How to Teach a Memorable Restorative Yoga Class

You’re not giving the student the experience. You’re creating the container for the student to have the experience themselves
— Judith Hanson Lasater
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There are a few factors, in my opinion, that shift a Restorative class from good to great. Some of the words that come to mind when I think of a true Restorative practice are:

  • Support

  • Relaxation

  • Space

  • Letting go/letting be

  • Deep reflection

As a Restorative yoga teacher, we can enhance these qualities for our students by the way we approach and, relate to, the practice. I’ve found, through both practicing and teaching Restorative yoga, that attention to detail can be the difference between a good restorative class and a great one. In fact, attention to detail is the impetus for the profound letting go that Restorative yoga is known for.

Below are three crucial factors that I believe should be incorporated into a Restorative yoga class. Prop detail, honoring the nature of the practice, and extending care are all ways you can shine as a teacher and optimally offer the benefits of this powerful practice.

(make sure to check out the bottom of this article for more resources on Restorative yoga and how to deepen your own practice!)


  1. Prop specificity

If the Restorative practice has taught me anything (about yoga & life) it’s that the more specific and attentive I am, the more freedom I experience. Think of it like a relationship, where clear communication and boundaries inspire a sense of freedom and ease. Same goes for this practice. Clarity and specificity in prop setup can lead to the same sense of freedom and ease. That feeling of getting something off your chest when you express your truth? That’s the feeling I’m talking about. I try to bring the same sentiment into my Restorative practice and teaching.

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Props = boundaries. Props are the very thing that create the container for the student to experience relaxation within. The more time and attention put into prop setup prior to settling into the pose, the less distraction the student will experience in the time that they are holding the pose.

Bottom line: be meticulous. It may feel overboard but it’s worth it.

I like to think about symmetry and support when I’m setting up the prop. The props should work to meet the body, rather than the body working to meet the props. Build the props up to the student as much as needed so they don’t have a sense of holding their body up or unnecessarily engaging their muscles in any way. Set up the props in an even manner so the student can hold the pose symmetrically, bringing the body into balance and alignment.

The body has an intrinsic desire for balance

Props are what encourage the body to find this balance, and therefore, settle back in to their instinctual habits. If you practice true restorative yourself, you know how important props are (the more, the better!). Which means you believe it. Which means you can teach from that place of belief, and therefore, confidence. Because…how could you not offer your students the chance to experience this same incredible feeling?

Bottom line: The student’s comfort is your number one priority. Props are the ticket to that comfort.

2. Let the practice speak for itself

Pratyahara is a great companion to the Restorative practice. Pratyahara is known as ‘sense withdrawal’. It can be thought of as limiting external stimulation or distraction (within your control) so that you may pull your senses inside to quiet your nervous system. This is the difference between jolting at the sound of a water bottle falling versus feeling little to no shock in your system when it happens. Restorative shifts us from a reactive state (being low-key shocked at a sudden noise) to a responsive one (noticing the sound without being affected too much).

It’s a sign as to the state of our nervous system - whether it is on guard (sympathetic nervous system) or relaxed (parasympathetic nervous system). Restorative yoga triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and lowering stress levels. Doesn’t that sound like just what you want and need? The practice counteracts the number of stimulants we add or set off in our bodies (coffee, stress, busyness, etc.) - shifting us from being on edge to backing away from our edge. Let the practice speak for itself. Think of ways you can create a space that will help your students slip away from the external world and sink back into their subtle awareness. Think: consistent and calming.

For me, this comes in the form of: either no music or very soft, consistent ambient-style music; little to no assists, periods of no talking on my end so that there is space and silence for the student to just be. All of these factors allow the students to be in their own experience and, over the course of the pose, fully immerse in that experience rather than being taken out of it by a sudden change in music, touch, smell, etc.

On the other side of that, there are 4 tenets of the practice that help enhance this idea of pratyahara. They are:

  • Quiet

  • Dark

  • Warm

  • Still

The more of these you can incorporate in the practice, the more your students will find that blissful relaxation they are looking for. Encourage them to add layers of clothing or more blankets for warmth; invite them to place something (eye pillow or bandana) over their eyes or a blanket hood over their head; promote quiet either through no music, quiet consistent music, and/or taking time to not talk as much, leaving room for space and for their own self-contemplation; promote stillness in the way you set up props prior to resting in the pose.

3. Care. In different ways.

Care is the most important thing you can offer as a teacher of Restorative yoga. Care can come in different forms during a class: helping a student with their setup, bringing someone a prop, telling your students to give you a silent signal (like a hand on the belly) to tell you they would like your help, reminding your students that you’re holding space for them the entire class. All of these things create a safe space. And we all know that when we feel safe, we let go. We release our tense muscles and our stressful thoughts and we r-e-l-a-x to the max.

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I like to think of this as a mothering practice. When we support ourselves with props, it’s like we are being held by someone we love. We are learning, through this practice, to give back to ourselves. We are mothering ourselves. So, as a teacher, how can you think of yourself as a mother figure - one who is caring, compassionate, observant, and insistent on their student’s comfort, safety and space? Don’t be afraid to ask your students, more than once, if they feel comfortable or if they need anything. It exhibits your care and fosters a sense of trust between you and your student.


Interested in becoming a Restorative yoga teacher? And/or deepening your own practice?

I’ll be leading a Restorative yoga teacher training in Costa Rica March 2-9, 2019! Through this training you will receive 25 hours of continued education credits and will be certified to teach Restorative yoga. This will allow you to teach Restorative to group classes & private clients as well as deepen and refine your understanding of this style of yoga through your own personal practice.

Interested? Want to learn more? Click here to get more details and feel free to email me with any questions or thoughts you might have!


Other resources for Restorative Yoga:

Conditions for Calm by Roger Cole

Relax and Renew by Judith Hanson Lasater

Class Planning 101

A guide to planning your yoga classes: what is your style? + the benefits of class planning & a behind the scenes look at how I plan my own classes.


If you’re a yoga teacher, you know how much time and energy goes into planning a yoga class. The planning process can include any or all of these components:

  • Brainstorming themes

  • Watching yoga videos to get ideas

  • Practicing assists

  • Reading texts

  • Practicing the class on your own mat

A yoga class isn’t just the 60, 75 or 90 minutes that happen in the studio with students present; it’s arriving early to set up the space, checking students in, fielding questions from students, marketing your classes, cleaning the space post class, commuting to and from the studio.

A question I get often from teachers is, “how much should I plan my classes?” and my answer is: find your own sweet spot between spontaneity & structure.

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Spontaneity & Structure: where do you land?

Both qualities are great to have as a teacher but we want to find where our own sweet spot. That way, we don’t become too spontaneous or too structured.

What happens if we’re too structured?

If we become too structured as teachers - meaning we strictly stick to our class plan - we could develop blind spots, meaning we don’t see our classroom or our students as clearly. If our eyes are glued to our sequence, we probably won’t leave our mat, which means we demo the whole class. I was taught to move around the classroom while teaching so I can observe the students and the flow of class. This is something that I believe has enhanced my teaching and how I relate to my students. Taking moments to step away from our mat and piece of paper encourages us, as teachers, to truly see our students; to spot a valuable assisting moment; to notice if we should adjust the pace or rhythm of class based on our students that day; to make eye contact with a student and share a connecting moment. If we become too structured, we become too rigid and less adaptable as teachers.

What happens if we’re too spontaneous?

If we’re too spontaneous as teachers - meaning we go in with no class plan and just wing it - we can get stuck or deliver a class that feels non cohesive. The times I’ve gone to teach and just made it up as I went, I felt ungrounded and nervous, which acted as a slight distraction from my teaching. For me, having some sort of class plan offers me peace of mind. Having no plan at all can lead to moments of feeling stuck, lack of clarity, and no common thread for me or my students to follow. Too much spontaneity can direct too much attention toward coming up with a sequence, which steals attention from all of the other components of a yoga class. If we’re so focused on coming up with what’s next, we can lose being in the moment with our students and catching spontaneous moments. Which is funny - too much spontaneity takes away from spontaneous moments.

What type of teacher are you?

There are different kinds of yoga teachers. I’m not knocking you if you’re the type who doesn’t plan as extensively. If that works for you, that’s great.

I, personally, have become the type of teacher who likes to introduce some sort of theme, whether heart-centered or physical; the kind of teacher who wants their students to walk away with a more open and strong body, yes, but also a deeper understanding of their movement patterns and important alignment points. I like to bridge the gap between mat and world - whether that means speaking to an emotional quality that can support us in life or speaking to a movement pattern in the practice that can help us function better in the world. I like to think of my students as people who could one day attend a yoga teacher training, meaning they have some sort of desire to dig deeper into the practice. Whether that’s true or not, it helps me plan my classes and maintain my consistency as a teacher. It’s similar to creating your “ideal client” if you’ve been in the business world. Envisioning who you want to serve can help you build your classes and your bigger offerings. It helps orient students in their own practice as well as let them know what they can expect from you as a teacher. If you want to embody one or all of these qualities too, then you should consider planning your classes.


Benefits of planning classes ahead of time:

  • You can build an archive of classes to pull from in the future. What I like to call the teacher workbook. A place to refine, revise & revisit sequences.

  • You can focus your classes on a particular point (an alignment action, peak pose, muscle, heart quality, class of asana) and continue to build it from there, almost like a series.

  • You have a seed that you can go back to if you get lost during class.

  • You have a hard copy of the sequence if you ever want to share pieces of it.

  • It shows your level of care and attention to your classes, which then inspires a level of trust between you and your students.

  • It provides a framework within which you can improvise.

  • It places you in the seat of the teacher and helps you stand out.

  • It builds confidence. Even the act of writing out a class plan can shift how you view yourself and improve your sense of worth, confidence, and credibility.

Believe in yourself.

I hope that you can start to see yourself as not just a yoga teacher, but a yoga educator. Think of yourself as a professor. Professors have class plans, a syllabus, grading techniques. They don’t just wing it. They’ve studied the subject extensively and know what and how they want to teach their students. You may not be teaching a typical academic subject but you’re still teaching a subject - and not just any subject. Yoga is a subject rich with history, textured with philosophy, brimming with lineage, full of endless lessons and contemplations that can drastically enhance someone’s life. This is not to be taken lightly. This is pretty epic stuff. And you, as a teacher, are blessed to share that with others! Yoga is neverending in its way of imparting knowledge and revelation. It yearns to keep giving to you, and as a teacher, you should give back to it - by treating the practice seriously and by treating yourself seriously. There is so much growth potential as a yoga teacher and class planning is one of the ways you can step into this potential as a teacher.


Behind the scenes: how I plan my classes.

  • Start with a seed

    Something that acts as the nucleus to which you build your class around. It could be a muscle group you want to focus on strengthening and/or stretching, a class of asana or peak pose, an alignment action (shoulders back, ribs in, for example). You could use a Sanskrit word as your themes (which I often do) and weave its meaning into your class.

  • Build on it/write it down.

I like to do this in two parts. First, I brainstorm a list of poses I want to include in class that align with my theme or seed. Second draft, I string them together in the right order and make it more cohesive so I can follow it while I teach.

  • Use resources

I like to watch yoga videos (yogaglo.com is my go to) to gain inspiration for sequencing, get a feel for pacing, and see if there are any alignment cues that I resonate with or that aptly explain how I experience a pose. I also call on certain yogic texts (Spanda-karikas are my jam right now) to inspire heart themes, revisit my anatomy books to reacquaint with certain muscles, etc.

  • Practice it

Move through your sequence on your mat so you can become more intimate with the poses, the way the poses flow, alignment cues that come up for you in those poses & transitions. Feel the practice in your own body so you can more seamlessly convey it to your students. If I have an opening theme or centering that I feel really jazzed about, I’ll even record myself on the memo app of my phone. This helps me make the opening dharma talk more concise, so I don’t end up taking the first 10 minutes of class talking. It allows me to keep it under 3 minutes and also helps me refine my language so I can teach the theme in a way that is at once accessible, easy to understand, and precise. You could lose your audience if you branch off or go on too long.