How to do Restorative Yoga without Fancy Props

Open up any restorative yoga book, and you will see images of people lying on bolsters, hanging off chairs, and propping up their knees with blocks. When I first started to experiment at home with restorative yoga, I did not own any props. I modified the postures I saw in my books so that I could do them with just my yoga mat, the ground and the walls around me, and blankets and pillows that I already had on hand. I discovered that the postures were deeply beneficial even though I wasn't using fancy props. My body was supported and I relaxed into a comforting sense of surrender.

How cute are Nuala's little feet? She was enjoying her swing while I took these photos with a tripod and using my camera's self timer

How cute are Nuala's little feet? She was enjoying her swing while I took these photos with a tripod and using my camera's self timer

I feel an immense amount of gratitude toward restorative yoga. Restorative yoga was the only type of yoga I could practice when my hands were sore from going through withdrawal from pharmaceutical creams for eczema (topical steroids). For three years, I avoided using my hands in yoga and as much as I could in my daily life. Often I couldn't move my fingers without pain so I tried to reduce all the things that required my fingers to move. This had numerous consequences including not reciprocating when people initiated a handshake with me, leaning on my husband to cook and clean for us, and choosing to work jobs outside of the restaurant industry. In the same way that my life adapted, I had to change my yoga practice. Restorative yoga was an important ally on my journey toward healing myself. The gentle postures made me feel powerful and calm. Restorative yoga showed me how to feel comfortable in my body even though I was in pain. I was able to find positions that brought me a sense of peace. Restorative postures did not ask my sore hands to do anything but to enjoy a sweet sense of rest.

If you are experiencing chronic pain, find yoga postures that do not augment the pain. You may find that while doing a sequence of restorative postures, you are able to experience the absence of pain temporarily. Relish these moments of freedom. Remember that it is possible to live in your body without pain, even if it was only for a few delicious moments as you floated away to the rhythm of your breath.

Chronic pain sends our nervous system into overdrive. When we feel pain, we are occupying the part of our nervous system that governs our fight or flight response (also known as the sympathetic nervous system). Pain and stress often walk hand in hand into our lives.

The flip side is our parasympathetic nervous system, which governs the involuntary actions of the body such as circulation, the creation of new cells and the destruction of old cells, our immune system, our digestion, etcetera. When we take a deep breath, we send a message to our brain that there are no threats and this helps us switch from the fight or flight mode of our nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

Restorative yoga is a tool to help you transition into your parasympathetic nervous system, where the potential exists for you to heal yourself from within.

When your body is fully supported in a restorative yoga posture, you can release the effort that you usually exert to hold yourself up. In this relaxed state, all your energy can then be channelled towards your own self healing. Try working with an intention that describes your unique goal for self healing. Change the tense of your intention to the present. For example, if your intention is “I want my back to be stronger”, change it to: “My back is strong”. By virtue of the fact that you chose your intention, it is already coming true. The present tense reflects the work you are already doing towards healing.

Restorative yoga is sometimes compared to sleep. It is true that we do some of our best self healing work while we are sleeping. One one the best ways to recover from illness is to sleep. Restorative yoga is even more effective at helping you heal than sleep. When we sleep, tension can build within us subconsciously. Restorative postures are just as restful as sleeping positions but when we practice them, we remain conscious and mindful of the kinds of thoughts that are swirling in our minds. If tension arises within us, we are aware of that tension and we can use our breath to release it.

The inspiration for this blog post came from another yoga teacher who wrote to me to ask for advice on teaching a restorative class at a studio where there are no bolsters. I want to inspire her and all of you to try restorative yoga without props. Props can be helpful but don't let the fact that you don't own props stop you from experiencing the transcendental benefits of restorative yoga.

Legs up the tree commonly known as "legs up the wall" works well inside as well

Legs up the tree commonly known as "legs up the wall" works well inside as well

You don't need a yoga strap, a scarf or tie works great to help you stretch your leg

You don't need a yoga strap, a scarf or tie works great to help you stretch your leg

Use a rolled up blanket to bring the ground closer to you

Use a rolled up blanket to bring the ground closer to you

The rolled up blanket can also support your knees. Do this posture on both sides by switching ankles (bring your other ankle forward)

The rolled up blanket can also support your knees. Do this posture on both sides by switching ankles (bring your other ankle forward)

It's hard to see here but my legs are crossed. This is a hip-opener. Do both sides by bringing your other foot forward and crossing your legs the other way

It's hard to see here but my legs are crossed. This is a hip-opener. Do both sides by bringing your other foot forward and crossing your legs the other way

Take up room in starfish, move your legs apart, spread your arms open

Take up room in starfish, move your legs apart, spread your arms open

Spend ~ 10 minutes or more in Savasana. Place a scarf over your eyes for a DIY eyebag. You will receive all the benefits of relaxing your closed eyes under the weight of the scarf. Enjoy the darkness that your eye cover gives you

Spend ~ 10 minutes or more in Savasana. Place a scarf over your eyes for a DIY eyebag. You will receive all the benefits of relaxing your closed eyes under the weight of the scarf. Enjoy the darkness that your eye cover gives you