1. Supported Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero’s Pose)
The modification of Supta Virasana for use as a restorative asana requires sufficient propping to support the trunk comfortably, while keeping the knees in contact with the floor and the thighs parallel. Even flexible yogis should take advantage of the deep relaxation the props afford in this pose. Sitting on a wooden block and increasing the height of the props supporting the back helps those who are less flexible to get comfortable. Note that the bolster is supporting the lumbar spine.
Proper head and neck support is crucial for relaxation. A folded towel is used to support the head and neck so that a normal cervical curve is maintained. Avoid neck padding so thick that it causes throat compression. On the other hand, insufficient padding may result in hyperextension of the neck in persons with limited shoulder flexibility.
Supta Virasana is best performed on a firm, non-compressible mat. One should not feel pain where the knees and tops of the feet come into contact with the floor.
Knee joint pain or lower back discomfort calls for an increase in the height of the trunk and/or buttock supports. If the elbows do not reach the floor, put folded towels under the forearms for support.
To come out of the pose, move the trunk into an upright position, using the hands to support the back. Then, still kneeling, separate the knees and lean the trunk forward. Rest the forehead on the floor or on a bolster. Lengthen, relax, and release the back.
2. Supported Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
The supported Bridge Pose requires a low bench, a wooden block, a belt, and a blanket (If a bench is not available, use two low stools or two wooden blocks to support the sacrum and heels.) Joining the thighs with a belt eliminates the work of holding the legs together and allows for more complete relaxation of the hip girdle and greater elongation of the lumbar spine. Note that the lumbar spine is supported by a block and a rolled blanket. The height of the bench should be sufficient to create good chest expansion. The chest should look puffed out. If the chest appears flat or collapsed, try rolling the shoulders back and under, as in Shoulderstand. If this does not work, increase the height of the hip support by inserting a folded towel under the sacrum, or by using a higher bench.
Compression of the throat can be relieved with a folded towel under the shoulders. If the knees are uncomfortable, support them with a rolled blanket. This is especially helpful for those whose knees hyperextend when the legs are relaxed. If the lower back is uncomfortable, check the lumbar support for adequate thickness. Then try putting one or two blocks or blankets under the heels to raise the legs until the lumbar area is quiet.
To come out of the pose, slide off the props in the direction of the head. Roll to the side and sit up. Sit crosslegged, resting the head and arms on the bench.
3. Viparita Karani
This supported modification of the Shoulderstand is the most powerful of the restorative poses. The buttock support should be firm and sufficiently high to create good chest expansion – puffed out, as in supported Setu Bandhasana. For more opening, roll the shoulders back and under (as for Shoulderstand), or increase the height of the buttock support. The buttocks should be as close to the wall as possible. Joining the thighs with a belt allows for release of the leg, hip, and lower back muscles. The pose can be done against a pillar, with a snug belt holding the thighs to the pillar, which provides even greater stability and relaxation.
Getting into Viparita Karani takes some practice. Sit sideways on the bolsters with one side of the body as close to the wall as possible. Pivot on the buttocks, placing the legs up the wall and the shoulders on the floor. To move the buttocks closer to the wall, place the hands on either side of the shoulders, as for Backbend, and push yourself into the wall.
Alleviate throat compression by placing a folded towel under the shoulders. To come out of the pose, slide off the props in the direction of the head. Rest curled up on one side before proceeding.
4. Savasana on a Chest-Opening Prop
In this modification of the Corpse Pose, the chest is opened and the lumbar spine supported by a firm bolster. First, sit in Dandasana with the bolster pulled into the sacrum. Using the arms for support, lean back onto the bolster. If necessary, raise the head and neck into proper alignment with a folded towel or blanket.
If there is lower back discomfort, try one or more of the following maneuvers:
- Bend the knees. Press the feet to the floor, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Lengthen the lumbar curve by tilting the pelvis up (the same action that would cause flattening of the lumbar curve when lying on the back or standing). Then set the hips back on the floor while keeping length in the lumbar spine.
- Decrease the height of the trunk support.
- Place a rolled blanket or bolster behind the knees.
As in the other restorative asanas, head and neck alignment is of utmost importance here. Avoid throat compression or neck hyperextension by using adequate support under the neck and head. Slightly thicker padding under the neck will give better support to the cervical arch, especially for people with neck pain or injury. To come out of the pose, roll off the bolster onto one side. Take the head and neck padding along for a pillow. Rest there for several minutes, enjoying the feelings of deep and nurturing relaxation.