Rest and recovery really important for training to be sustainable. Your muscles need time to rebuild themselves after being broken down during exercise. Stretching or massage can help make you less sore after intense work-outs. I like to incorporate some of these practices pretty much every day, but on rest days I try to take a longer period of time (at least an hour) and dig in deeper.
Just to clarify, I won’t be talking about pure meditation in this post. All of these disciplines have some physical element. At the same time, a lot of them will involve some meditation or breath work too.
Foam rolling and massage balls
If really enjoy massage, particularly the deep tissue (i.e. “it hurts so good”) style. Of course most of us can’t afford to do get it done professionally that often, but it’s easy to approximate it at home with a few props. You can find some of these in various gyms too if you just want to try them out, and there are some classes that will teach you how to use them.
You can also find detailed instructions online on how to approach each body part. The general rule is to only massage soft tissue, not bone or nerves (so avoid your spine, for example). It doesn’t need to take up much time – usually you spend up to 30 seconds on each part.
Foam rollers range from mild to very painful. If you haven’t tried them or other deep tissue massage, start mild. Once you’re used to that, you’ll probably want more. I went for an intense option: this one, but it seems to be currently unavailable. It’s very similar to a RumbleRoller, for example here or here.
Another very useful prop is a massage ball. Personally I just use a couple regular tennis balls, which work perfectly fine. But you can also get lacrosse balls or spiky massage balls, depending on what texture you prefer.
Some people use a massage peanut, which is basically two balls combined together. You can easily simulate that by putting two tennis/massage balls into a small bag or sock.
Restorative yoga consists of long-held poses where your body is completely supported by props. Typically you might use several bolsters, blankets and blocks to find a very comfortable position, which you then hold for 5-20 minutes.
I quite enjoy restorative yoga when I’m tired, but at the same time I feel a bit weird about paying money to chill in child’s pose for 20 minutes. I used to do it more often when I was on an unlimited class plan at a nearby yoga studio. It’s something that theoretically should pretty easy to do at home, but somehow I rarely take the time to do that. Even when I do, there’s so many distractions around, that the experience is not really the same.
Yin yoga consists of long-held stretches. A key difference from restorative yoga is that yin is not meant to be comfortable. The stretches should be quite intense and held for 2-6 minutes while breathing mindfully. So it’s debatable whether it’s a restorative practice, but I think it can sometimes fall into this category.
It’s based on Chinese medicine and meridians, so if you don’t like hearing about all that, you might not enjoy a led class.
Yoga Nidra is basically a type of guided meditation where you slowly go through different parts of your body in your mind. I’m including it here because you might see it in a yoga studio line-up. If you’re doing it as a class, it’ll often start with a short gentle sequence to loosen your body, but the nidra part will usually be done lying in savasana for 20+ minutes.
Jiriki is a type of Japanese movement therapy. It includes stretches and self-massage (for example, pressing into pressure points on your arm with your knee). Some props, such as a cloth band, might be used.
It’s not very popular yet, but it appears to be on the rise. In London, you can try it at ChromaYoga. They offer different types of restorative classes, usually tagged as Pink. I like the concept of including light and sound in the experience, but the classes can often be a bit too crowded.
Stretching and Recovery
A lot of places often stretching classes. These can range from mild stretching that is more for recovery, to the extreme flexibility or contortion classes where the goal is to do splits, backbends, and so on. Usually the description should clarify which one is which. While I enjoy contortion-like stretching, it doesn’t really fall into the restorative category.
There are also other recovery classes that mix some of the above approaches. One interesting example is Cannablis at Gymbox, which involves stretching and massage balls while you wear an anti-inflammatory cannabinoid patch. It is allright, but having tried many other restorative therapies, I didn’t find it that impressive. It could be a good introduction for someone less familiar with it. Another one is Blokbreath at Blok, which is all about different breath techniques.