Restorative yoga can offer us sanctuary in troubled times. The relaxing practice below aims to invoke a sense of safety with comforting poses and reassuring meditations. Since some of the poses here open the heart, while others close it—lowering it protectively toward the earth—you could look at this practice as one that brings balance to the heart chakra, anahata.
It is also simple, requiring few props and prioritizing easy transitions from pose to pose. A “minimalist” approach to restoration may be perfect for those of us who find that fussy setups deter us from practicing, as well as those of us who don’t have heaps of props available. (If you like this way of practicing, you may also like A One-Blanket Sequence and A Restorative Sequence Without Tons of Props.)
Certainly “maximalist” restorative practices can be relaxing, and if you do love practicing with props galore, feel free to enhance these poses as you see fit—padding poses by placing blankets under the parts of your body touching the floor or draping blankets over yourself.
Set your bolster lengthwise along the center of your yoga mat, where it will remain for most of this practice.
If you don’t have a bolster, folding a couple blankets—or yoga mats—into a bolster shape will work, too.
You may also wish to have a folded blanket or a pillow nearby (for poses 1 and 2). Minimize disturbances: set your phone on silent, play relaxing music if you like.
We’ll be starting in a fairly bold, open pose: supported bridge pose, which may feel good, but also a little challenging, if you have been curled up or slouched for some of the day. To unfurl your spine, you are welcome to make some gentle movements first: You could do some sun salutes, side bend and twist while standing in mountain pose, then interlace your hands behind your back, lifting your heart up for a few breaths, before coming down to hands and knees for cat and cow and any other poses that would help loosen you up for this backbend.
1. Supported Bridge Pose
Sit on the middle of the bolster. Ease yourself down, so your hips and back are supported by the bolster but the back of your head and tops of your shoulders are resting comfortably on your mat. Drape your arms alongside you, palms up.
You can keep your legs bent, feet on the floor just below the bolster, or, for more of a backbend, lengthen your legs out in front of you. (Lengthening one leg out at a time may feel good, too.) This is a pose that lifts the heart and allows the shoulders to drop.
If this pose feels like too much of a backbend, try placing a pillow, or a blanket folded to serve as a pillow, underneath your head; if that doesn’t do the trick, consider lying on one folded blanket instead of on a bolster.
Check in with your breath, your body, your mind. How does your heart feel? Before settling in completely, make tight fists. Over the course of several minutes, oh-so gradually unfurl your hands, moving so slowly that if someone saw you, they would not notice you moving at all. And as you unclench your fists, imagine your heart itself softening, expanding. Spend a minute or two with your hands gently spread, your palms—and heart—receptive.
Before coming out of supported bridge, bend your knees if you’d straightened them, bringing the soles of your feet back to the floor, and gently wave your knees from side to side a few times.
2. Downward Facing Savasana
Staying on the bolster, roll onto your side, then onto your stomach, for a downward facing savasana. In this pose, your head and neck are off the bolster and your torso is supported by the bolster, legs lengthening back behind you, feet turned whichever way feels good. You could stack your hands on the mat or on a folded blanket under your forehead, or rest your forehead on a folded blanket or pillow and take your arms out into a cactus shape, or any other arm position that feels good. Find a position in which the back of your neck is comfortable, and your shoulders—and the place between your shoulder blades—can relax.
Before you relax completely, to release tension from your face, stretch your mouth wide, stretching your upper lip over your upper teeth (like you are trying to give your upper lip a close shave), and lift your eyebrows high. Make this face a few times, for a few breaths each time, then let your face relax.
Downward facing savasana is a pose that turns you away from whatever is going on in the world and tunes into your inner experience. It may be easy, for instance, to feel your heartbeat, feel your belly moving with the breath, your lower back moving with the breath, your rib cage and your shoulder blades moving with the breath. Imagine a sense of safety and ease filling your heart with each breath, then radiating throughout your entire body. Stay here for several minutes, inviting a sense of safety and ease into every place you feel the breath moving.
3. Crawling Cobra
Since downward facing savasana does round the upper back a little, it may feel good to do some gentle backbending now. Place your palms down alongside your chest, on either side of the bolster, and bring your feet about hip distance apart, pointing your toes back. As you inhale, root down with your hands and the tops of your feet, and lift your chest and your head as high as feels good. Exhale and lower. Try this several times. (Keeping your gaze down may help you contain a sense of relaxation.)
If you like, bend your right knee out to the right as you lift into a gentle backbend, and look over the right shoulder. As you lower your nose back toward the ground, lengthen your right leg back. Switch sides, moving from side to side with the breath, or hold the pose on each side for a few breaths.
The cobra sheds its skin, renews itself. Perhaps as you lift your heart to form the shape of the cobra, you, too, can let something go; it’s almost as though, with every exhale, scales drop away from your body, your eyes, your heart.
After exploring this movement for a minute or two, lower back down onto your belly.
4. Supported Child’s Pose
From your prone position over the bolster, press down with your hands and knees to come to tabletop. Shift your hips back toward your heels as far as feels good, moving toward the back of the mat. For supported child’s pose, rest your forehead on the bottom edge of the bolster. Before you soften into this pose entirely, bend your elbows to bring your hands to the back of your neck. Give yourself a massage for several breaths, squeezing the place where your neck meets your shoulders. Then relax into child’s pose: Your arms can be outstretched, hands reaching as far forward as feels good, or you could drape your arms back alongside you.
Allow the gentle support of the bolster to smooth out your forehead and to soften your temples and the muscles behind your eyes, and soften the place between your shoulder blades—the back of the heart. Child’s pose has the power to invoke a time when we felt protected and loved. Can you recall such a time? See if thinking of yourself as protected now, loved now, helps you to relax even more.
Stay here, acknowledging the love and protection that blankets you, for several minutes.
5. Savasana With Bolster over Your Chest
Ease yourself up from child’s pose. Moving the bolster aside briefly, stretch out on your back, making any movements that feel good to you. Then place the bolster lengthwise on top of your torso. Hug it actively for several breaths—if you like, you could hug it with your arms and your legs, like you are wrapping yourself around the trunk of a tree—and then relax, gently encircle the bolster with relaxed arms (or drop your arms alongside you, if you prefer).
Feel the soft, calming weight of the bolster descending into your chest, your belly. The receptivity you found in child’s pose could turn into generosity now: Send love outward, beyond the edges of your body, your room, your dwelling, into the world, as easily as cherry blossom trees give their petals to the breeze.
Stay here for several minutes before moving the bolster aside and easing yourself back to seated. Place your hands over your heart for a couple concluding breaths, noticing the openness it is capable of even when it feels most vulnerable and the peacefulness that is possible to find even in the midst of a gale.