Relaxing: An Important Part of Your Practice

A few weeks back, Sage posted about consistency and variety. It’s important to establish a regular yoga practice, and it’s equally as important to make sure your yoga practice doesn’t get so routine that it stops helping you grow. Sometimes the yoga we need in order to grow is the kind that is physically challengingwe find ourselves a little sore a couple of days later. Just as important, though, is relaxing, restoring, and using yoga as a tool for recovery (whether that recovery is from a hard training session or from a weekend with grandchildren.)

There are many restorative yoga poses. Sage offered one last week: Legs up the Wall. My other favorite restorative poses are the ones offered below. They allow you to passively open your chest and shoulders (supported fish), gently support your body in a twist (supported twist), sweetly open the side body (supported side stretch) and turn on your parasympathetic nervous system (supported bridge poseor really all of them!)

As we move into warmer spring weather and get more active, it’s important to take time to unwind, relax, and get quiet. Your body needs it to continue to get stronger and your mind (and spirit) needs it, too.

To explore these poses, gather a bolster, block, and a mat. If you have an eye pillow handy, even better!

IMG_8105(1).jpgSupported fish pose: Lie on your back. Position the bolster raised on an incline on a block. Place the small of your back against a bolster and lie back on it. An eye pillow on the eyes may feel nice, too. Want more options? Check out this post on supported fish, too.


IMG_8107.jpg Supported twist: Sit with legs curled to one side. Place bolster with the short-side to your hips. Twist body and drape your belly and chest over the bolster. Your head can turn the opposite direction of your knees for more twisting, as I’m showing here. It may also feel nice to place a block between your knees. (Repeat this on the other side.)


IMG_8108.jpgSupported side stretch: Sit with legs curled to one side. Place your bolster with the short-side to your hip. Stretch the side of your body onto the bolster. Your top arm should drape alongside your ear. It may be nice to hold on to the bolster with that hand. Your bottom arm can settle under your head or drop in front of the bolster, if that is comfortable.  (Repeat this on other side.)


IMG_8106.jpgSupported bridge pose: This version of bridge offers support for the hips. Place a bolster or a block underneath your pelvis. Stretch arms out to the sides and relax. An eye pillow over the eyes might be nice, too. For a deeper release at the front of your hips, try straightening your legs.


Props: Three Ways to Use a Yoga Bolster

Props are an important aspect of a yoga practice. They make some poses more available, some poses more challenging, and many poses kinder for our bodies. In my previous posts on props, we’ve looked at the uses for straps and blocks. This week we look at the sweetest of props: yoga bolsters. Bolsters are versatile, but all of their uses come back to their name: they bolster you. You can sit on them, use them as padding, and relax onto them in supported and restorative poses.


Try sitting on a bolster with your legs in a sweet criss-cross position or try using the bolster as a saddle. Either way, you’ll probably notice that sitting on the ground is a lot more comfortable. You can use a bolster to lift your hips a little higher in any seated yoga pose.

Padding or Propping

Bolsters can be used to pad knees in poses like low lunge. They can serve as props for your hips in poses like pigeon. In a sweet resting pose like child’s pose, they can be used under your head. Any time the ground feels too far away from your body, use a bolster to fill the gap.


My favorite use for the bolster is as a prop for restorative yoga and supported poses. Bolsters can give your upper body a lift in supported fish and can elevate your hips in supported bridge. They can also be used in a traditional savasana pose, slid under the knees for a sweeter experience for the low back.


Styles of Yoga: A Primer

Last week Tracey, a regular student in my Yoga for Aging Athletes class, asked about different types of yoga classes. If you’re heading to a yoga studio or gym, you may feel (as she did) a little stumped while perusing the yoga schedule. What do all the different names and styles mean?

Tracey, 63, is an avid runner and tennis player. She takes my Yoga for Aging Athletes class every Thursday.

Let’s start with a quick primer.

Types of Yoga Classes

Flow is yoga that moves quickly—often at a rate of one breath per movement. In addition, the poses are linked together, so you move seamlessly from one to the other. Other terms that denote a similar style of yoga include Power Flow, Ashtanga, Baptiste, or Vinyasa. These classes often include a focus on plank pose and other poses that require weight-bearing for the upper body.

Hatha is an umbrella term for all styles of yoga. Classes labeled “Hatha” will move a little slower. The poses won’t necessarily link together.

A class labeled gentle, healthy aging, or senior yoga will be mellow and mindful, with a focus on seated poses or modified versions of standing poses. If you’re a cyclist or runner, this is a great type of class to take when you’re recovering from a race.

Restorative yoga is even mellower: you use props like blankets and bolsters to deeply rest and relax. (You can learn about my favorite restorative yoga pose in my post about supported fish.)

Yin yoga involves holding low-to-the-ground and seated poses for several minutes at a time. While you don’t move quickly, long holds offer a different type of challenge.

Anything labeled Iyengar or alignment-based will include clear, detailed anatomical instruction and the use of props.

Heated yoga refers to yoga in a room heated from 75 up to 105 degrees. If it’s Bikram, a specific style of heated yoga, a set series of 26 poses will always be practiced.

Yoga for athletes will be taught by an instructor who is also an athlete. You can expect a focus on release, strength, stamina, and injury prevention.

This is certainly not comprehensive. New styles of yoga are constantly being created, and different teachers and studios may have varying interpretations of these terms. If in doubt, ask the instructor to explain the tempo and focus of the class.

Which Yoga Class is Right for You?

Your yoga practice should complement the other movement practices in your life, not compete with them.

Recovering from a race? Try gentle, Yin, or restorative.

Looking to build your cardio or upper-body strength? Check out flow.

Feeling the chill of winter cold? A heated yoga class could be fun.

Brand new to yoga? Hatha or alignment classes often cover the basics.

And of course, if you’re an active, aging adult, a class labeled yoga for athletes or yoga for healthy aging (or a hybrid of those) is always going to be the perfect fit.



Just One Pose: Supported Fish

Our “Just One Pose” posts answer the question: “If I have time to do just one pose, what should it be?” When it comes to restorative yoga poses, supported fish is an excellent choice, especially if you’ve recently upped your cycling miles, have just finished a long car trip, or have been sitting for long stretches at a desk. Supported fish is calming, and it allows your mind and body to truly relax.


The benefits of restorative yoga poses are numerous. When we settle our bodies into a restorative pose, our breathing slows down and our muscles release. Supported fish gives you a chance to passively stretch your upper back, shoulders, and chest. It’s a perfect antidote to stress—something many of us experience in the winter holiday months.


Place a block at the head of your yoga mat. Put your bolster on top, so it creates a ramp. Sit with your sacrum against the bolster and lie back onto it, so your head is higher than your heart. Drape your arms to the side, letting your elbows rest on the ground. Extend your legs. Close your eyes and breathe, and stay in the pose for 5-20 minutes.


To do this pose with household props: Use a heavy book as a block and a couch pillow as a bolster. Use a hand towel or washcloth as an eye pillow.

For the deluxe version of this pose: Gather several blankets or towels and use these to cushion your elbows, under your head as a pillow, or under your knees for even more support. Dim the lights, put in ear plugs, and give yourself at least 20 minutes of rest.

Change it up: Try this pose with your legs wide, your knees bent, or your feet touching with your legs in a diamond shape. One of these options might feel even better in your body!