Inspired living

8 essential ingredients for yoga that calms

Restorative yoga

Credit: istock

Have you heard of restorative yoga? It’s the chilled-out, relaxed cousin of the more vigorous styles of yoga that may spring to mind when you think of yoga. Most yoga classes move through a sequence of active poses, and conclude with savasana: yoga’s pose of deep relaxation. A restorative yoga class is like one big, long savasana – YUM! If you are a calm-seeker, restorative yoga is definitely worth a try! The poses are all passive, gentle and aim to induce a wonderfully relaxed and settled state of mind.

A soothing yoga practice can help to ‘balance out the busy’ and grant permission for the body and mind to rest deeply.

A well-designed recipe of restorative yoga poses activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for ‘rest and digest’. In this mode, the heart and breathing rates slow, our natural healing mechanisms switch ‘on’ and deep, refreshing relaxation can infuse body and mind.

In contrast, busy, overly active and stressful situations can place the sympathetic nervous system in the driver’s seat. In this ‘fight or flight’ mode, the heart beats faster, breathing becomes more rapid and the muscles get ready to launch into action! We’re on high alert – ready to fight or flee! Too much time spent in this mode can place stress on the nervous system and even lead to adrenal fatigue and anxiety.

A soothing yoga practice can help to ‘balance out the busy’ and grant permission for the body and mind to rest deeply. Here are the essential ingredients for a calming restorative yoga practice, plus a pose for you to try:

  1. Stillness. A busy body equals a busy mind, and vice versa. Surrendering to stillness can be challenging for those of us forever on the go. Pressing ‘pause’ on movement for a even a short time gives the whole body and mind a chance to recover, repair and reboot. Pay close attention and you may notice that, when the body stills, so does the mind!
  2. Darkness. While there’s no need to practise yoga in complete darkness, soft lighting works well to relax the eyes, which are often overworked and overstimulated by bright, artificially lit rooms, device screens and flashing images. Candlelight can create a soothing, magical atmosphere or you can try an ambient Himalayan salt lamp in the room. With the visual senses softened, relaxation gets the green light.
  3. Quiet. Every day our ears hear and interpret a zillion audio messages from the world – loud, quiet, sudden, shrill, soft, gentle. The central nervous system responds to each sound and, in response, hormones surge through the body, our heart rate rises or falls, our blood pressure alters. Of course, many sounds are relaxing; birdsong, a gentle breeze through the trees, but a regular aural battering of jarring sirens, racing traffic or blaring television shows can send the nervous system into panic mode. Restorative yoga is best practised in silence, or with quiet, gentle background music to rest the nervous system.
  4. Time. Restorative poses are typically held for 5-30 minutes. These long holds give the muscles ample time to surrender and rest, plus the weight of the bones is able to yield to gravity. Once physically rested, the breath and heart rate follow to a slow, steady rhythm.
  5. Warmth. A still, resting body cools down quickly, and it’s difficult to relax when you’re cold! Restorative yoga calls for a comfortable room temperature and the use of blankets over the body to keep cosy. The weight of blankets can help ground a tense body and enhance the nurturing feel of this special practice.
  6. Space. Have you ever noticed how you feel a wave of calm when you enter a yoga studio? A well thought out yoga space will be clean, spacious, minimalist and tidy. Too much physical clutter brings clutter to the mind. Back when we were cavedwellers, it was imperative to have a clear and swift escape route in the event of a hungry lion sniffing about! Although the lions have gone, our modern minds still hang on to this belief. A cluttered or unclear exit path feels stressful – when our surroundings are sparse, calm prevails.
  7. Support. Yoga props are designed to comfortably cradle and support the body, further enhancing a natural relaxation response. Think squishy bolsters, thick blankets, blocks and belts – these all help to make restorative yoga poses more accessible to more bodies. With support, muscles, joints and even the mind can ‘un-grip’ knowing that there is support at hand to sink into.
  8. The poses. Restorative yoga poses are passive: no physical effort is required and most poses take place while lying on the floor. Props are used to bring and hold the body into a carefully designed sequence – just like in an active practice. You’ll move the spine in all directions: forward, backward, laterally and in a twist. The trick is to let the yoga ‘do you’, rather than the other way around.

Ready to try a pose? Here is one for you to use today.

Reclining Bound Angle Pose

Also known as Supta Baddha Konasana (in Sanskrit), this is a juicy, restorative hip opener. It can also help to increase blood circulation in the abdomen, aid digestion and calm the nervous system.

Start by lying on the floor with the legs bent, feet grounded. Take the knees apart and bring the soles of your feet in to touch each other. Use a rolled doona, blanket or cushions under the knees for support. Pop a pillow underneath the head. Add a light blanket if needed to keep warm, and an eye pillow, if desired. Let the breath be full, soft and easy. While in the pose, surrender to the stillness, quiet and warmth – just let go. Savour at least 5 minutes here. (You’ll want longer!)




Bronni Page is nuts about living a life full of fun, adventure and connection. She’s quite the "word nerd" and uses this super-power as a health and wellness writer, crafting engaging articles to inspire everyday people be their healthiest, most wonderful selves.

She’s also a qualified yoga instructor, specialising in restorative yoga (the super-relaxing, snoozy, cruisy style).

When she’s not writing for clients or embarrassing her three kids with hilarious mum jokes, you’ll find Bronni searching out the best almond cappuccino in her hometown of Newcastle, Australia.