Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Restorative Yoga on a Budget - Cat Not Included

Restorative yoga is a wonderful way to rest, recuperate, gently stretch tight areas of the body, and to let the "thinking brain" slow down while we dissolve into relaxation.  An important part of the relaxation response is to feel comfortable and safe.  The yoga industry has created many props and tools to aid in comfort, and I own most of them!  However, we needn't make our wallets uncomfortable in order to be comfortable during class.  Here are some of the props you might commonly find in a restorative yoga class, and how you can use available items from home or the gym to make yourself comfortable.  Special thanks to our cat, Oreo, for modeling some of the equipment.  Cat is not required for restorative practice.


One of the most common elements in class is a yoga mat.  These can range anywhere from $10 to over $100.  My first mat was a $20 mat that lasted for four years, so good mats can be found cheaply. If you don't have a mat, at the facility where I'm teaching restorative yoga, Boom Fitness Tanasbourne, you may use one of the yoga mats in the group-ex room or line up two of the shorter but thicker black mats.  Even if you have your own yoga mat, softening it with two black mats underneath might enhance your comfort level.

Mat-recycling tip - when a mat starts feeling "old" to you (for me, it's when enough of the top surface rubs off that I feel like my feet will slide), don't throw it out.  You can set it below your newer mat to add more cushion between your body and the floor.  You could also roll it up and secure it with rubber bands to make your own soft foam roller or bolster (see below).


A standard yoga block is 4 inches by 6 inches by 9 inches and is tucked under knees, hips, arms, and any other places that can't reach the ground while you're trying to relax.  Ideally, you will be fully supported by a block, a towel, a rolled-up mat, or the floor in every part of your body so you can relax.  Boom has standard yoga blocks, so you may use what's available at the gym.  If you want a softer, more shape-conforming block (especially for back bends), there are fancy rounded blocks called "Namasteggs," which are quite comfy.  Also, the purple block shown is twice the size of a regular block.  If you have difficulty sitting on the floor, this block might be useful to you.  Just keep in mind that extra blocks are an option, not a requirement, for class.


Many of the poses in restorative yoga are done on our backs, and some of the poses are even more effective if the head, shoulders, and chest are raised so that the arms can relax at a lower height than the torso.  The softest and most comfortable way to do this is on a yoga bolster (see the black cushion in the second photo below).  Think of a yoga bolster as a tightly stuffed sofa cushion a little shorter than a foam roller.  They are very comfortable to recline upon, but they're not commonly found in our homes or gyms.  Here are some alternatives.  Most gyms have foam rollers, and that's what we'll be using during my classes at Boom.  When you compare the feel of a foam roller to the feel of a bolster, the foam rollers can feel hard and unyielding, making it hard to get comfortable.  Fear not!  There's an easy way to make a hard foam roller soft - simply cushion it with a towel.  If that's still too high or feels too stiff for you, folding two towels longwise and stacking them will also aid in comfort.

Here's an example of how to set up for a very common reclining pose, reclined bound angle pose, with "typical" yoga equipment and with two towels.

The bolster set-up with 5 Namasteggs to raise it and to support under the thighs will get you higher up, and it will be very comfortable; it will also cost you a little over $100.  Stacking a few towels, even if you have to buy them, would be much, much cheaper (and there are already blocks at Boom).

So, you might think you need all of this to relax.

But really, you might just need this.

No cats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.  She simply follows me everywhere when I'm home, so I didn't shoo her out of the pictures when her front end was facing the camera.

Namaste, and much relaxation to you.

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