Originally published at Yogamatters
How do you relax with yoga poses?
Needing relaxation is different than needing rest. A body that is ready to rest, and is otherwise balanced, can usually find it with some level of ease. A body that needs to relax because it is over-stimulated, stressed, worried, and anxious will have trouble settling in and getting anywhere near rest. A body that needs to relax is out of balance and will just continue to freak out if it goes straight to lying down without a gradual wind-down process. And to be frank, this anonymous body, is very much neurotic me if I am not careful. For me, the process of relaxation is not a straight drop into soft and quiet relaxing yoga poses, but a gradual process working with the rhythm of breath and movement to turn the volume of the mind down. When we’ve laid that foundation the body will find a much more easeful transition into rest. So, maybe as a surprise or not, my essential relaxing poses include a half sun salutation. You can practice the following relaxing yoga poses individually, as a sequence, or combined with your favourite postures to relax.
My relaxing poses
I find a slow and steady half-sun salutation is just what I need to get out of my head and into my body and breath. This means I raise my arms up into upward salute, fold down into a forward fold, come halfway up in a half forward fold, back down, and then all the way up again, happily skipping chaturanga and what follows. I don’t do it to build heat or sweat as I would in a more active practice, but rather to let whatever anxious buzz is still pulsing through me to start to sort itself out. As you practice, be sure to use this series of postures to balance the nervous system rather than excite and focus on long and rhythmically balanced inhales and exhales and movement that lasts as long as the breath. Even feel free to take extra pauses between shapes. After a few rounds, or much more if you still need to move, you will be ready to slow down properly, relax, and rest.
It’s good to get to the ground and become small. Child’s pose allows me to shut the world out a bit and feel the movement of my body and breath very closely. The shape allows my back to take a break and my shoulders to soften. Energy that has been expended outward all day is now implicitly instructed to come back inward. If you need a bit more time before you can commit to coming so deep inward, start with down-dog first until enough energy is expended that you are ready to come down. If this pose isn’t accessible for you due to restriction or pain, lie on your back and make the same shape by hugging knees into your chest.
Cross-Legged Forward Fold
Seated forward folds are wonderful calming poses, but for many bodies they require a lot of preparation before they feel satisfying. My go-to forward fold, when focused on relaxing, is a simple cross-legged fold with a bolster, blanket, or block underneath my forehead. I can even cross my arms to rest my head upon. To me, this is the most accessible of the seated forward folds and can be easily propped underneath hips or underneath head as much as body limitations demand. In fact, I find the mellowness of it, not chasing any massive depth, is what allows me to relax most deeply. If you still need a bit of movement, let the torso sway side to side as you fold down and come up and down a few times until you are ready to surrender downward.
Legs up the Chair
A mild and calming inversion can do wonders to relax the nervous system, but in this type of practice I generally have not warmed the body up enough to do a full shoulder-stand, nor do I want to faff about with all the props I need for the pose. When that is the case I practice Legs up the Chair, which is one of the mildest versions of shoulderstand or viparita karani you can do. Keep the pose super simple and like on the floor or a folded blanket with the back of the calf muscles on top of a padded chair and ensure the thigh bones come down into the hip sockets at a slight angle. If you want a bit more opening you can add a bolster underneath the lower back allowing a small backbend and opening across the lower belly. Based on my experience, this pose can easily be adapted to living rooms and cramped corners of hotel rooms.
If you’ve given yourself a bit of time to get ready for it, a long and restful savasana can be absolute heaven. Go big and commit to fifteen to twenty minutes. Go luxury and place a folded blanket underneath your head and bolster underneath your knees. Cover yourself with your favourite blanket and cover your eyes with an eye bag. Give yourself permission to take rest. If you are a person that needs reassurance that you are not being lazy, know that taking this time will allow you to be more focused, creative and productive later on. But mostly you are doing it for your own health and happiness. Let the body, brain, nervous system, and mind rest.
See more here about how to prop your savasana.