A Restorative Yoga Sequence for Tight Spaces

Sometimes yoga space is limited and there’s barely enough room to fit all of the students. There’s a variety of reasons this might be the case: an influx of new students with new year’s resolutions, the class or teacher is a favorite, the time is convenient, or maybe the room itself is small.

Whatever the reason, sometimes a class sequence must be confined to the parameters of each student’s mat. In a flow class, this isn’t typically an issue, but in a restorative class, with many bulky props, it definitely can be. First, there’s the challenge of where everyone is supposed to put all their props. Second, there’s the challenge of a large number of props required for a well-attended class—not every studio is stocked with two bolsters or four blocks for each person.

In the spirit of welcoming as many souls in need of a restorative yoga session as possible, here is a sequence that can be done when space is tight and props are limited. It’s designed to fit a 60-minute time slot and involves just one bolster, two blocks, and one blanket per student. Moving the props is kept to a minimum because once bolsters get lifted overhead, things can get chaotic!

So, as if you were executing a game of Tetris, maximize the space by organizing the mats efficiently, allocate the props, and prepare to offer a restful, restorative, and smooth experience with a minimal number of transitions.

Opening: Yoga La-Z-Boy Recliner (7 minutes)

To set up for the first pose, place a block widthwise, on its medium setting, about six inches from the back edge of your mat, where your head would rest. Then place a second block, also widthwise, on its lowest setting, about three inches away from the first block, closer to the middle of the mat. Lean a bolster lengthwise over both blocks to form a ramp. (Feel free to lay your blanket on top of the bolster if you like.)

Sit in the middle of your mat so that your hips are about six inches or so from the low edge of the bolster and then ease your way down onto the inclined bolster. If you are tall or have a long torso, and your head is not supported by the bolster, sit up and slide farther down the bolster, until you can recline with your head supported. You can rest your hands on your belly or alongside your body with your palms turned up. You can bend your knees and place your feet underneath them or keep your legs straight.

Begin to breathe in and out deeply. As you breathe in, note, “This is my inhale.” As you breathe out, say to yourself, “This is my exhale.” Keep repeating this mantra to yourself until you feel that you can continue to breathe deeply without focusing on it. Then bring your attention to your jaw, and if you’re clenching it, see if you can soften there so that there’s space between your upper and lower jaws. Gently place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth. Allow your jaw and facial muscles to relax even more.

To come out of the pose, engage your core muscles and lift your head, shoulders, and torso up off the bolster. Sit comfortably for a couple of breaths, making any movements in your hands, feet, arms, and legs that feel good to you.

Gentle Caterpillar (5 Minutes)

Straighten your legs out in front of you, then roll up your blanket and place it under your knees. Relax your knees and ankles. Inhale to lengthen your spine, and exhale to walk your hands forward, on either side of your legs, as you fold forward from your hips. You needn’t go too far, as this is a restorative sequence. When you have arrived at a place where you feel comfortable remaining for five minutes, relax your back muscles and let your spine round. You can tuck your chin in toward your chest or keep it lifted an inch or two.

To come out of the pose, slowly lift your head and lengthen your spine, coming upright as you walk your hands back toward your hips.

Reclined Butterfly on the Yoga La-Z-Boy (5 minutes)

Lie back onto the bolster. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together with your heels 12 to 18 inches away from your hips and let your knees relax out to the sides. Fold your hands and forearms on your belly or rest them on the mat alongside your body.

Relax your hip muscles. Allow gravity to do the work here, drawing your knees, thighs, and shins toward the ground. Allow your upper body to be completely supported by the bolster.

After five minutes, plant your feet hip-width apart and windshield-wiper your knees from side to side. To move out of the pose, ease yourself onto your left or right side and use your hands to press the floor away and bring yourself up to sit.

Supported Side Deer (10 Minutes—5 on Each Side)

Turn to face the right side of the mat and bring your right hip up against the end of the bolster. Bend both of your knees to the right and stagger them in an arrangement that is comfortable for you. You might want to place the blanket under your knees or ankles. Twist so you can place your hands on either side of the bolster and ease the right side of your torso and head onto it. Gaze to the right.

Take deep breaths, and let your inhales expand the left side of your rib cage. After five minutes, press your palms into your mat so you can lift your torso away from the bolster and switch sides.

After completing the second side, press your palms into the earth to lift your torso away from the bolster in preparation for the next pose.

Supported Side Fish (10 Minutes—5 on Each Side)

Remove the blocks from under the bolster and place it horizontally on the mat, about one third to halfway down. Place a block widthwise on its lowest setting about one foot from the back edge of your mat, where your head would rest when lying down.

Lie on your right side with the bolster supporting the right side of your rib cage and your right arm just in front of the block. Allow the right side of your head to rest on the block. Stack your knees and bend them to the right; stack your hips as well. Let your left arm rest along the left side of your body, or, for a greater stretch, reach your left arm overhead.

Breathe deeply and allow the left side of your rib cage to open like a fan on your inhale and softly release on your exhale. 

To come out of the pose, bring your left arm down if lifted overhead. Roll onto your back and then switch sides.

Supported Fish (5 minutes)

Roll onto your back so that, depending on your height, the bolster supports the space between your low or mid back and the bottom of your shoulder blades. Rest the back of your head on the block. You can rest your arms alongside your body or place your hands on your belly. (For more stretch, raise your arms overhead and let them rest on the floor above your head, palms up.) You can lengthen your legs as you would in savasana or bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.

To come out of the pose, if your legs are straight, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the mat. Let both knees fall over to the left side as you roll onto your left side. Press your right palm into the mat, in front of your chest, and press up to a seated position.

You won’t need your props for the next two poses, so you can move them off to the left side of your mat. (Note to teachers: If you're offering this sequence in a tight space, it can be helpful to ask everyone to move their props off to the same side, and to arrange them in the same way, in order to minimize the amount of space they take up.)

Legs in the Air (2 Minutes)

Ease your way onto your back. One at a time, lift your legs toward the ceiling, keeping your ankles and knees relaxed. Imagine that your legs are soft and floppy, like noodles. Run your hands up and down the backs of your thighs, soothing away any tiredness or tension. Close your eyes or allow your gaze to soften. When your legs feel invigorated, stop massaging them and let your arms rest alongside your body.

Knees to Chest (5 Minutes)

From legs in the air pose, gently reach up to clasp your shins and bend your knees toward your chest. Give yourself a gentle back massage by rocking from side to side for a few breaths and then relax into stillness.

Left Side-Lying Savasana (10 minutes)

Roll onto your left side and place the bolster between your knees, or under your right arm in front of your chest, or so that it's supporting your bent right knee (your left leg will be straight in the last option, as pictured above). Find a position that is effortless and supported here. You can also use the blocks and the blanket to fill in any gaps and to support your limbs and head (two different options with the blanket are shown here).

Savasana does not always need to be done lying on your back—in fact, if lying on your back triggers a cough reflex, low back or other pain, or dizziness, then it’s better to find a position that’s more comfortable. Lying on your side in savasana can be a welcome change as it allows your body to find ease in a different way.

A crowded class doesn’t have to equal chaos, nor does it have to make the students feel crowded in their practice. By taking into account the space you have to work with, limiting props, and minimizing transitions, you can create a tranquil experience for rest and restoration, no matter the number of participants.

Photography: Andrea Killam

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Janice Quirt

Janice Quirt

Janice Quirt first discovered yoga as a child in the 70s, watching her mother flip through a yoga book to try poses in their basement. Following that, her favourite part of playing rugby was leading... Read more>>  

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