It’s a well-known rule of nature: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every push, a pull. Yin and yang. And yet when it comes to fitness, many of us forget this balance and favor workouts that push our bodies to the edge and beyond, without taking the time to recover and restore.
Research shows that skimping on recovery has major consequences, negatively affecting your mood, energy, and the fitness improvements you work so hard to attain. In fact, you’ll sustain strength gains and fat loss only if you restore your body after breaking it down. (For more on the value of recovery, see “The Recovery Zone“.)
Restorative yoga is one way to nourish your system. It’s relaxing and challenging at the same time, bringing your mind and body back to a place of balance without a huge time commitment.
“Within 90 seconds of deep, diaphragmatic breathing during restorative yoga, you’ll trigger your nervous system’s relaxation response,” says Dana Santas, yoga trainer and creator of Radius Yoga in Tampa Bay, Fla., and the designer of this workout.
All styles of yoga include a final sequence that focuses on integrating the strengthening and stretching you’ve done during the previous portion of your practice. These poses can help prepare your body to tackle your next session.
“Ideally, restorative exercises should be used to release tension throughout your body’s full range of motion, leveraging gravity to ease joints and muscles into recovery mode,” says Santas.
Need some proof to help ease your mind as much as your muscles? Underactive individuals who took 90-minute restorative-yoga classes once or twice a week for 10 weeks experienced lower blood pressure, increased energy, and less stress than their sedentary counterparts, according to research published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.
If you think gentle movement is only for beginning exercisers, take note: Many professional athletes also incorporate yoga-based moves into their routines. According to Santas, who is also a yoga-mobility trainer for several major-league sports teams — including the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and Tampa Bay Rays — a restorative practice can help athletes of all levels improve range of motion, reduce injury, and maximize recovery.
“You don’t have to take an hourlong class to achieve benefits,” she says. “I feel better after doing just one move after a long car ride or flight.”
For an energy boost or muscle release, add five minutes or more of these moves to your routine each day.
- Release tension by selecting poses that target specific areas, or complete the flow of all seven poses. These recovery moves are especially restorative in the evening, as you wind down your day and prepare for sleep.
- Take care to ease into each pose without pain; focus on a sense of release while still maintaining good form.
- Hold each pose for at least five deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat, when applicable.
What You’ll Need
- Yoga mat
- Bolster (optional)
- Pillow (optional)
Note: Avoid any upside-down poses like Rag Doll if you suffer from glaucoma or high blood pressure. Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise programs if you have these or similar conditions.
Why: Whether you’ve been standing or traveling for an extended period of time, or are sore from a heavy lower-body strength-training day, changing your relationship with gravity helps decrease fluid buildup in the legs, relieves pressure in the hips and pelvis, and increases circulation.
- Sit with your right shoulder and right hip about 3 inches away from a wall.
- Lower your right shoulder toward the floor while pivoting and swinging your legs up the wall so both legs are straight, supported by the wall, and both your shoulders and head are on the ground.
- Hold for five or more deep breaths, focusing on the release of tension and weight in your legs.
- If you need more support, place a pillow under your head or a bolster next to the wall and under your hips.
Why: Open up the hips and glutes to decrease tension and increase blood flow while also taking pressure off the lower back and knees. Runners, try this after a long training day.
- From sitting, bend both knees in toward your chest, then drop your knees out to the sides.
- Press the bottoms of your feet together and bring your heels in toward your pelvis at a comfortable distance.
- Place your hands on your ankles, and with each exhalation, relax your knees closer to the floor, if possible.
- Hold for five or more deep breaths.
- If your hips are extremely tight and you need additional support, place blocks or bolsters under your legs.
Why: Hamstrings, back, shoulders, neck — this pose helps release the most common problem areas, and more. Give it a go to loosen up after a total-body interval workout.
- Stand up straight with your shoulders over your hips, palms facing forward.
- With a soft bend in your knees, hinge from your hips and pelvis to fold forward, bringing your torso toward your legs.
- Cross your forearms to hold the opposite elbows.
- Allow your head to hang heavy and upper body to give in to gravity.
- With each exhalation of your breath, relax deeper.
- Hold for five or more deep breaths.
Easy Seated Twist
Why: Rotating the spine in a different axis than it normally rests in helps counteract the impact of hours of sitting. This pose is especially ideal for cyclists who are often bent over handlebars.
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, keeping your upper body tall while lifting your core up and out of the pelvis.
- Place your left hand on your right thigh.
- Reach your right arm forward with palm up. Inhale and rotate to the right, moving from your midback. Keep the arm parallel to your shoulder.
- On the exhale, drop your shoulder blade and tuck your left lower ribs to rotate further; place your hand just outside the hip.
- Hold for five deep breaths.
- Release the pose, and change your cross-legged position so your other leg is in front; repeat on the other side.
Why: Child’s Pose opens up the shoulders and back while the reaching portion opens up the side body. Try this pose after workouts that include core strengthening.
- From all fours, with toes together and knees slightly apart, lower your hips toward your heels and drop your forehead toward the floor.
- Reach your arms forward in line with your shoulders. If you experience pain, back off your reach until you are comfortable.
- Walk both hands 8 to 12 inches to the right while keeping your hips back toward the heels and your head centered.
- Move the hands back to the center and hold for five or more deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Supine Bent-Knee Twist
Why: There’s a reason this is often the last pose before final relaxation in many yoga classes. The twisting motion wrings out any remaining tension in the body, whether in the chest or the glutes. This is an excellent pose to do before bedtime.
- Lying on your back, hug both knees to your chest, giving them a squeeze that stretches the lower back.
- Keeping your left knee at your chest, extend your right leg back to the ground.
- Place your right arm on the outside of your left thigh while extending your left arm out to the side, perpendicular to the body and in line with your left shoulder.
- On an exhale, gently guide your left leg to the right, aiming to keep both shoulders on the floor. Depending on how tight you are, your left shoulder may lift — don’t force it down. Use your exhalations to relax deeper into the pose.
- Look toward the ceiling or over your left hand, and hold for five or more deep breaths. Return to center, then repeat on the opposite side.
Why: While Savasana looks simple and like a pose you could easily skip, it’s the most important aspect of a restorative practice, promoting mindfulness, body awareness, and recovery. Ease into sleep or further meditation by closing your practice with this pose.
- Lie face-up with your legs extended, arms slightly out at your sides with palms up.
- With your weight distributed evenly, tune in to the subtle sensations of your breathing as you give in to gravity, relaxing your body toward the floor.
- Rest in this pose for five minutes or more. If you have trouble releasing the chatter in your mind, focus on counting 20 long, slow, deep breaths in reverse order, from 20 to one.
Workout designed by Dana Santas, yoga mobility trainer for several major–league sports teams, and creator of Radius Yoga in Tampa Bay, Fla. This article originally appeared as “The Restorative Workout” in the May 2016 issue of Experience Life. To order a back issue, call 800-897-4056 (press option 3 when prompted). To get all the articles from each issue of Experience Life, subscribe online at https://experiencelife.lifetime.life/articlesubscribe.