Years ago, after the death of a close family member, Judith Hanson Lasater, the nationally renowned northern California-based yoga teacher, found herself depressed and unable to practice the vigorous hatha yoga she was used to. All she could bring herself to do, she tells me, was to “lay down on the floor”. Rather than feel badly about her inability to move through her normal poses, Lasater heeded her body, slowed down the pace of her practice, and worked out a series of gentle restorative postures that, over time, helped her heal from the inside out.
These days, Lasater, who holds a degree in physical therapy and a PhD in East-West psychology, has fully integrated restorative yoga into her busy lifestyle as a yoga teacher, writer, and mother. She teaches workshops on the topic around the country. Her book, Relax & Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times (Rodmell Press, 1995) is the comprehensive guide to restorative yoga.
Lasater believes that restorative yoga can help correct an imbalance in today’s yoga scene. “When I started studying yoga in 1970,” Lasater says, “there was a lot more of a resting component built into classes. We would lie down between poses and rest, and take a nice long rest at the end of class.” “But lately,” she adds with a tinge of regret, “some yoga classes have become very hot, fast, and competitive.”
Restoratives poses can act as a “balm for an over-fried nervous system,” says Lasater. For those who enjoy a highly physical and heated practice, restoratives can bring an essential element of balance. She also recommends restorative poses to her students with complaints ranging from chronic headaches and digestive tract problems to infertility. After practicing restorative poses, you may find that you sleep better, get sick less frequently, and simply feel more relaxed during the day.
Getting Started With Your Restorative Yoga Practice
The great thing about restorative poses is that they don’t require much experience, flexibility, or even time. With just a few minutes and a few props – woolen camp or cotton Mexican blankets, eye pillow, a yoga bolster or perhaps a couch cushion or two set up in a cozy corner of your home – you can begin.
Restorative poses should be practiced thoughtfully and with care in a spirit of self-love. Take the time to fold blankets smoothly, for example, and to dress warmly in comfortable sweats and socks. Don’t push yourself – when it comes to restoratives, less is truly more. Slow down and take advantage of the poses by holding them for the recommended lengths – Lasater suggests using a timer or alarm clock if necessary. And pick a time of day for your restorative practice when you can keep yourself interruption free. Some like to do restorative poses in the late afternoon or early evening, while others prefer the early morning.
“Spend twenty minutes a day on one pose, such as Savasana,” Lasater recommends. “Every day take a time out and rest. Once a week take an hour out of the day and do all four poses. And once a year take seven days in a row and practice an hour a day of restoratives.”
Restorative yoga resources
More and more yoga centers are starting to offer classes and workshops in restorative yoga. To find a class near you visit restorativeyogateachers.com.
For more information about Judith Hanson Lasater, including her schedule of workshops around the United States, visit judithlasater.com
3 – 5 minutes
Sit in a comfortable seated posture. Elevate your hips on a folded blanket if desired. Then, Lasater counsels in Relax & Renew, “take a long, slow, gentle inhalation through your nose. Follow the inhalation with a long, slow, gentle exhalation through your nose. Take several normal cycles of breath through your nose until you feel refreshed. Repeat for up to ten rounds.”
Supported Reclining Pose
A variation of Supta Baddha Konasana
5 – 10 minutes
This pose requires support. Place a bolster, or two to three blankets, length-wise beneath your back with an added blanket placed across and on top of the bolster to provide a pillow for your head. Set a rolled blanket under each outstretched arm. Keep your legs slightly bent and outstretched. Add a thick rolled blanket (or two) under your knees. Place a thin blanket roll under the Achilles heel. Use an eye pillow or extra blanket on top for warmth as desired.
Legs Up The Wall Pose
A variation of Viparita Karani
5 – 10 minutes
With your hips about six inches from wall, rest your legs up on the wall and stretch your arms out to your sides. (Do not elevate legs on any blankets unless you are experienced with this pose.) Place a thinly folded blanket underneath your head as pillow support. Add eye pillow as desired.
Basic Relaxation Pose With Legs Elevated
A supported variation of Savasana
15 – 20 minutes
This version of the basic relaxation pose, or Savasana, includes a slight inversion, recommended by Lasater to help release stiffness and tension in the lower back. Use three or more folded blankets to elevate your legs 18 inches off the floor. Allow your arms to be outstretched at your sides and place a thin blanket underneath your head for light padding and support. Add an eye pillow. Place an extra blanket over your body for warmth as needed.
1. You can elevate your legs by propping them on a piece of furniture such as a couch or coffee table.
2. If the inversion places any strain on your back, instead practice the more classic basic relaxation pose. Lay flat on your back with a bolster or rolled blanket placed under slightly bent knees and a thin support under your head.
By Jessica Berger Gross