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Restorative at Home: Getting Stared

Here in Monroe County, PA, we have entered the "green phase" of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last of the non-essential businesses are starting to reopen at reduced capacity. Thankfully, that includes yoga studios. However, our in-studio practice will look much different than it did before this outbreak. Yoga studios, too, will be operating at limited capacity and with altered schedules. So you may not be able to participate in your favorite class like you did prior to the shutdown. And no surprise here: props will be limited. For many, this may not be a big deal. But for others, the loss of props could be troublesome. And if restorative yoga is a part of your practice, the loss of props may be heartbreaking.

But all is not lost. While studios may have to limit or hold off on putting restorative classes and workshops back on the schedule, you can still have a satisfying restorative practice at home. If you have blocks, a strap, and even a bolster at home, that's great. But if you're short on standard props there's no need to shop online just yet. You may already have everything you need in your home.

A mat is not necessarily a must-have for a home restorative practice. A room with soft carpeting can be sufficient cushioning. However, the stickiness of the mat can help keep the props in place so they don't slide out from underneath you. Also, if you don't already have a mat and are looking to return to the studio, the safest option is to bring your own mat. Some studios may no longer be offering mats to help keep the space clean and safe. You can purchase a mat almost anywhere. If you need guidance on a good mat for your practice, reach out to your studio. You might not only find advice, but mats may be for sale. Purchasing one from your studio is a good way to support the business as studios begin to recover from the shutdown.

Blocks are useful to fill any spaces in a restorative pose, offering support and allowing the body and mind to relax. It's possible you already have one or two blocks at home. But what if you typically use more in your restorative practice? Books and pillows can take the place of blocks. Perhaps you have some hardcover cookbooks (The Joy of Cooking, anyone?), dictionaries, or even a set of encyclopedias (yes, I'm dating myself with that suggestion) that are thick and heavy. Make sure they are the same thickness! Top the books with a pillow or a blanket if you will be directly touching the support. For comfort when a strong foundation isn't needed, stacking pillows is a great way to fill the space. So gather the throw pillows from the couch or raid the guest bed, and get ready to settle into your favorite restorative pose.

You probably have a good number of blankets at home. (Between my husband and my oldest son, I have more Yankees and Giants blankets than I can shake a stick at.) Now, they may not be exactly like the ones at the studio, but that doesn't mean all is lost. Take the time to gather them, and see how you can use each one. That stiff and scratchy blanket may not be your favorite to nap with, but it might be perfect to fold and sit on. That super soft one that doesn't match the couch? It could be the perfect blanket to cover yourself during Savasana. Take some time to go through your inventory, and set aside the ones you feel could be the most useful during your practice.

I happen to have a bolster at home, but that's a big purchase that many may not have made. Maybe you have some extra firm pillows on your bed or guest bed that could stand in for a bolster. Maybe you could put two pillows into a larger pillow case, or tie them together with a tie (knot on the side) and cover them with a blanket. Another great option is the middle cushion from the couch.

You may already be familiar with chair yoga. You can practice sitting in the chair, taking the weight out of the ankles, knees, hands and wrists. The chair is also useful for helping maintain balance in standing poses. The chair can also be used for a more advanced practice, or in this case, a restorative practice. Not just any chair will do. If you have one, a metal folding chair is best, preferably one that has a back. You'll want your chair to be sturdy and as you are setting up any poses, double-check to make sure the chair is opened completely.

Now, this one might be more difficult. If you don't have sandbag, you could be lacking in a substitute. But, as I was perusing my own house for one, I pulled out what my son calls "popcorn." My mom's friend made a square sack and filled it with feed corn. In the winter months we heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds, and then warm our sheets with it. It's not as heavy as a sandbag, but it will do. Perhaps you have a weighted travel pillow that could work as a sandbag. Maybe a few bean bags from the cornhole set that's in your garage could become a makeshift sandbag if you place them in a pillow case. Don't stress it, but take a little time to get creative.

The start of the New Year is the start of the "self-care sales." Weight-loss programs, gym memberships, exercise equipment, you name it. But it's not just big-ticket items. I bought myself a lavender-scented eye pillow one New Year. Maybe you have one, too. Or an essential oil diffuser. Or a foam roller. Perhaps those items are in a corner somewhere, waiting until it's safe to be passed on to someone. Go through that pile. It might be nice to run that diffuser with lavender oil during your practice. That foam roller may not feel so good, but it might be great support under your knees while you're lying on your back or for seated forward folds. And that eye pillow? It could be the perfect accompaniment to any restorative pose. That meditation app that you downloaded? It's a great timer for holding poses so you don't have to count breaths.

But if you must...
These are all great options, and perhaps you have tried them already but there's just nothing like a tried and true yoga prop. Before you click your way through Amazon, reach out to your local studios. They may be selling their current inventory of props. So if you are hesitant about sharing blocks in the studio or would like more support during your home practice, purchasing the props from studios is a great way to support them to make sure they are still there when it's safe to go back to full capacity.