The other day, I was at a certain fitness center and learned from the coordinator of their interest in adding restorative yoga classes to their schedule. (They were interested in starting up a yoga program in general). I was thinking that is absolutely wonderful as there just aren’t enough restorative options on any place’s schedule and I’m trained in this format. However; to my dismay, I learned that this particular gym doesn’t have the proper equipment to even do a restorative class any justice. Disappointing!!!
I demonstrative a short audition of what a restorative class might be like. It wasn’t easy to say the least. When I finished, I discussed the basics of what a restorative class would be like with the coordinator. I stressed the importance of props and I could see that the coordinator didn’t have a background in yoga but she was at least open-minded.
I’m not hating! The staff seemed genuinely interested in putting together a quality yoga program. I also see a lot of potential here to develop a wonderful yoga program! That’s a win-win.
What is a Restorative Yoga Class Like?
Maybe some of you are familiar with restorative classes and poses. Maybe you aren’t. At first, I was in the latter and I didn’t know what a restorative class was either. It was after my 200 hours of training that I happened upon a class. I loved it and eventually sought out training and regularly include restorative in my personal practice and eventually I taught it.
Basically, my teacher training taught me the importance and healthy benefits of including distressing and relaxing practices. Overall, we as a society are bombarded with stress and being constantly stressed leads to a whole host of unhealthy consequences. Constant stress will kill you!
NOW THAT I’VE GOT YOUR ATTENTION!!!
Restorative classes consist of several poses that are designed to release tension, distress, and totally relax the body. However; to do this, the body needs to feel safe and grounded. These two needs can be accomplished with the assistance of props. Overall, clients will stay in the various poses for several minutes which are quite different from the flow and poses in a vinyasa style class. (It takes approximately 20 minutes into restorative before the body signals itself to go into its parasympathetic nervous system).
As far as props are concerned, you can’t have enough! More is better. Props include mats, walls, blocks, straps, balls, blankets, towels, chairs, sandbags/beanbags, eye pillows, and pillows. All in all, the more your body is supported, the easier it is to release tension and to relax. When completely supported, the results will be a much deeper relaxation and overall sense of zen.
Thoughts on How to Teach Restorative Style Yoga Class with Minimal Props…
Here is the actual point of this blog. How can you teach restorative when you don’t have equipment? What is a teacher to do? In my opinion, this is a very valid question. Here is my take. (Keep in mind, you’ll take a restorative approach, but it won’t be a true restorative class).
As you probably already know and have heard, yoga is first a breathing class then a pose class. (In general, I always start all of my yoga classes with centering, breath awareness, and some type of breathing exercise. Even restorative classes will benefit through breathing exercises). Well with that concept in mind, you can certainly include various calming breathing exercises in your restorative class.
All in all, breathing practices can be done to stimulate the “Vagus nerve” which in turn stimulates the “Parasympathetic Nervous System” to deactivate/calm a person’s “Fight or Flight” response. Anxiety is a symptom of an activated Fight or Flight (Sympathetic Nervous System) prolonged response. Here are two suggestions to try out.
1. Taking time to fully inflate the lungs and to slowly exhale definitely calms a person down. Give it a try! Introduce the “3-Part Breath” and encourage your participants to take at least 6 counts to inhale and 6 counts to exhale. If 6 counts is to long, introduce a 4 count. This exercise can be accomplished while seated, standing, or lying down. Maybe encourage your clients to place their hands on their belly so they can feel the inhale originating from the bottom of the lungs into the belly then through the chest and up towards the collarbones. As they exhale, they would feel the air move from the collarbone through the chest and from the belly as it hollows out.
2. The “4-7-8 or Relaxing Breath” is another great exercise to try out and can be done in various positions also. Here is how:
– All exhales occur through the mouth while making a “whoosh” sound.
– All inhales occur through the nose.
– To start, exhale through the mouth via the whoosh.
– Inhale (4cts)
– Hold (7cts)
– Exhale very slowly (8cts) through the mouth via the whoosh.
– This is one cycle. Have your clients do three more cycles.
3. Throughout the class, encourage an easy deep breath.
My teacher training supported using gentle flowing movements at the beginning as well as when needed throughout the class. These gentle flows are meant to warm the muscles as well as create space in the body so it can relax.
Gentle Flowing Movements: This is a portion of the class that actually can be satisfied. Think Cat/Cow, Spinal Balance, Modified Half Series, Flowing Bridge, Flowing Modified Side Plank, Flowing Thread the Needle, Windshield Wiper Legs, All 4’s Hip Circles, neck circles… Nothing vigorous! Your goal is to relax not energize folks.
1. The king of all restorative poses is Savasana and it is typically the last pose in all yoga classes to include restorative classes. But, you can also start class with Savasana too, if you’d like. The great news is that it doesn’t require any props! Although, props make it better or more relaxing.
So that’s all great and all, you have some breathing exercises, gentle flowing moves, and Savasana, but what about in between? The best course is to get creative and think about what you do have that could be used a possible prop. The one thing you definitely have is a wall! Use it.
2. Constructive Rest Pose is a fantastic pose that transitions nicely with Savasansa in that there is minimal movement. Feet are flat on the floor with knees up. Knees can even be “T-pee’d.” This Pose is perfect for clients who experience low back discomfort in Savasana.
3. Legs Up the Wall Pose is just that, Legs Up the Wall. Have clients put their mats up against the wall and maneuver their legs up the wall. If you are lucky, you might have some extra mats. If that is the case, have your clients roll one up and allow their hips to rest elevated upon the extra mat.
4. Spinal Twist can also be done without props. Normally, a prone facing person would rest their heads and torso on a bolster while legs are bent to one side. Does the place you’re working at have foam rollers? Those could be bolsters. Without a bolster or makeshift bolster, a supine approach will be more comfortable. If clients have towels, encourage them to place a folded lengthwise towel on their mat to rest their spine and head on or multi-folded between their knees. Or again, if you have extra mats, they can be folded up so the clients could lie upon them.
5. Reverse Side Laying Twist is the same as #4 except the head is turned the opposite from the knees.
6. Child’s Pose doesn’t have to have a prop. It would be awesome to have a bolster; however, it isn’t a deal breaker if the studio doesn’t have them available. Try the version where the arms wrap around the legs. Or if you have blocks; get creative, try stacking 2-4 blocks against each other lengthwise to sort of mimic a bolster. Students can lay their towel on top if they happen to have one.
7. Reclining Big Toe Pose, again, this pose doesn’t need a prop. You can have your clients hold and support their leg with their hands. Some prop ideas to make this more restorative include encouraging the clients to use their towels or if you have straps.
8. Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclining Bound Angle/Butterfly is one of my absolute favorite restorative poses when I have full use of unlimited props. The good news is that clients can do this one without props. Just have them lie back on their mats with the souls of their feet together. It won’t be as relaxing, but it is still nice. Towels wrapped around ankles feel nice. Again, if you have assess to foam rollers, prop it on the blocks but as the instructor, you need to hold the roller so your students can lower onto them as the rollers tend to “roll.”
9. Seated Forward Fold have clients fold the back of their mats maybe three times so their hips can be elevated as they pursue the pose. If you have blocks available use them! Blocks can help your participants linger longer in the pose. If you have one block, place it between the ankles. If your participants can have two blocks, have them place the blocks on the outsides of the legs near the ankles or under the knees for tight hamstrings. Either way, clients can settle longer in the pose with the support.
10. Supported Bridge is still satisfying with a single block. Cue the different heights and to position it for sacrum support.
11. Supportive Fish can take more of a restorative approach if you have access to two blocks. One will be a lower height and it will support the back of the ribs and the higher height supports the back of the head. Always be prepared to support people’s heads as a bent back neck can cause some folks to experience some dizziness.
There are more poses out there that you can do with minimal props. I personally would recommend the book “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times” by Judith Lasater. This is a great resource and would help you get familiar with the various restorative poses. Another wonderful option is to take Jillian Pranski’s Restorative online class that is available via Yoga Journal.
Overall, you can get the ball rolling and start to have restorative “like” classes at your fitness or community center with minimal props. Of course, the more props you have the more restorative the above poses will be and then the pose options inventory would increase!
Your Goal is to Truly Teach Restorative so Let’s Get Those Props:
In a perfect world, you’d get everything you’d ask for. We don’t exist in such a world so I offer some strategies.
1. Approach your coordinator and encourage him or her to purchase props. Make your list and list everything with a short justification. You never know, they might buy at least one of your items.
2. Encourage clients to drop in requests or suggestions for props. Drop hints in your classes so when they fill out the suggestion form, they use the correct terms. They’ll be motivated because they benefit.
3. Maybe invite your coordinator to your house or drag all your gear to the gym and teach a true restorative class. Expose them to the totally yumminess. Sometimes, people have to see and experience the benefit in order to see the value.
4. Props can be pricy and the studio may be conservative with their purchasing. Out of all the props, bolsters cost the most so that might be the last thing you can convince purchasing. However, other necessary props such as straps and blocks are pretty cheap. These are a little easier to convince purchasing and are what I suggest you start with. Later you can hint towards blankets or encourage clients to bring their own or at least a bath towel.
5. If clients love what you’re doing with restorative and are willing to buy and haul props to class then I highly recommend each purchasing four Mexican style blankets. Blankets are very versatile and can be folded and rolled in so many creative ways. Plus, it’s easy to carry four blankets in a tote style bag.
I don’t know about you readers, but to me I enjoy teaching and offering a variety of classes. Eventually, I tire of the same old same old. It is nice to change it up from time to time. Restorative is so different from my typical vinyasa classes but it can be challenging to teach properly without props.
Relax, De-stress, Enjoy, and Namaste,