On active recovery days, experts recommend expending just 30 percent of maximum effort. “This gives you the opportunity to assimilate the benefits of your most recent workouts so you can rise to your next level of fitness,” says Ariel Kiley, a therapeutic yoga teacher and group fitness instructor at Equinox SoHo in New York City.
To reach your goals more quickly, your routine should include practices that help your body down-regulate, or shift it into parasympathetic dominance. “That’s your rest-and-digest system,” Kiley explains. “This is the state where all the repair systems go to work building new muscle cells and fortifying your bones.”
A restorative yoga sequence puts you in that state. Unlike asana poses common in Vinyasa yoga, restorative poses encourage your nerve cells to recover by allowing every part of the body to relax, says Miriam Rosetti, an Iyengar-trained yoga teacher based in New York City. “Non-contracted muscles can then receive the oxygen supply they need, which they’re potentially starved of during physical activity."
If your muscles are tight, stretching them for 10 seconds won’t do much good. “It takes time for a stretch to significantly change the resting length of soft tissues like muscle and fascia,” Kiley explains, adding that you should hold a stretch for at least one minute. This helps increase your range of motion and optimize alignment when you work out.
In the slideshow below, Kiley demonstrates eight restorative poses that put your muscles in a mild stretch and send you into recovery mode. Focus on deep, rhythmic breathing throughout and keep your eyes closed. "This reduces sensory input so you're less stimulated by your environment, which will have a calming effect," she says.
Kiley recommends doing the full sequence, which takes anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes, in order once a week. On active days, pick and choose a few poses that stretch the muscles you exercised in your session that day. "It’ll restore your body so you can come back stronger tomorrow,” she says.
Photography by Mike Rosenthal. Art direction by Kathryn Marx. Styled by Faye Power. Ariel wears Alo sports bra and leggings available at The Shop at Equinox.
Place a chair at the base of a yoga mat and a folded blanket on top of the mat. Lie down on the blanket with glutes near edge of mat, legs bent at 90 degrees, and calves resting on the chair. Wrap lower legs in a blanket so the muscles can completely relax. Lay arms out to the side, palms facing up. Hold for 5 to 8 minutes. Benefits: Resets the natural curves of the spine and has an intense soothing effect, thanks to the swaddling
Place a blanket over a yoga mat and lie down, with another folded blanket to the right of your head and a bolster or cushion to the left of your hip. Lay your right arm on the blanket near your head, then twist your spine and place right leg on the bolster or cushion to the left, stacking your hips. Rest left hand on outer thigh. Hold for 3 minutes, then switch sides and repeat.
Benefits: Stretches the glutes, outer hips, lower back, chest, pectorals, and IT bands
Place one block or cushion at the top of a yoga mat, one at the center of the mat, and a bolster or folded blanket lengthwise farther down. Lie down with head resting on the top block or cushion, ribs resting on the other, left leg bent with foot under right hip, and right leg extended, resting on the bolster or folded blanket. Rest forearms to the sides of head. Hold pose for 3 to 5 minutes, then switch sides and repeat.
Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors and glutes
Place one block or cushion at the top of a yoga mat and another block or cushion about a foot and a half farther down. Lie down on your back with one block or cushion under head and the other under shoulder blades. Lay arms out to the sides and lengthen legs. Hold for 5 to 8 minutes.
Benefits: Extends the spine and stretches the chest and anterior shoulders
Place a folded blanket over a yoga mat and sit with knees together, legs bent, and feet pointed and resting to the sides of hips. Place a bolster lengthwise behind you, then lean back, lying down on bolster. Straighten arms on the ground above head. Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
Benefits: Stretches the entire frontline of fascia in the body, especially hip flexors, quads, shins, and feet
Place a bolster or cushion lengthwise on a yoga mat and one block on either side of the mat. Lie down with back resting on the bolster or cushion, legs bent, knees resting on the outer blocks, and bottoms of feet together. Hold for 5 to 10 minutes.
Benefits: Stretches adductor muscles, chest, and anterior shoulders
Place a folded blanket over a yoga mat and sit down with legs bent, knees wide, and feet under glutes. Lift glutes and place another folded blanket between calves and hamstrings. Place a bolster lengthwise in front of your body, with the end of it resting between the knees. Lean forward and lie down on the bolster, with head turned to one side. Spread arms out to the side with elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands resting on either side of head. Hold for 3 to 5 minutes, face the other side and repeat.
Benefits: Stretches lower back, hips, feet, knees, and rhomboids
Place a folded blanket on top of a yoga mat and a bolster against the wall. Sit on the bolster with one shoulder touching the wall and in one movement, rotate your body to lie down on the blanket and rest your legs straight up on the wall. Rest your head on the mat with arms out to the side or on chest. Hold for 5 to 20 minutes.
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and calves