Our bodies respond to the change in seasons. As the days get shorter and colder, we slow down for winter. If you’re like me, you’re eating and sleeping more, and transitioning into a slower speed. It makes sense that our yoga practice will follow suit, if we honor the body’s cues. While I normally bask in the glow of a strong flow, restorative poses have been calling my name this fall.
Sometimes holiday stress comes from pushing ourselves to move faster than our natural rhythms would like; you can keep the “daze” out of your holidays with some restful, restorative yoga. Practice these long, juicy supported poses when you need to replenish your energy this holiday season, and honor your body’s natural need for more stillness. The use of props allows you to hold poses much longer than you would without support. Set them up and settle in – hold each for 10-15 minutes to soak up their restorative properties. Using a timer is a great idea. Consider them yoga gifts to yourself this season – they have a lot to give.
The hardest thing about restorative poses is setting them up properly – don’t be in a rush, and play with positioning your props. Remember that every body is different, so find the positioning that works best for yours. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s not in the right place.
Props: You will need three blankets or large towels, a yoga block and strap, and a folding chair like the one pictured, with an open back. (You can purchase a folding chair for $10 at Target.)
In this restorative sequence, we will create balance by honoring the four directions, plus up and down. (I like that the translations for the Sanskrit Urdhva and Adho are actually “zenith” and “nadir,” which are much more dramatic than just “up” and “down.”) You can do these poses on their own, but the order here builds on opening up the different areas of the body in a progressive way.
You can choose from these two options for a restorative downward dog; starting with this inversion warms things up nicely. You might feel a little heat build as you stay here longer than your average 5 breaths.
Down Dog Option 1: Hang Dog
Use a doorknob to create traction for the lower back in this pose – please make sure it is a strong door and knob that can support your weight!
1. Loop the strap tightly around the doorknob, making sure to wrap it once or twice.
2. Place the strap around your upper thighs, just below the hip crease. You will need to adjust your distance from the doorknob to create enough tension in the strap.
3. Fold forward and walk your hands out to come into downward dog. Hanging on the strap allows you to take the weight off your arms, and find the maximum length in your back.
4. Hold hang dog for 5 minutes. Afterwards, come into child’s pose for 5-10 breaths.
Down Dog Option 2: With Block and Strap
Using a block and strap to stabilize and support this pose makes it an altogether different dog.
1. Loop the strap around your upper forearms, just below the elbows; you will have to experiment to find the right length for your arms. You want the strap to be taught but not tight, so it can support the extension of your arms.
2. Come into downward dog, placing your forehead on a block at its highest height. The block supports the weight of your head, so your neck can let go completely. The supported inversion also calms your nervous system.
3. If you have tight hamstrings, allow your knees to bend slightly.
4. Hold for 5 minutes. Afterwards, come into child’s pose for 5-10 breaths.
You can choose from these two backbending options, or do both in the order pictured; the second one is much deeper.
Back Bend Option 1: Blanket Bridge
The secret here is all in how you fold the blankets. Make sure the folds are exact and edges are aligned, and that you smooth out the surfaces. You want three blankets or towels that are folded into thirds lengthwise, and stacked together.
Paws option: Take a pause and take in the grounding energy of a calm canine before moving into this pose.
1. Sit on your blanket stack. Loop the strap around your ankles; you are tying your feet together, so that your hips don’t externally rotate (toes will point up in this supported position). Strap should be taught, not tight, with a little bit of space between your feet.
2. Place your feet on a block at its lowest height before you lie down (it may take a few tries to position it correctly).
3. When you lie down, your shoulder blades should be on the floor. The edge of the blanket stack will be just below your bra strap.
4. Take your arms out to the side with the palms up. Stay for 10-15 minutes. You will want to.
5. Come out carefully and slowly; if you can, maneuver the strap off one foot while you are still supine. Then bend your knees and roll off the blankets to one side.
Back Bend Option 2: Full Backbend with Full Support
This backbend fully opens, with the luxury of full support – think wheel, urdhva dhanurasana, without the work. Take each step slowly.
1. Position the back of the chair a few feet from the wall; you will need to adjust this distance so that the balls of your feet can firmly press against the wall.
2. Sit backwards in the chair, with your legs through the opening. Place your rolled up yoga mat behind your bum on the chair.
3. With your feet against the wall, carefully recline over the yoga mat. Place the back of your head on the block at its highest height.
4. Take your arms overhead for a shoulder opener (rest your hands lightly on the block, with the elbows in towards one another as you would have in wheel pose), or hold onto the chair for more support.
5. Stay for 5-10 minutes. Come out the way you went in, slowly and carefully.
Side stretching neutralizes the spine after backbending. Return to the blanket stack you had for blanket bridge pose.
1. Place the top blanket across the bottom two. Sit with one hip right up against the edge of the two stacked blankets.
2. Lie down, keeping your hips stacked and sideways as you turn your torso to place your belly on the blankets. The top blanket is for your elbows, as you take your arms out. Turn your face the opposite direction from your legs, unless that is too intense for your neck.
3. The bottom leg comes forward at 90 degrees, the top leg goes back at 90. Your knees should be directly lined up with your ankles.
4. Stay for 5 minutes. Slowly sit up and set up for the other side.
Up (the wall)
This is a supported shoulderstand, salamba sarvangasana. Another option for “Up” is legs-up-the-wall, one of my favorite restorative poses. Find out how to set up legs-up-the-wall here.
1. Place the chair back against the wall, and two blankets in front of the chair. You want a neat edge for the blankets.
2. Position yourself so that the blanket edge is aligned with the top of your shoulders. This is a very important alignment point for supported shoulderstand, so be exact.
3. Take your feet up on the chair, and walk your feet up the wall. The edge of your seat will remain on the edge of the chair seat. You can keep your knees bent and stay here, or extend your legs. Hold onto the chair legs with your hands.
4. Stay for 10-15 minutes.
Stack all your props on the chair to finish with a gentle, super supported forward fold.
There’s no wrong way to do this, so explore what feels best for you. You can place a blanket or two under your seat, you can stack blankets and block on the chair…there are many possibilities. The main thing is to support your head, and keep it lined up with your spine.
Stay for as long as you like.
You can find more restorative options in my Before Bed Yoga chi.
Happy, happy holidays, without the “daze”. Namaste.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Big-Sky-People.com
Winter is a wonderful time to focus on your well-being! Join Margaret at the luxurious Double T River Ranch in Clyde Park, Montana for a Winter Wonderland & Wellness Retreat this January 24-27 (Thursday-Sunday), 2013. Visit BigSkyYogaRetreats.com for details »