female yoga student practicing constructive rest restorative yoga

A Simple Restorative Yoga Practice for Stressful Times

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Updated: 
June 10, 2020

Restorative Yoga is really magical. It has the power to slow your heart rate, improve digestion, regulate your breathing, and put you into a state of blissful relaxation. It works all of this magic by simply moving your body into the parasympathetic state of your nervous system. This is often known as the “rest-and-digest” response. 

In our modern world, we tend to spend a lot of time lingering in the opposite state of “fight-or-flight.” We’re bombarded by notifications. We’re constantly “connected” to work. And we’re often on edge because most of us feel as if we don’t have enough time in the day. We tend to overschedule our lives and choose busyness over stillness or even sleep.

And this is just our “normal” everyday stress!

When real stress arrives in the form of a financial crisis, the loss of a loved one, or a world pandemic, we aren’t prepared to adapt because we’ve kept our bodies in a state of constant, prolonged stress. We don’t have the appropriate coping mechanisms ready to fluctuate properly between our opposing autonomic nervous system responses.

But, thankfully, there is hope. Simple practices like Restorative Yoga can help to soothe our nervous systems and move us into a parasympathetic state to “rest and digest.” And times of great stress, when we feel we have the least amount of time available for self-care, are when these practices become even more valuable.

A Simple Restorative Yoga Practice to Ease Your Stress, Calm Your Body, and Soothe Your Mind:

For this practice, you will need a bolster (or a couch cushion or pillow) and a blanket (or rolled-up towel).

Savasana (Relaxation Pose)

  1. Start lying down on your back with your legs extended forward in front of you. You may wish to slide your bolster/pillow underneath your knees or thighs. Either soften your gaze or close your eyes.

  2. Either release your arms by your sides or bring one hand to rest on your belly and one hand to rest on your chest. 

  3. Wherever you are, draw your awareness to your breath. If your hands are on your belly, watch them rise and fall as they make contact with your torso. 

  4. Deepen the pace of your breath.

  5. Observe the movements of your body and your breath for about two to five minutes to really settle into your relaxing practice.

Side-Lying Pose      Side Lying Restorative pose, Restorative yoga, yoga for rest and relaxation, Yoga for stressful times

  1. Rollover onto one side and pause for a moment before slowly rising up to sit.

  2. Place your bolster/cushion/pillow about a quarter of the way down your mat so that it is parallel to the short edge. Roll up your blanket/towel and place it toward the top of your mat, about six inches from your bolster, and parallel to it.

  3. Slide your right arm between your bolster and your blanket and then release down onto your right side to rest your ribcage on your bolster and your head on your blanket.

  4. Bend your knees and stack them on top of each other. You may wish to slide a pillow or folded blanket between your knees for extra comfort.

  5. Either release your left arm onto your side and rest your hand on your torso or stretch your left arm over your head and release your hand to the floor.

  6. Completely soften your whole body. Relax your gaze or close your eyes. Allow all of your muscles to melt as you bring your awareness back to your breath. 

  7. Soften into this shape for about five to 10 minutes. 

Side-Lying Twist         Side-Lying Twist, Restorative Yoga, Yoga with Props, Yoga for Stress Relief

  1. Keep your body and your props as they are, but draw your left hand to rest on your ribcage.

  2. Maintain the same position in your legs and slowly roll your torso toward the left so your spine moves into a gentle twist. 

  3. Completely soften your whole body. Relax your gaze or close your eyes. Allow all of your muscles to melt as you bring your awareness back to your breath. 

  4. Soften into this shape for about five to 10 minutes.

Salamba Matsyasana (Supported Fish Pose)        Salamba Matsyasana, Supported Fish Pose, Restorative Yoga, Yoga with Props, Yoga for Stress Relief

  1. Keep your props as they are and slowly roll over onto your back so that your bolster is still supporting your ribcage and your blanket is still supporting your head. You may need to add extra support under your head so that your head is not tilting back.  

  2. Relax your arms into any position of comfort. You can reach your arms out into a T-shape in the space between your bolster and your blanket or relax your arms onto your ribcage, or soften your arms by your sides.

  3. Completely soften your whole body. Relax your gaze or close your eyes. Allow all of your muscles to melt as you bring your awareness back to your breath. 

  4. Soften into this shape for about five to 10 minutes.

  5. Then, finally, repeat all of these shapes again on the opposite—starting with the side-lying pose on your left side.

Constructive Rest Pose   Constructive Rest Pose, Supine pose, relaxation pose, beginner's yoga, restorative yoga pose, yoga for stress relief

  1. When you’re ready, release all the props from underneath you and lie down flat on your back. Pause for a moment to absorb the previous poses and return to a relaxed breath.

  2. When you’re ready, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor as wide as your mat. Let your knees knock in toward each other. Feel your lower back melt toward the floor.

  3. Rest your arms into any place of comfort. You may wish to give yourself a hug and cross one arm under the other or you may prefer to simply release your arms by your sides.

  4. Wherever you choose to be, soften everything and melt into the shape for about five to 10 minutes as you focus on your breath.

Supported Savasana    Supported Savasana, supported corpse pose, beginner's yoga, yoga with props, yoga for restoration and relaxation, yoga for stress relief

  1. When you’re ready, slide your bolster underneath your thighs or your knees and stretch your legs out long toward the bottom of your mat. 

  2. Relax your arms into any comfortable position.

  3. Release the full weight of your body into the floor and let go of all muscular control.

  4. Take a full, deep inhalation and open your mouth to exhale with a sighing sound.

  5. Close your eyes and surrender into your final resting pose.

Restorative Yoga Is a Helpful Tool for Navigating Stressful Times

Stress is never easy to manage. But it also is inevitable. So learning helpful and powerful coping mechanisms is key. Restorative Yoga is such a valuable tool for managing stress and can be used to help initiate the relaxation response even during the most stressful of times. 

So the next time you’re feeling on edge, try this extremely simple practice to soothe your body, mind, and nervous system.

 

Leah SugermanLeah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.