My friend asked me about good restorative poses to do after her hikes. As a big lover of restorative and yin practices I was excited to help her out.
I will admit I have not been hiking in a long time. Living in the city with no car I don’t get out to the wilderness much. The hiking I do now is the long walks around the city on various weekends. Instead of weaving through trees up and down winding hill paths, I get lost in the mazes that are Central Park and SoHo. But like her I know when my legs and feet hit exhausted and are in need of some loving care.
Restorative yoga is a practice that focuses on long held poses that are supported by props. When I first started going to restorative classes I would call them my “Lying on Pillows” classes. The props are there to hold the body so we can switch from our sympathetic nervous system (active state) to parasympathetic nervous system (rest state). Not only is this meant to help with agitated mental states but it also helps with calming the body and aid in tissue repair. All around it is a great inclusion to your weekly routine, especially if you find yourself always in the high energy work mode. This is also the case when you’ve gone through some strenuous exercise, like let’s say, hiking a mountain or two.
1 eye pillow or eye mask
Yoga props are super handy but sometimes you are like me and don’t have space to store them. Thankfully most items lying around the house can easily substitute for the traditional yoga props. For these poses I used a throw blanket, a yoga towel, and a large pillow. The thing you are looking for is something you can fold or roll up into shapes but isn’t so large it becomes bulky. Large size towels will work just as well as throw blankets. For bolsters look for a larger pillow that has some firmness to it. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
While you’re in the below poses you can play with breath exercises. You can begin with even counts, an example is a count of inhale for 4 and exhale for 4. If this feels strenuous you can reduce the count to 3 but I wouldn’t go below 2 as 1:1 count can be extremely agitating. Find a breath count that feels comfortable on both the inhale and exhale ie. not taking sharp inhales or multiple inhales to catch up with the exhale. Once you find this breath sweet spot you can stay here or you can begin elongating your exhales for deeper relaxation. I personally like an inhale count of 4 and exhale of 6. You can also experiment with 3:6 or 4:8. Watch your breath and find a spot that feels easy and meditative. If any time this feels uncomfortable resume normal breathing. No one knows your body like you know your body. Breathwork, like any exercise, is a trained skill. Long breath counts aren’t necessarily the better breath counts. Find a place where you are now and work from there. The two rules of thumb to remember is longer inhales than exhales is energizing and longer exhales than inhales is relaxing.
Now on to the poses.
Gentle Heart Opener:
This pose is great to counter all the hunching we can unconsciously do while walking. This is certainly true when hiking with heavy packs on our backs. This gives the back an opportunity to stretch in the opposite direction.
Begin folding the blanket in half the long ways, then fold it in half again hamburger ways. Place this blanket near the center of your mat.
Next take your 2nd blanket and fold it as many times as you would like for neck support. Since mine is a yoga towel I folded it in half 3 times to get a nice pillow measuring about 6 inches across. I place this closer to the top of my mat so there is a gap between the two blankets. You want to be able to place your shoulders in this gap.
Come to lay down with the lower blanket under your hips and back and the head pillow supporting your head and neck. Bring your arms out wide in this pose, I like to cactus my arms like in the photo here. You should feel a slight backbend while your chest opens up across the collarbones. From here you can choose to send your legs out long in front of you or use a bolster under your knees for extra support. If at any point the blankets seem too high you can unfold the blanket as far flat as you like. Just remember to keep the shoulders off the blanket so you still get the benefits of the chest opener. You can stay here for 5-10 minutes. When you are ready to come out roll to your right side and use your arms to slowly lift up to a seat, bringing the head up last.
Legs Up the Wall:
This is a slight precarious pose to get into but I love it for blood drainage/renewal in the legs and some good ol relief of pressure on the legs to counter all the walking we do. For this pose I have two setups.
The first setup I fold the larger blanket once more and place it against the wall. I then take my bolster (pillow) against the opposite side of the blanket so it goes long ways away from the wall. To get up come to sit on the edge of the blanket facing the right with the left leg against the wall. Then come to lay back onto the bolster while simultaneously bringing the legs up on the wall. You want your butt as close to the wall as you can. Depending on the flexibility of your hamstrings you might have to scoot slightly farther away from the wall so your legs can lengthen easier. For extra support you can take a strap around your thighs and tug it snug. This will allow the legs to do less work to stay together when against the wall. Here you can cactus the arms again or let them fall in a t shape. You can stay here for 5-10 minutes. When you are ready to come back out undo the strap if you have one, and roll back down on to your right side, bringing your legs to the ground. Come to sit up bringing the head up last.
Set up two is similar to the first but this time place the bolster against the wall width wise and place the blanket on top. Or I would suggest stacking 3 blankets, experiment with the height. Then take your second blanket and place it farther away from the wall to be used as a head pillow. Getting up the wall is the same by sitting on the edge of the blanket against the wall. Begin leaning back as you swing your legs up the wall. This variation brings your hips up higher than the 1st and allows for not only new blood circulation in the legs but also elevation in the hips allowing for a more inversion experience. Again you can add the strap here for extra leg support.
When you are ready to come out, it is the same as before. This pose can be rather awkward when entering and leaving. Take it slow when transitioning. You can always hang out in fetal position for as long as you like after you come down. There’s no rush in relaxing.
There are so many ways to set up savasana with props. Here I’ve placed the bolster under my knees and the larger blanket under my head and neck. Additionally, I rolled up the yoga towel and placed it under my ankles for extra support. An eye pillow is also highly recommended here for extra relaxation. After you are set up begin to scan down the body to release tension starting with the face muscles. Get as intricate as you like. Can you release tension in each individual finger and toe lets say. After this, come back to your breathing. You can stay in this pose for as long as you would like. I recommend at least 5-10 minutes.
When you are ready to come out take a deep inhale and exhale. Then begin wiggling the fingers and toes. You can then take the arms overhead and full body stretch out from your hands to your feet. Roll to either side and slowly sit back up bringing the head up last. Take a moment after this to sit with your eyes closed, just feeling the different sensations in the body. When you are ready, go ahead and close the practice. I like to close by giving thanks to my body for all its hard work followed by a single sound of om. You can do this or find your own way to close your practice before moving into the rest of your day.
With love, Namaste