Cautions: Restorative Yoga Part 1

When choosing a variation or alternative, consider the following:

  1. The heart / purpose of the pose.
  2. The role it is playing in the sequence.
  3. Why the pose is not accessible or appropriate for this student at this time.

Signs of Discomfort or Agitation

Watch out for signs of discomfort or agitation. After a few minutes in a restorative pose, students should feel a deepening calm.

Teaching Considerations

  • Adjusting alignment should be the first priority. Check that joints are aligned.
  • Equally important in the long holds of restorative postures is that the body is fully supported. Investigate for joints or limbs that are “hanging” unsupported.
  • If comfort cannot be created (or the person has excess energy that won’t allow them to remain still for any longer), student should come out of pose and do Savasana or a seated meditation while others continue.

Misalignment or Hanging Limbs

Watch out for body parts that are unsupported or out of alignment and any other hindrances to comfort and relaxation.

Teaching Considerations

  • See prop and alignment assisting in Restoratives: Hands On.
  • Consider studying with Jillian Pransky, an excellent Teacher Trainer & Restoratives expert for more information and hands-on experience. She teaches that we support the body in Tadasana (Mountain) alignment as the usual model for ensuring nervous system can completely relax.

Be Cautious with Supta Baddha Konasana

Advise students who have very tight or very loose hips to be cautious with Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose). The following teachings are drawn from expert Lisa Walford (article link below).

View the student without any propping. If the knees are a lot higher than hips:

  1. Prop beneath the thighs and shins.
  2. In longer held poses, using blankets rather than blocks will allow the weight to gradually release as the connective tissue softens.
  3. Place the blanket perpendicular to the thigh so as to fully support both the outer thigh and the shin.

If the hips are hypermobile and the knees touch the floor:

  1. Especially if there is pain in the hips, prop in the same way described above.
  2. Some experts recommend propping even without hip pain as there is no advantage to a hypermobile student “flopping” in any poses.

If there is knee discomfort:

  1. The weight of the shin drawing toward the floor may cause the inner knee to sink toward outer knee.
  2. In this case, place a rolled blanket under the shin.

In all cases, support both legs as opposed to only one side:

Lisa Walden notes the importance of supporting both legs, even if there is tightness or discomfort on only one side. “If you only support one side you may torque the body and disturb the sacroiliac joint or lower back.”

Expert Advice

If your hips are tight or very loose, the head of the femur (greater trochanter), will press toward either the back or the front of the pelvis, respectively. In addition, if your hips are tight, the outer shinbones may bow toward the floor and distort the alignment of the knee. Because we often stay in this pose for an extended amount of time, any contortion in the joints will flag the connective tissue with undue pressure. – Lisa Walford


Watch out for extreme arching or stretching. While the degree of back arch in this photo may be appropriate for this teacher, for most students it would be considered an extreme backbend, not a Restorative pose.

Teaching Considerations

  • In Restoratives, backbending shouldn’t be at the student’s maximum arch. Student should be able to fully relax.
  • Similarly, in forward bending, we aren’t looking for a maximum stretch.
  • Oftentimes, “less is more” in Restoratives in order to allow relaxation.
  • To reduce overarching or overstretching, try adjusting propping or placing added support.
  • It can be very effective to ask student to compare options so they can be attuned to feeling the subtle opening and relaxation in “lesser” versions.

Emotional Vulnerability

As in any yoga class, students in may be in a vulnerable emotional state. Teachers are advised to regularly and honestly reflect on their own personal inner state and current ability to hold space for others.

  • It’s usually advised to let students’ own feelings of safety and timing dictate their process. Avoid encouraging an emotional release.
  • Experts advise supporting students without attempting to use therapeutic techniques that are beyond one’s scope and training. When choosing a response to particular situation, refocus on the yoga as opposed to psychotherapy or naturopathy, for example (unless, of course, you are trained in those as well).
  • With an emotional release, simply sitting with student at a slight distance can be ideal. Gentle, focused observation of student can indicate whether hands-on is advised.
  • While some teachers automatically offer a tissue, others prefer asking if one is needed so as to avoid any indication that crying is not okay.
  • Letting the student relax and then moving her into a forward bend such as child’s pose or belly-lying Savasana can be a gentle and effective way to let the emotion complete it’s movement through.