Feel Off? Strike a Pose.
Whether you’re as stiff as a board or overwhelmed by life, one of these five restorative poses can bring you back to normal, fast.
Yoga, with its focus on mindfulness and gentle poses that work you through your full range of motion, is always a good call when you’re feeling stressed or tight. But on days when even a gentle flow seems to require too much work — or, you know, time — there’s a type of yoga that can feel effortless and effective, and all it takes is a single pose.
“Restorative yoga involves poses that can allow your nervous system to make the shift from the sympathetic response, ‘fight or flight,’ to the parasympathetic response, ‘rest and digest,’” says Danielle Hoguet, a doctor of physical therapy and a yoga instructor in Denver. “This shift helps lower stress levels, decrease your heart rate, and bring your mind and body to a state of peace and relaxation.”
“Restorative yoga involves poses that can allow your nervous system to make the shift from the sympathetic response, ‘fight or flight,’ to the parasympathetic response, ‘rest and digest.’”
Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Yoga Instructor in Denver
The magic happens when you let your muscles completely relax, allowing them and the connective tissue around them, or your fascia, to loosen up, says Hoguet. A bonus byproduct: Any physical tension you may be carrying begins to melt away.
In order for a pose to be truly restorative, it needs to be passive — as in, no muscle contractions or bracing. You should be able to hold it for at least three minutes, says Hoguet. And “aim for only 50 to 70 percent of your range of motion,” because going too deep into a posture can actually cause your muscles to tense up. That’s why many restorative poses use props, like a yoga block, folded blanket or pillow, which help you stay within a comfortable and supported range of motion.
Whenever you’re cranky or creaky and tight on time, here’s your guide for finding quick relief.
- If You’re Feeling Stressed or Anxious: Straddle Forward Fold
Curling forward is, in a way, a less pronounced fetal position with similar benefits. “It gives you that turning-inward kind of feeling and helps deepen your breath to relax you when you are experiencing anxiety,” says Hoguet.
Sit on the floor with your legs extended as wide as you can comfortably separate them (if you have tight hamstrings, bring your legs closer together and bend them a bit if needed), then lean forward, letting your back round. Rest your forehead on a yoga block or stack of books. “The pressure of your head on the block helps you let everything in your mind go,” says Houget. Let your arms chill next to the block, or, for a bigger release in your back and lats, extend your arms forward.
- If You’re Glued to a Screen All Day: Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Spend the majority of your day rounded forward typing on a computer or scrolling through a phone? (Be honest.) Your shoulders are probably crunched up toward your ears, and there are likely knots forming in your upper back. “A supported backbend can counteract the slightly rounded back most of us have when we sit, as well as reset your posture by opening the chest and lengthening the back of the neck,” says Hoguet.
Sit on the floor in front of a stiff pillow so that its shorter side touches your sacrum (where your spine meets the back of your pelvis). Press the soles of your feet together, pull your heels toward your pelvis, and let your knees fall open. Lie back onto the pillow so that it supports your spine and chest and your shoulder blades drop down on either side. You can place another pillow under your head to open up the back of the neck. Extend your arms out wide.
- If You Sit, Run, Repeat: Extended Bridge Pose
Bridges are great for tight hips, whether they’re a result of too much sitting or too much running (or both), which can shorten and tighten the hip flexors, says Houget. “When you add the block, you get an even greater hip extension.” Bridges also extend your back, which may feel tense from either activity, and open your chest, which allows your diaphragm to expand for deeper, more restorative belly breaths, she adds.
Lie face up on the floor with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor a few inches from your butt. Slide a block under your sacrum (the higher the block, the greater the extension). Let your arms lie comfortably by your sides. To get even deeper into your hip flexors, lift one knee to your chest, then extend the other leg so your heel rests on the floor.
- If Your Lower Back Is Bothering You: Supine Twist
This pose “stretches all the tiny postural muscles up and down the spine in a way a forward fold doesn’t quite reach,” says Hoguet. “When you spread your arms wide [forming the letter T], you’re also rotating your shoulder in a way that counteracts a hunched position.” It also just feels really good to “twist out” tension you’ve been storing in your lower back, adds Hoguet.
Lie face up on the floor and draw your right knee to your chest while extending your left leg forward. Cross your right knee over your midline toward the floor on the left side of your body (you can place a block under your right knee to keep your hips stacked). Open your right arm to the right, keeping it in line with your shoulders and your shoulder on the floor, and gently rest your left hand on your right knee or extend it to make a T shape with the arms. Gently, turn your head to the right. Repeat on the opposite side.
- If You Just Want All-Over Relief: Legs Up the Wall
One of the most restorative yoga poses is also one of the easiest. Sometimes called an L pose because of its shape, “this gives you the benefits of an inversion — improving circulation, reducing swelling and calming the nervous system — even though you’re essentially just lying down,” says Hoguet. “It allows almost every muscle in the body to go back to equilibrium,” so it’s great if you’re super sore, unusually tight or all kinds of exhausted.
Lie on your back with your butt about six inches from a wall and a folded blanket or firm pillow under your hips and sacrum to help lengthen your low back. Extend your legs straight up the wall for a hamstring stretch and your arms to the sides to open your chest.
Argh to ah in just three minutes? Even you have time for that.
Words: Ashley Mateo
Illustration: Xoanna Herrera