Friday, August 23, 2013

Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga is a therapeutic application of the yoga practice designed to reduce the effects of chronic stress. It is recommended for any time that you need to restore your body or mind. There are asanas, or postures, that are considered restorative, and there are entire practices that are considered restorative.

What makes a pose restorative? 

Baddha Konasana (butterfly pose)
Props, passive traction, relaxation and time are the characteristics of a restorative pose. 

For example, if you sit on the floor in Baddha Konasana (butterfly pose), with the bottoms of your feet touching and your knees apart, you will need to engage some muscular effort in order to maintain the integrity of the pose. 

If you recline onto a bolster and supporting your knees (resting butterfly pose), however, you will be able to release all your weight into the floor or props, creating a stretch that is very passive and uses mostly gravity and your own body weight to maintain the sensation.

Supta Baddha Konasana
(resting butterfly pose) 
The resting butterfly pose is an adaptation of the butterfly pose, and the use of props to support your joints encourages passive traction in your body.

This passive traction encourages a gentle release of tension and tightness related to chronic stress.  

These poses are typically held for a while (5-20 minutes each) in order to induce a relaxation response in your nervous system.

What makes a practice restorative? 

A practice that induces your relaxation response for an extended period of time is considered restorative. Your nervous system is continuously analyzing your external and internal environment to determine if there is any threat. 

When your sensory input quiets down, your nervous system initiates your relaxation response, 

what Judith Lasiter calls the “rest and digest” mode. Therefore, a restorative practice is one that seeks to reduce your sensory inputs. 

To make this happen in your external environment, you will need a warm, quiet, dimly-lit space with no worry of interruption. Traditionally, the practice has minimal verbal instruction, no music and a warm climate. In my person experience, people with cancer need soothing sounds and touch to help them stay present and turn down the volume of their thoughts. 

To make this happen in your internal environment, you may need to prop your joints dramatically, because you will want a very mild level of sensation so as not to trigger your nervous system. If you are in a pose that requires you to “do” something, like engage your muscles to hold your body in place, then your internal environment will send sensory inputs to your nervous system, restricting you from fully relaxing. One of my student’s dubbed this practice the “fancy nap” for its qualities of doing nothing.

No matter how foreign it may be to practice doing “nothing” for 5-20 minutes in each pose, you feel the benefits right away; after understanding the practice, some of my students use just one pose to relax on their own, like Instant Maui or Legs Up the Wall, both depicted below.

Instant Maui pose
Legs Up the Wall pose


  • Please see my schedule page for updates coming in September; 2 NEW classes for cancer survivors, and new locations!
  • Sunday, September 15: Basics of Pranayama and Chanting; this 1-day workshop is at Mind-Body Zone in Fremont; see the Events page for more information.
  • Share my blog with others, and invite them to sign up. This is one of the best ways I have to get news out to you all!
  • Remember, if you can't make it to class, you can always pop in my DVD, Healing Yoga for Wellness, available online at and, and in stores at Breathe Los Gatos, Pacific Healing Arts, Cancer CAREpoint resource center and Kaiser Mind-Body-Wellness center.