Yoga at Home How to Get Started and What You'll Need …
Yoga for EVERYONE - Gentle, Passive Stretching to Relax and Revive You
Restorative Yoga is a slow, gentle practice made to relax both your body and mind.
Whether you’ve never done yoga or have years of practice, you can benefit from the soft relaxation of a restorative class. It’s gentle, comfortable, and is a great way to make yourself feel better after a long day or unwind if you’re feeling sore.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga (or “active relaxation”) is a type of stretching that uses easy poses, usually held for 2 to 5 minutes each. All of the poses use gravity instead of pushing or pulling to go deeper, and none of positions need good balance or even a lot of flexibility.
When you do restorative yoga, expect to spend a lot of time sitting comfortably, lying down, and using soft props like blankets and pillows, and maybe a wall for support. There are studios that offer restorative yoga classes, but it’s easy to get started at home with some basic props (most of which you already have), about half an hour of your time, and a few videos from Youtube.
What Props Do I Need to Get Started in Restorative Yoga?
Because of its gentle nature, restorative yoga doesn’t need specialty props in the same way vinyasa or even yin yoga does. It’s always nice to have the extra support of a good yoga mat (check out our Complete Mat Guide for more info), but carpeting or some thick blankets can work fine for restorative, too. Just make sure to have padding if you’re working on a hardwood or tile floor so your knees and ankles don’t feel pressure from the poses.
The rest of the props you’ll need can be soft props, and you probably have them already. A couple of firm throw pillows (or bed pillow you can fold), a blanket, and any bolsters or other soft padding will help you sit more comfortably.
What Are the Best Restorative Yoga YouTube Classes?
We’ll get into some more details on what restorative yoga is and the common questions around it, but if you’re ready to dive in, let’s go! This playlist includes some of the best restorative classes from 20 to 60 minutes long that you can do right now.
Restorative Yoga Playlist
If these classes worked for you, remember to jump over to the instructor’s channel to Like and Subscribe to their content. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it helps to support the wonderful teachers that make a yoga free and available resource.
What Should I Wear for Restorative Yoga?
Whatever you find comfortable. You’re not going to be standing on one leg or flipping upside down, so don’t worry about wearing exercise clothes or anything tight. You will be bending a bit, which means loose or stretchy pants will make your life easier, but there’s no need for your clothes to be yoga-specific (if you’re at home, pajamas or a night-shirt are also great for restorative yoga). If you’re doing yoga in a studio, double check their dress code just in case.
How Hard Should I Stretch in Restorative Yoga?
Never to the point of pain or discomfort. On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means you feel nothing and 10 means you feel pain, you should be around a 3 – expect to feel “something” around the area you’re stretching, but it should never get uncomfortable. While restorative yoga can help with flexibility over time, there’s no pushing or pulling, and it’s all about letting your muscles relax and open naturally.
Is Restorative Yoga Good for Beginners?
Yes! Restorative yoga is great for beginners. The gentle, long holds means that there’s a lower risk of injury and you have plenty of time to figure out each pose before moving on to the next one. It also feels really, really good – it’s all of the relaxation and ease of yin yoga without the same intensity. If you’ve never done any yoga before, try a 20 minute restorative class and see what you think.
Is Restorative Yoga Easy?
Yes and no. From a physical standpoint, the poses are easy and shouldn’t require effort to hold. At the same time, many people find the prolonged stillness to be very challenging, especially at first. There’s a lot of time to focus inwards and think, and not a lot of external distraction; this is also one of the benefits, but it can take practice to enjoy immersing oneself in relaxation and breathing. If this is something you find hard, start with shorter holds (2 or three minutes per pose) and work on long, deep breaths.
If you’re doing this at home and need a shortcut to enjoying restorative yoga, try throwing on a light podcast or music in the background. I’ve also found this to be very helpful for people who aren’t crazy about the concept of yoga but would really benefit from the stretching. Ideally the focus would be on the yoga, and yes, the mindset is one of the benefits, but if you or a friend are getting started and need motivation not to move around, a little bit of distraction can go a long way. This is especially true if it means the difference between looking forward to a practice and not doing it at all – don’t pressure yourself into being “perfect” so that you either dread or avoid it.
What are the Benefits of Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga can have range of benefits for both mental and physical wellbeing. This includes:
- Improved flexibility over time, especially in the joints
- Learning to consciously relax, both mentally and physically
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improvement in mood and mindset
- Improved sleep quality
- General relaxation and feelings of connectedness
What not to expect from restorative yoga – because it’s such a gentle practice, you’re not going to get the same gains in balance, flow, or endurance that you’d get from a style like hatha or vinyasa yoga. One of the great things about restorative yoga is that you’re taking a break from anything strenuous or competitive and letting yourself relax and feel good – enjoy it for what it is!
Is Restorative Yoga Safe for Pregnancy?
Ask your doctor! Every pregnancy is different, and it doesn’t matter if restorative is safe in general, it matters if it’s safe for your pregnancy and for you. That’s something the internet can’t answer and a 5-minute phone call to your primary caregiver’s office will give you more accurate information than an hour on Google.
If your doctor recommends yoga for your pregnancy, restorative yoga can be a good place to start. It’s gentle, easy to modify, and has a lower risk of injury, especially if the class is specifically designed for pregnant women. If it’s available in your area, consider taking a prenatal yoga class – the hormones released during pregnancy can make it easier to overstretch, and what’s comfortable can change based on your current trimester. If you’d like some ideas for your home practice, Paula Lay’s Yoga Pregnancy Series is a good place to start. Just be sure to check with your doctor first.
Does Restorative Yoga Help When You're Sick?
Sometimes, depending on what’s going on. If you have something mild like a seasonal virus (e.g. a cold or general stuffy-headed sickness), restorative yoga can be amazing for the joint and muscle stiffness that goes with it, as well as the general feeling of malaise. Even a quick 15 minute stretch before bed really makes a difference and is a great use of this type of practice (it can also be more comfortable to rotate through some restorative poses instead of sitting while watching TV).
If you have a chronic condition, especially one that affects your muscles or bones, this is a conversation for your doctor. This is also true if you’re receiving medical treatment (e.g. if you need ongoing care, such as chemotherapy or dialysis). Restorative yoga may still be a good choice for you – studies indicate that it can help survivors of cancer with sleep and depression (see the Research section below), but you should check with your care provider before adding it to your routine.
Does Restorative Yoga Help You Lose Weight?
Surprisingly, it probably does. While it doesn’t burn a lot of calories (around 100-150 or so for most people), restorative yoga, as with any consistent stretching plan, seems to contribute to weight loss and waist size reduction (see the research section below). It’s not going to make the same difference that focused diet and exercise will, and if weight loss is your main goal, it’s not your most efficient choice, but it definitely has a place as a component of physical wellness.
What's the Difference Between Yin and Restorative Yoga?
There’s no universal right answer for the type of mat material you should use. The texture, weight, and “stickiness” matters based on personal preference, how you use your mat, and what type of yoga you usually do. If you do a lot of yin and restorative yoga, look for lots of padding. For vinyasa and hot yoga, stickiness and the mat’s ability to wick moisture from sweat will probably be bigger factors.
What is the History of Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga is a relatively new type of practice whose foundation is generally attributed to B.K.S Iyengar. Iyengar, born in 1918, studied yoga under his brother in law, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as “the father of modern yoga,” and is credited for popularizing hatha yoga (often just called “yoga”). Iyengar, who also developed “Iyengar Yoga,” continued to practice into his 90s, before passing in 2014.
Because of the newness of restorative yoga, there is a lot of variation between instructors, locations, and practices. Depending on the course you take, poses may be held for any time between 3 and 20+ minutes each, and the focus may be relaxation, meditation, spirituality, or healing. We recommend trying a range of classes and formats (either through online videos or in person) to find the best fit for your personal needs.
What Research Has Been Done on Restorative Yoga?
Studies on restorative yoga suggest that it can improve sleep, flexibility, mental health, overall wellbeing, as well as some metabolic factors like fasting blood glucose and waist circumference. When done with a doctor’s supervision, it can also make a quality of life difference for people in treatment for cancer or who are survivors of cancer. When looking through the studies below, Open Access means the full, original paper (or a final draft) is free to read online; Closed Access articles (papers that journals charge money to read) have a linked summary. Whenever possible, we’ll focus on open access research.
Restorative Yoga and Metabolic Risk Factors (Open Access)
This study, published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, compared restorative yoga and active stretching for “underactive adults with the metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome is collection of health factors that increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. It includes high blood pressure, low “good cholesterol,” high blood sugar, body fat centered around the waist, and high triglyceride levels, with at least 3 of the 5 required for a diagnosis.
For the study design, participants were divided into a yoga group and a stretching group, and both had a combination of professional training and self-guided practice. The study’s yoga group used 5 different poses held from 10 to 15 minutes each, while the stretching participants used a series of 27 stretches involving all parts of the body. For all participants, the study provided group training twice a week for the first 12 weeks, once a week for the next 12 weeks, then monthly for the last 24 weeks. Participants were asked to practice at home at least 3 times each week on their own.
The results of the study showed a lot of improvement for both the stretching and the yoga groups, with the yoga group seeing some added benefit. Both groups lost weight and reduced their waist size, improved overall levels of physical activity, and improved their metabolic markers. The restorative yoga group also saw a significant improvement in their fasting glucose levels that the active stretching group did not.
Restorative Yoga vs. Stretching for Cortisol Levels in People with Metabolic Syndrome (Open Access)
This study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, looked at day-time cortisol levels for people with metabolic syndrome to see if stretching or restorative yoga made a significant difference over the course of a year. Like the other comparison study, participants in both groups did group training twice a week for 12 weeks, once a week for the next 12 weeks, then once a month for the next 6 months, with 3 home practices of at least 30 minutes each per week.
After the full study period, the stretching group showed improvements in cortisol, but the yoga group did not. Using surveys and discussion, researchers found that the stretching group had a greater sense of belonging from their group training, probably because it was interactive, while the yoga was quiet and self-reflective. This greater level of socialization seemed to make a difference in the cortisol levels – so if you’re looking to reduce cortisol, interact with people, participate in a group, and do something that fosters a sense of community. It’s one area where independent yoga seems less useful than other interventions.
Multicenter, Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga for Sleep Quality Among Cancer Survivors (Open Access)
Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, this study chose to examine the impact of hatha (normal) and restorative yoga on sleep because of how common sleep issues are for survivors of cancer – between 30% and 90% of survivors report issues with sleep quality after treatment. For the study, participants were divided into two groups: the control group, which was provided with their ongoing treatment alone, and a yoga group that attended 75-minute yoga classes twice a week for four weeks, in addition to their standard ongoing care.
Yoga made a big difference in sleep. Compared to the control group, yoga participants slept better and used less medication (compared to their pre-trial levels) in order to fall asleep. Participants improved in important areas that the control group did not, including their ability to fall asleep, how long they slept, and their functioning while awake. They also improved significantly more than the control group (in the statistical sense, meaning not likely to be the result of random chance) in global sleep quality, subjective sleep quality, daytime dysfunction, wake after sleep onset, and sleep efficiency. Yoga had the most benefit for people who had the worst sleep issues to start with, but also benefited participants who’s starting conditions were less severe.
Restorative yoga for women with breast cancer: findings from a randomized pilot study (Open Access PDF)
This small study, published in Psycho-oncology, compared a yoga group who added a 75-minute restorative yoga class once a week for 10 weeks, with a wait-list group that continued their standard treatment alone. About a third of participants were actively undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the time of the study, while the remainder were post-primary treatment. The yoga instructor was a cancer-survivor with cancer-specific yoga training. In addition to the poses, the class focused on deep relaxation, breathing, and the principle of being gentle to oneself.
Restorative yoga helped mood and mental health. Participants who engaged in yoga saw improvements in mental health, depression and positive affect when compared to the control group, and personal improvements in fatigue when compared to their baseline measurements. Women who started with a higher negative affect and lower emotional well-being saw the most benefit from the yoga classes. The study also found that distance and health fluxuations can make off-site attendance in yoga classes challenging for people with cancer, which should be taken into consideration in future studies.
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