8 Restorative Yoga Poses

Put your body on the fast track to recovery.

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.