Can you still offer students a nourishing, soothing Restorative Yoga class without the use of multiple ‘studio’ props?
Bliss Baby Yoga’s Operations Manager and Restorative and Accessible Yoga Teacher, Robyn Bell, shares how to teach more with less.
I’m personally fairly partial to a really lush Restorative Yoga practice with all of the glitz and glamour. Four bolsters, lots of blankets, cushions, a sand-bag, multiple eye pillows (because they can be used in so many ways), a chair, a wall, blocks, straps – the works. I’ll find a way to use it all, and there’s nothing I love more than creating a ‘yoga nest’ of props.
Having trained in Restorative Yoga (with Bliss Baby Yoga’s own Star Despres) and Accessible Yoga, props are a key component to how I teach and practice. Traditional props, although lovely, aren’t however always available or essential for a supportive and nurturing asana practice.
Perhaps you teach in a community setting, workplace or school where props aren’t available? Maybe you teach online where you have to work with what your students have access to in their home? Or, with consideration of the fact that this blog was written in 2020, perhaps you teach at or own a studio where you have always incorporated lots of props in your classes, but now have to find alternate ways to keep your community safe and supported in their asana practice.
With that in mind, here are my go-to Restorative Yoga postures which don’t require elaborate prop set-ups to be supportive, accessible and nurturing for the body, mind and nervous system:
Constructive Rest Pose
This can be a potent Restorative Yoga posture, with minimal or no props required. To set up for Constructive Rest, lie on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor and hip-width apart. Find that ‘sweet spot’ distance between your buttocks and your heels where you feel as though your shin bone and thigh bone are resting against each other like two cards in a house of cards, releasing tension from the psoas.
*Optional props – a folded blanket or towel draped over the knees can give a sense of ‘grounding’ in this shape. A yoga strap (or other variation – scarf tied in a loop, or a belt) around the thighs can also add a greater sense of stability in the lower body.
Supta Baddha Konasana
This posture can be ‘lushed up’ with lots of soft props, however it can also be practiced in a ‘minimalist’ way. To make this posture ‘restorative’, having support under the knees/thighs is key to avoid a sense of pulling or strain in the groin area. This support can be provided with:
- a couple of rolled towels, like mini bolsters, under the thighs (bringing them in closer to the top of the thigh / hip crease will offer more support)
- a single rolled towel (or blanket) placed over the feet and then tucked under the calves or thighs (pictured below). Bunching the towel/blanket up the ends can also help create more height/support.
- blocks under the thighs/knees (I like to tilt the blocks slightly so that the thighs are resting on a flat surface rather than a sharp ‘edge’ of the block)
- or if you don’t have any props, placing fists under the upper thigh can provide ‘prop-free’ support (just be sure not to ‘clench’ your fists, and perhaps don’t hold the shape for as long with this option).
Bridge on a Block
As the name suggests, this Restorative Yoga posture requires just one block (or two blocks right next to each other if that feels more stable for your body), placed under the sacrum, preferably on either the middle or lowest height for a Restorative practice. A block could also be replaced with a neatly folded towel or blanket (or a thick book if your students are at home taking your class online).
This pose can be practiced without props, however, it may not feel comfortable/accessible in all bodies, particularly for those with restriction or pain in the knees, hips or ankles. A nice alternate can be Crocodile Pose (pictured below), lying on the belly, with forearms stacked under the forehead. A small addition to add comfort to this shape is a rolled towel under the fronts of the ankles. A rolled or folded towel under the hips can also offer a bit of added lengthening through the lower back and padding under the front hip bones. (This can also be used as a variation of forward-facing Savasana).
Mountain Brook (Heart Opener)
If you enjoy any kind of ‘supported Fish Pose’ variation, reclined over props, then Mountain Brook is a lovely low-prop option. It can be practiced with a folded or rolled towel under the shoulder blades, with shoulders resting on the floor. Students may use an optional second small folded towel (even a folded jumper) under the head if that feels more comfortable for the neck. As this posture would often be taught with a bolster under the knees, keeping the knees bent and feet on the floor (even knees knocking in towards each other) can be a kinder option for the lower back than having legs extended along the mat.
Unravelling the spine with gentle twists can feel divine. For a classic Supine Twist with hips, knees and lower legs stacked, a folded towel or block under and/or between the lower legs can take some pressure off the lower back and the back of the pelvis to make this shape more restorative. If the back shoulder is lifting, you can use a folded towel to ‘bring the floor up to you’, or create a little kickstand with your back arm, with elbow resting on the floor and hand resting on the back. For bonus points – I love a folded towel draped over the top thigh for a ‘grounding’ sensation from the added weight.
A gentle windscreen wiper twist can also be incorporated as a transition between ‘static’ shapes as an alternate to a longer held shape, as some students will require more support to feel comfortable in a static supine twist than the ‘minimal props option’ provides.
In its Restorative form, Pigeon Pose can usually be quite prop-heavy, with options for a horizontal bolster under the hips, a vertical bolster under the torso, and additional support from blankets. A nice prop-minimal variation of Pigeon Pose is the ‘figure-four’ shape, with one ankle crossed over the opposite thigh just above the knee. The lower foot can be resting on the floor, on a block, or, my personal favourite, against the wall with the shin (roughly) parallel to the floor.
Legs up the wall
This is a key Restorative Yoga posture, and an ideal ‘if you could do one yoga posture every day’ choice. There are of course ‘bells and whistles’ that can be added in, but in its simplest form, all you need is some wall space. To make this shape feel a little more ‘secure’ as needed, you might wrap a towel around the lower legs, or over the feet and behind the calves, replacing a strap or blanket that you may otherwise use to support the legs in Viparita Karani.
If you’re working online with students who are at home and don’t have access to a wall, then a door or the side of a dresser will work, or even ‘legs up the chair’ with the calves resting on the seat of a chair is another great option.
And finally… The un-sung hero of ‘minimalist’ props
A really simple Restorative Yoga prop, which is a house-hold item yet can be overlooked, is the humble beach/bath towel (or two). It can be something students are asked to bring to studio classes, or an at-home prop that most students have access to for online classes.
If you often use sand-bags or blankets in your practice, a folded towel (or two) over the front of the hips in supine shapes, or over the back of the pelvis and lower back in prone positions may provide a similar calming and nurturing touch to these shapes. Or, even draped over the top thigh in a simple knees-together supine twist, a folded towel can add a little bit of weight and lovely sense of grounding. If you are creative enough, a towel or two can replace blocks, blankets, a strap – even your mat!
If you’re inspired by this post please see our new ‘Pared-Back props’ Restorative Yoga Online Classes. Taught by Bliss Baby Yoga Founder and Director Ana Davis, these classes have been especially designed with the use of minimal yoga props in mind. We’d also love to see how you’re adapting your teaching and/or yoga practice to current times, please share your set up (or lack of!) with us on social media using the hashtag #mymessyyoga.
If Restorative Yoga is your passion, our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Level 1 + Level 2 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Courses will give you all the tools, knowledge and skills you need to launch you with confidence as a Restorative Yoga teacher. You will enrich your own personal practice, while adding nourishing postures to your yoga teaching repertoire.
Robyn Bell is our Bliss Baby Yoga Operations Manager and a yoga teacher specialising in Chair Yoga and Restorative Yoga, who is passionate about making yoga classes and spaces as accessible and affirming as possible. Connect with Robyn on instagram @kind_yoga.
Illustrations by Sophie Duncan www.deerdaisy.com
Further Reading related to this topic: