and impact sleep quality. The way in which yoga may help in managing sleep problems lies in increasing melatonin and reducing hyperarousal.
Another study 2013, looked at long term yoga practice on sleep quality and quality of life (QOL) in the elderly. The study included individuals 60+ years of age in Nagpur city and used two types of survey questionnaires. Both the QOL questionnaires and quality of sleep questionnaires concluded that long term yoga practice groups had better outcomes then control groups.
g. Quality of Life/Well-Being for Clinical Conditions (Such as Cancer Patients)
Yoga is a widely used form of CAM therapy to manage illness. One meta analysis aimed to determine yoga’s effects on psychological health, QOL, and physical health of patients with cancer. The study included 11 randomized control trials, concluding that yoga has the potential to have benefits for people with cancer, specifically in improving psychological health.
Yoga has shown to improve cancer survivors quality of life in studies. This same study investigated adherence of 2 forms of yoga in particular when it came to more sedentary cancer survivors. These more sedentary cancer survivors were randomized into a restorative yoga groups, and a more vigorous from of yoga practice.
The results of this study found that; a. sedentary individuals were able to adhere to a long term-term yoga regimen, b. the rate of “adequate” attendance was higher for restorative yoga.
Yoga in general, even for the general population, has been shown to promote personal growth, health, well-being and shown to assist individuals in their pursuit of peace and calmness. One of the reasons why we discuss yoga as multidimensional is not just because there are many forms, it’s because of the ability of yoga to make an impact differently in various populations.
Super Simple Restorative Yoga For Beginners
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is a fundamental pose in many restorative yoga sequences and is a common yoga pose in general. For beginner and experienced alike yogi’s, it offers a great stretch for the lower back, hips, thighs and ankles.
This is a common starting position (or restful pose in a routine). Balasana is well known for it’s incorporation into a restorative yoga routine as a forward bend, inversion-type pose.
1. While kneeling down on the floor, we will essentially be starting this pose by having your buttocks sit on the back of your heels.
2. Kneeling (knees separated roughly hip-width apart), with your big toes touching, lean back on your heels.
3. Once in this position, exhale, begin to lower your head towards your yoga mat. Your torso will rest in-between your thighs, and the forehead will be on the mat.
4. Hand position may vary. For example, you can have them overhead with palms on the floor, place them under your forehead, or lye them by your sides (palms-up).
5. Then, as you rest more into the pose, allow your shoulders to widen across your back, also allowing your sacrum to open-up.
6. Hold up to a few minutes
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Corpse pose is another building block of many restorative yoga routines. Furthermore, is a pose that facilitates heavy relaxation. A beginner friendly pose, done in the supine position. The challenge with the corpse pose is not in holding the position, but maintaining mental awareness and focusing on relaxing your body.
1. The key to the corpse pose is positioning your body and all of it’s components in a way that offers complete relaxation.
2. Firstly, take a seat on your mat with your legs bents. Then, lean back onto your forearms and slowly guide your back to the mat.
3. Inhale and begin to straighten your legs, one at a time.
4. Once both legs are straight, relax them allowing your feet to fall outward. The key is having both legs equal positioning.
5. At this time, make sure your tailbone is also comfortable, which may require you to slightly change positions.
6. Arms should be down to your sides, at roughly a 45-degree angle. If there are any pressure points your feel may be uncomfortable throughout this pose, now is the time to add a folded yoga blanket or cushion.
7. Close your eyes. Take in long slow deep breaths, maximizing oxygenation in the lungs. Focus in on your breaths, feeling your chest going up and down, rising and falling.
8. Take notice of each body part, almost scanning the body for tension, or any muscles that may be tightened. Attempt to release said tension.
9. As you breath in and out, relax your body more and more. Stay in this position for at least 5 minutes, and up to 20 minutes.
Restorative Yoga Sequences
There are many different restorative yoga sequences that you can do as well. Likewise, they come with varying levels of difficulty. Here is a basic restorative yoga sequence that will be enough to get your “feet wet”, and teach you the basics and benefits of restorative yoga.
This (below) is another good beginner level routine for restorative yoga
Start in the child’s pose for the first position of this restorative yoga sequence. Get into this pose and breathe deeply for 3-5 minutes, as we discussed prior. The idea is to become fully relaxed before moving on to the next position.
You can use guided imagery, like with meditation practices, along with this pose to help become fully relaxed and engaged.
Cat / Cow Pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
For the next position, you’ll want to move into the Cat-Cow, which is both a forward-bend and back-bend type position. As you switch between the two postures in this sequence, focus on exhaling and inhaling when moving between them. This portion of the sequence should take about three to five minutes as well.
This pose targets the lower and mid-back, core, hips, knees, neck and pelvis areas.
This position helps to move from a more stationary positioning in the child’s pose, to getting a little more movement in the body.
1. Beginning this pose on your hands and knees, your hands should be directly below your shoulders.
2. Place your knees below your hips, (hip-width apart), and make sure that your fingers are pointing forward, and wide, giving you a good foundation.
3. First the cow pose, inhale. Bring or “drop” your stomach toward the mat, at the same time, lifting your chin and chest, looking up at the ceiling.
4. Cat pose, while exhaling, do the opposite from before, and draw you naval or stomach inward, toward your spin, rounding out your back.
5. Try and relax your neck, allowing it to drop slightly, but don’t force it to your chest.
6. Then, at this point, you can transition back to cow pose while inhaling. Then exhale to cat, repeat.
7. Repeat this sequence 10-20 times.
Thread the Needle Pose (Urdhva Mukha Pasasana)
Urdhva Mukha Pasasana is another beginner friendly pose you can add to a restorative yoga sequence with ease. Thread the Needle pose is a forward-bend, twist and stretch-type pose.
Urdhva Mukha Pasasana benefits the lower and mid back, knees, and neck. It helps to open the chest, shoulders and back as well as adds a soft twist to the spine.
1. Begin on your hands and knees. Hands under your shoulders, knees under your hips.
2. Your head should be neutral, your back straight and legs hip-width apart.
3. Exhale and reach your right arm under your left arm, lowering your right shoulder and ear to the ground.
4. Your upper legs (thighs) should be perpendicular to the mat, forming almost a 90 degree angle.
5. Be cautious how much weight you place on your neck. Relax your lower back and try to allow tension from your back and shoulders to leave your body.
6. Hold this pose for 1-2 minutes, each side.
Perform variations of this asana, (video below), to challenge your stretch.
For beginners and people in a time crunch, you can wrap up this super simple restorative yoga sequence by getting into the corpse pose, like we discussed above. Place heavy emphasis on deep inhale and exhale breathing.
This will round out your restorative yoga routine for beginners and give you a foundation for building more advanced sequences in the future.
Final Thoughts On Restorative Yoga For Beginners!
Hopefully this simple routine will get your juices flowing as you embark on the advantages of restorative yoga and what it can do for not just the body, but the mind as well.
As you progress, these maneuvers will become second nature and you will truly be able to challenge yourself with more difficult asanas in the restorative yoga realm.
Thanks for stopping by, please be sure to share your experiences with restorative yoga in the comments below.