Restorative Yoga Practice

Deborah Donohue
Year Released: 2008

Categories: Yoga

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NOTE: I received a free review copy of this DVD from the the web site

This DVD focuses on restorative yoga, which is the practice of yoga postures supported by blankets and other props so that the poses can be held in stillness for an extended period of time, usually from five to fifteen minutes. Here instructor Deborah Donahue offers six different sequences, four of which are purely restorative, plus a meditation and a slightly more active morning routine. Donahue provides live instruction, teaching in a small indoor studio (although throughout the holds, she is sometimes shown relaxing in more scenic outdoor settings) with flute music playing in the background. During her brief introduction, Donahue notes that the props needed include up to six blankets (the DVD case recommends at least four), a bolster (or a suitable large, firm pillow, such as a couch cushion), a strap, and an optional block.

The Main Menu of the DVD lists the following options and times for the practices:

*Meditation, 12 minutes
*Morning, 15 minutes
*Mid-Day, 45 minutes
*Evening A, 55 minutes
*Evening B, 55 minutes
*Restful Sleep, 85 minutes

For the meditation, Donahue performs a body scan while lying in relaxation pose (savasana). The meditation focuses on the chakras, or energy centers of the body, with colors representing each chakra appearing on screen as Donahue gradually moves down the body. The Morning practice begins with a 5-minute sun salutation meditation performed in a seated position; this includes focusing on areas of tension while meditating on various colors. Donahue then moves to standing for 5 minutes of half sun salutations, and finally, she concludes this segment with a 5-minute relaxation.

Donahue conducts each of the four restorative sessions in a similar manner. For every posture, she begins by describing the setup, including the props that will be required for the pose. Then, after providing guidance on how to come into the pose, she simply allows time to rest in the posture, only occasionally providing additional brief reminders on breath or alignment (and sometimes making small sounds, such as ďahh!Ē, as well). Finally, she cues coming out of the pose before moving on to the next one.

I have listed the postures included in each restorative sequence along with the duration of each pose below (all times are approximate):

MID-DAY (47.5 minutes)
*Supported Backbend, 6 minutes
*Legs Up the Wall, 10 minutes
*Elevated Twist on Bolster, 10 minutes
*Resting on Belly, 2 minutes
*Supported Dragonfly, 5 minutes
*Basic Relaxation Pose, 14.5 minutes

EVENING A (53.5 minutes)
*Mountain Brook, 10 minutes
*Supported Bound Angle, 5 minutes
*Supported Sleeping Swan/Pigeon, 7 minutes
*Reclined Hero, 4 minutes
*Side Lying Stretch, 8 minutes
*Supported Childís Pose, 5 minutes
*Basic Relaxation Pose, 14.5 minutes

EVENING B (55.5 minutes)
*Mountain Brook, 10 minutes
*Reclined Cross-Legged Pose, 6 minutes
*Legs Up the Wall, 10 minutes
*Supported Spinal Twist, 10 minutes
*Forward Resting Angle, 5 minutes
*Basic Relaxation Pose, 14.5 minutes

RESTFUL SLEEP (84.5 minutes)
*Supported Reclining Pose, 15 minutes
*Supported Bound Angle, 5 minutes
*Mountain Brook, 10 minutes
*Supported Bridge, 10 minutes
*Legs Up the Wall, 10 minutes
*Supported Spinal Twist, 10 minutes
*Supported Dragonfly, 5 minutes
*Supported Childís Pose, 5 minutes
*Basic Relaxation Pose, 14.5 minutes

Each practice concludes with the same relaxation segment. Donahue offers three options for relaxation: 1) stretching out in the traditional savasana pose (which she also calls star), 2) lying with the legs elevated on a bolster and the thighs bound together with a strap, and 3) lying with the calves resting over a bolster.

Although many yoga instructors encourage their students to incorporate restorative yoga as a regular part of their yoga practice, this form of yoga is rarely offered in yoga media (with the exception of books). The one other restorative yoga DVD that comes to mind, Yoga Therapy Prescriptions (which I have and like), is not purely restorative, as it includes more active poses as well, and the restorative postures themselves are not held for nearly as long as the postures here. Therefore, Restorative Yoga Therapy offers a unique opportunity to practice this worthwhile, relaxing, and very gentle form of yoga at home. This DVD is appropriate for all levels of yoga practitioners, although some basic familiarity with yoga terms as well as the use of yoga props would definitely be beneficial.

Instructor Comments:
I had no problems with Deborah's instruction. I thought she came across a bit like a "hippy-dippy" chick, and some might find her frequent exclamations of "ahh!" in the poses to be annoying, but she was fine for me. I did think that the flute music was a bit overly loud, but otherwise, I had few issues with this DVD.

Beth C (aka toaster)


Iím reviewing this workout after doing each of the segments twice.

General workout breakdown: This DVD contains 4 restorative yoga practices, 1 more active practice, and 1 meditation. Iíll describe each segment in a little more detail with approximate total times for postures (for each time given, assume you spend at least a few seconds up to a minute or two of that for setting up and coming out of the posture). In general Deborah moves deliberately at a slow, relaxed pace.
ē Meditation (12 min.) is done entirely in savasana or a related position. You do a body scan from head downwards, focusing on the chakras with different colored light at each (during which time little spinning blobs in the appropriate color appear at the appropriate spot on screen).
ē Morning (15 min.) begins seated in sukhasana with a greeting the sun meditation (tune in to the body, breathe color into area of tension, move arms in kind of Tai Chi-like motions); this is followed by a few rounds of half sun salutation (surkya namaskar). It closes with basic relaxation pose / corpse (savasana; Deborah presents several variations but uses a star one here; this is a shortened version of the savasana used for the rest of the practices, running only 5.5 min.).
ē Mid-Day (45 min.) is a relaxing yet energizing practice of simple supported backbend (5 min.), legs up the wall (viparita karani, 10 min.; hooray for the length!), elevated twist (elevated supta matsyendrasana, 9 min.; I find it a little tricky to find a position comfortable for my low back), resting on belly (2 min.; I use the crocodile variation, mainly because the posture as presented resembles my usual sleeping posture, so I want to avoid nodding off), dragonfly (upavistha konasana paschimottanasana, 5 min.), and basic relaxation pose / corpse (savasana, 14.5 min.).
ē Evening A (55 min.) is a relaxing practice good for any time of day, really, of mountain brook (10 min.), supported bound angle (supta badda konasana, 5 min.; too short IMHO, but then Iíve yet to meet a supta badda konasana thatís too longÖ); supported sleeping swan/pigeon (eka pada rajakapotasana, 7 min.), reclining hero (supta virasana, 4 min.), side lying stretch (parighasana, 8 min.), supported childís pose (balasana, 5 min.), and basic relaxation.
ē Evening B (55 min.), like Evening A, is a relaxing practice that can be done any time; it involves mountain brook, reclining cross legged pose (sukhasana, 6 min.), legs up the wall, supported spinal twist (bharadvajasana, 10 min.), forward resting bound angle (baddha konasana paschimottanasana, 5 min.), and basic relaxation.
ē Restful Sleep (85 min.) is meant to prepare you for just that, with supported reclining pose (15 min.), supported bound angle, mountain brook, supported bridge (setubhanda sarvangasana, 10 min.), legs up the wall, supported spinal twist, supported dragonfly, supported childís, and basic relaxation.

Level: Iíd recommend this to those with a little yoga experience under their belt, as Deborahís instruction isnít always the most clear. That said, these poses donít require much strength and are meant to be gentle, and thereís nothing particularly tricky or challenging or ďadvanced.Ē
Iíve been practicing yoga for over seven years now, although I only began exploring restorative yoga a few years ago in an effort to help my body recover from some long-term health issues plus combat stress. Iím at a stage where I still appreciate working along with media; I havenít yet gained enough confidence to begin practicing these postures on my own, although thereís a lot to be said to listening to how much oneís own body needs at a particular moment.

Class: Deborah alone.

Music: native flute, with piano, sitar (?), and/or gentle percussion sometimes joining the party. Itís prominent enough that you canít turn it down too much or risk losing Deborah.

Set: All segments start in an all brown room, then they might go outside (beach or mountain top in or near Santa Barbara, CA; of course, this is when your eyes are closed, so you donít get to see the pretty scenery), before coming back to the brown room to finish.

Production: super crisp picture (the credits say this was filmed in hi def) and clear sound. Note that Deborah instructs live when sheís in the brown room and via voiceover when sheís outside - or rather they let the audio run and just cut to shots of her outside. Deborahís voice is a little echo-y in the small space, and you can also hear her shifting around when she comes out of a pose. The music, in contrast, is clearly laid over afterwards and has no such issues.
An inset picture with modifications or variations sometimes appears in the upper corner for a brief time at the start of poses.

Equipment: Youíll need a decent arsenal of props for this one. Deborah uses 1 rectangular bolster, 5-6 blankets, a strap, a block, and a mat. You could get away with fewer blankets (Iíd strongly recommend 3, with some flat pillows or towels if you need them for the one pose that uses all 5-6 blankets), although if you donít have a bolster youíll need more to use in place of that prop. Blankets are absolutely essential to this practice, and youíll want ones that are firm (such as wool or woven cotton), rather than squishy (such as thermal blankets or a comforter), but you donít need to drop major dough on special yoga blankets. After blankets Iíd recommend the bolster (if you have a round one, thatíll probably do just fine), then the strap (substitute: tie, dressing gown belt, even a long towel), and then the block (substitute: firm book, such as a dictionary, that discount volume of the complete works of Shakespeare, phone book), in that order of importance. Honestly, just treat yourself to these things; you wonít regret it. And your mat doesnít need to be sticky here.
I find it hard to do a forward bend in dragonfly, so I rest my head on a chair. If you have more flexibility in this pose, you wonít have that issue.

Space Requirements: enough space to lie down with limbs extended.
Youíll also need access to a wall (or a closed door through which no one will walk) for legs up the wall; if you donít have any blank space on your walls, a sturdy chair or sofa with a high back thatís positioned so it wonít slide will do just as well.

DVD Notes: The main menu, which comes up after an introduction by Real Bodywork (the production company; you can skip this) offers you the choice of the practices or credits. Thereís no chaptering, although on at least one of my players Iíve been able to skip by posture.

Comments: Judith Hanson Lasiterís Relax and Renew is a must read for anyone interested in restorative yoga. Deborah definitely uses a number of the poses Judith recommends, but she appears to be drawing in a few other influences, including yin (for example, both Judith and Deborah do a supported wide angle, but Deborah uses the yin term for hers). I think this may be because Deborah comes to restorative yoga after years of doing other styles rather than a conscious mixing and matching. Anyway, I found Judithís book a helpful reference for figuring out the blanket folds and positioning in a few poses, like the twists over the bolster, where Deborahís instruction wasnít as clear to me.

So far Iíve tried a number of restorative yoga practices on DVD: Dr. Baxter Bellís Yoga Journal for Stress (good idea with the timer allowing you to extend the length of rest in the restorative poses in the second routine but it doesnít really work as well as it should), Barbara Benaghís Yoga for Stress Relief (absolutely adore this DVD; Barbara has her own take on how yoga restores the body, so she has a mix of more active and passive postures; the routines here tend to be shorter than one normally finds on Iyengar-inspired restorative, and Barbarah tends to be more forgiving with prop use), Laura Hawesí Yoga Therapy Prescriptions (has tons of options, including some more active practices; mixes a variety of styles, including Iyengar, Svaroopa, and viniyoga; assumes prior familiarity with more intermediate postures like shoulderstand and headstand), Evelyn Neamanís Restorative Yoga (most similar to RYP in set-up, types of poses, and style / approach; has only 2 routines which can be combined; uses more round bolsters instead; includes a mudra meditation and music with Hebrew, English, and Sanskrit lyrics), Mary Pappas-Sodonasí Yoga Complete for Weight Loss (only one restorative routine here, but this is pure Iyengar restorative), and Sage Rountreeís The Athleteís Guide to Yoga (only one segment, and the poses are not held anywhere long enough, so while I like this DVD I donít recommend this particular segment for this purpose).

Instructor Comments:
Deborah does a decent job of instructing, explaining posesí benefits, providing a few form tips, including telling you what not to do, providing modifications, such as adding in the block or strap for additional support, and spending time going over how to get into and come out of poses, often emphasizing protecting the back, for example. (This is the sort of thing that can get old after repeat viewings of restorative yoga DVDs, although I tend to use these as a chance to sneak in a few extra seconds of the pose.) Sheís straightforward in her language and without metaphoric or ďout thereĒ stuff except for mentions of breathing color into parts of the body and drawing in earth energy (limited, with one exception, to the meditations and relaxations).