Restorative Yoga Is All About Relieving Stress With Gentle Stretches—Here Are 6 Beginner Poses to Try

If you've never tried restorative yoga, here's what it is—along with its mind-body benefits you've been missing.

For someone who's never practiced yoga, the thought of contorting yourself may be far from your idea of relaxation and restoration. But don't be fooled—there are different types of yoga which look different depending on the modality. While you can always try a more intense, accelerated, and strenuous form of yoga to get your heart rate up and muscles working (in other words, to practice yoga as a workout), restorative yoga is slightly different and may be just the right prescription for mental catharsis, muscle relaxation, and stress relief.

What Is Restorative Yoga?

Restorative yoga is a slower, more restful, more passive approach to yoga that's meant to melt away muscle tension, create space in the body, and alleviate stress. Though rooted in the same discipline with many familiar, fundamental poses as other types of yoga, restorative yoga is less about building strength or working up a sweat than it is about deep mental and physical relaxation.

During a typical session of restorative yoga, at home or at an in-person class, you'll likely hold just a few—often very few—tension-relieving stretches and positions for longer than, say, energizing vinyasa yoga (which flows from pose to pose more fluidly and quickly). You'll likely pay close attention to your breath while maintaining a pose: breathing deeply into each stretch, decompressing tense areas, focusing on what you feel and think, and cultivating a connection between brain, breath, and body.

Restorative yoga often incorporates helpful props—such as yoga blocks or bricks, pillows or bolsters, or a blanket or towel—that support the body in various poses. You might also use straps or bands to help hold, lengthen, or deepen specific stretches.

What Is Restorative Yoga? Restorative Yoga Meaning, Benefits, and Easy Poses to Try
Getty Images

Restorative Yoga Benefits

Studies have found yoga to be beneficial as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) strategy—an add-on to your current wellness routine. (Other examples of therapeutic CAM approaches are meditation, acupuncture, massage, and intentional dietary changes). It's no wonder that Stephanie Rodriguez, LMHC, founder and lead therapist at Emergent Mental Health Services in New York City, is a proponent of yoga for her clients.

Rodriguez says that restorative yoga, specifically, can help both the body and mind. "Yoga helps regulate the nervous system," she explains. "That's the key to regulating your emotions, reducing cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and lowering blood pressure and heart rate, which alleviates the nervous system and [helps you develop] a more effective stress response over time."

As a psychotherapist and advisory member for Hope for Depression Research Foundation, Rodriguez recognized movement as a way to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. "Since the body stores stress in common areas like the neck, shoulder, and hips; yoga helps with stretching and opening up these areas to release stored stress," she explains. "It also eases chronic pain, which can be a symptom of trauma." Some examples of chronic pain are frequent headaches, low back pain, and nerve damage.

Restorative yoga is wonderful for both true yoga beginners and more seasoned practitioners—everyone benefits from weaving low-impact, low-intensity movement into their fitness routine. If you are a novice and just starting out with restorative yoga, Gina Ward, a certified yoga instructor and founder of Heart & Grit coaching, says it's important to recognize that different postures may bring out different reactions in different people. And don't be alarmed: They may even induce some momentary stress for some—it seems counterintuitive, but it's totally normal.

"Any type of backbend or heart opener [pose] exposes the chest and gets the nervous system going in the opposite direction than it's used to going," Ward says. "It's a vulnerable position because you're putting your heart forward, whereas when you're stressed, you kind of hunch your shoulders or [cross] your arms to protect the soft part of your body."

Someone going into a restorative yoga class, or an at-home practice with a lot on their mind, may struggle through some poses at first, or take a minute to fully execute them and allow their body to open up and relax. For example, Ward says that for a while, wheel pose was inaccessible to her. "It wasn't until I had a really good cry one day that I was able to do the wheel. It wasn't actually anything in my body, it was something I needed to move in my mind."

Try these six stress-dissolving, beginner-friendly, restorative yoga poses.

01 of 06

Upward Dog

Restorative Yoga: woman doing upward dog yoga pose at home
Getty images

Ease into this lovely chest-opener to expand your lungs and diaphragm, gently stretch your abdomen, and subtly strengthen your wrists and shoulders.

How to do it: From a plank position, lower yourself to the floor. As you near the floor, tuck your toes under, straighten your arms, and lift your chest toward the sky. To execute properly, remember to pull your shoulders down and away from your ears, and draw your shoulder blades toward each other.

02 of 06

Child's Pose

Restorative Yoga: Woman doing child's pose
Getty images

Let this fundamental floor pose be your go-to stretch to decompress the spine (especially the lower back), open up the shoulders, and offer a moment of peace. Child's pose is a great refuge for anytime you need a break from more vigorous poses, too. Return to it as often as you need to, and hold for however long feels good, breathing deeply into the lower back and rib cage.

How to do it: Kneel with your knees spread at a slight V-angle and toes touching (like the point of the V). Sit back on your heels and lower your chest toward your knees. Extend your arms in front of you, and let your head rest on the mat.

03 of 06

Wide Angle Forward Fold

Restorative Yoga: woman doing wide-angle forward fold yoga pose
getty images

Among its many physical benefits, yoga is a helpful way to process trauma and other forms of emotional unrest, according to DuShaun Pollard, a Chicago-based registered yoga instructor and founder of Sage Gawd Collective. "[Wide Angle Forward Fold] is my go-to stress-relieving pose—and I use a chair," she says. "I love it because it's a combination of strength and surrender since I can exhale deeply in this pose."

How to do it: From standing, step your legs 3 to 4 feet apart (a bit wider than hip distance), and then place your hands on your hips. Lengthen your torso toward the sky, and then slowly begin to fold your upper body over. You can place your hands on the floor directly under you, stretching them behind you on the floor; or fold them behind your back using whatever expression with your hands feels best.

04 of 06

Bridge

Restorative Yoga: woman doing bridge pose yoga at home
getty images

Wheel pose is the fullest expression of this back-bend position, and it's typically done toward the end of the practice. But beginners can (and should) start with a less intense, basic bridge pose, which is fantastic for spinal mobility, glute activation, and opening up the hips and chest.

How to do it: Start by lying on your back with knees bent and heels close to your butt. Arms are lying straight on the ground at your sides, and fingertips are stretching toward your feet. Press your feet firmly and evenly into the ground, gently squeeze your glutes (butt muscles), and lift your hips off the mat.

05 of 06

Seated Forward Bend

Restorative Yoga Pose: seated forward bend with yoga bolster or pillow
Getty Images

This pose offers an amazing stretch to your hamstrings, booty, and back—but even better, it helps improve digestion, calm the nervous system, and lower blood pressure; making it the ultimate pose for stress relief.

How to do it: Sit up straight on the floor with your legs and feet out in front of you and close together. Place a pillow, cushion, or yoga bolster on your lap, and then fold over your lap (and the pillow) with your arms stretching forward toward your feet. (If it's too difficult to reach forward because you aren't flexible or your hamstrings are too tight, prop a rolled-up blanket under your knees.) Soften your gaze or close your eyes while resting your forehead on the cushion.

06 of 06

Savasana

Restorative Yoga Pose: Savasana corpse pose with towel under knees for support
Getty Images

Savasana (or corpse pose) is the ultimate reset for your body that benefits digestion and calms the sympathetic nervous system.

How to do it: Start by lying on your back with a bolster (or pillow or rolled-up towel) under your knees, and a blanket pulled over you. Let your arms rest by your sides with palms facing up. Let your knees and feet fall to the side if that's how they want to relax naturally.

Instead of a bolster behind your knees, you can place a cushion under your head and upper back, giving your spine support and opening your chest and breathing pathways.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles