Relaxation means different things to different people. For some, a relaxing activity after a long day at work might be a five-mile run. For others, that would be pure torture; curling up with a cup of tea and a good book by the fire is more their relaxation style.
It’s the same with yoga. Different people will find different types of yoga more relaxing than others. However, if you’re looking to use yoga to relax, there are a few things worth considering.
The most obvious relaxing yoga practice is probably Restorative yoga. This slow, gentle form of yoga allows your body and mind to quite down and relax. The supported poses mean little or no muscular effort is required to hold them, letting you quickly drop into a healing, soothing state. It’s ideal if you are recovering from injuries, suffering from chronic stress or simply burnt out. (Learn more in Restorative Yoga: Relax and Recharge.)
If you like the idea of long passive holds, but enjoy a fuller stretch, many people find Yin yoga extremely relaxing. It’s not as gentle as Restorative yoga, but the deep and sometimes very intense asanas can release tension, especially from the hips and lower back. The intensity of the sensation can also provide an effective anchor for a stressed and over-active mind, helping to keep you in the present. (Read more in Yin Yoga: There's Power in Surrender.)
If you have spent your day at your desk, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or wish to get more of an active stretch to release tension from your body, Restorative or Yin yoga might not be so appealing. It’s possible that you’ll find a more dynamic practice, such as a vinyasa flow class where you actively move through postures that challenge your body and help you to unwind more effectively. This can be particularly good if your mind is tired but your body is not; for example, after a day of computer-based work or sitting in meetings. The movement allows you to unleash some physical energy, release endorphins and leave you feeling "blissed out" and peaceful in savasana (corpse pose).
Finally, remember your yoga practice does not have to be physical at all to be relaxing. Yoga nidra is a divine meditation practice which is sometimes described as “yogic sleep.” As you lie down listening to your teacher’s voice, your mind can drop into states of deep stillness and peace. Alternatively, the pranayama technique of nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing is beautifully calming and balancing for the mind and nervous system. (Learn more in The Practice of Pranayama.)
It can take some experimenting to find the yoga practice that is most relaxing for you. Remember that what you find relaxing is likely to vary according to the time of day, your mood and your energy level. Enjoy the exploration and thank yourself for taking the time out to prioritize your own relaxation.