Restorative Yoga: Relief for Depression and Anxiety


The focus of Restorative Yoga is relaxation and renewal. The body is supported in various yoga poses that are maintained for several minutes at a time with the aid of props.

The props include straps, blankets, balls, walls, chairs, towels, and pillows that safely and comfortably support the body so it can enter a state of deep tranquility—while the mind focuses on the breath.

Yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar is credited with initiating Restorative Yoga. He had some of his students modify poses using props so they could practice without strain. Iyengar explored how using the modified poses allowed individuals to heal from injury or illness.

Restoring the Body

Some Restorative poses benefit the whole body while others target areas such the lungs or heart. All poses are especially helpful in releasing the stress and tension we acquire during our daily activities, and can help alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms triggered by distressing events such a job loss or divorce.

Doing Restorative poses stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called the “rest and digest” system. The parasympathetic system slows our heart rate, dilates blood vessels, increases digestive and glandular secretions, and calming certain muscles. By regularly putting our body in this relaxed state it becomes less vulnerable to stress-related disease.

Restorative yoga also:

  • increases the body’s flexibility
  • quiets the mind while relaxing the body
  • balances the entire nervous system
  • boosts the immune system
  • elevates mood states
  • facilitates the growth of compassion and understanding for self and others

Practicing Restorative Yoga

Many restorative poses are similar to regular yoga poses, only they are done with the support of props and held longer. People generally warm-up with some gentle regular yoga prior to doing restorative postures. It is important that the props are an adequate size to support the body so it can relax deeply into the pose. Sometimes people cover themselves with a blanket while holding a posture, to remain warm and comfortable.

People frequently report a sense of shapelessness and motionlessness when practicing Restorative Yoga. This can cause some individuals emotional discomfort at first—a deeply relaxed state can make us feel vulnerable. Yet, it is this same letting-go that gives our body opportunity to rest and restore itself.

Sources: Do Restorative Yoga; Fit Day; Ekhart Yoga
Photo credit: kim / flickr


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