Restorative Yoga: Breathe Easier in Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose

Restorative or Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose to help improve breathing.

Article At A Glance

Yoga’s Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose is a gentle release for the sides of your body that stretches the intercostal muscles between the ribs and can help alleviate shoulder tension. And if you practice deep, calming breaths in this pose, the intercostal muscles between your ribs will soften, which helps to expand lung capacity. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to practice this rejuvenating pose.

Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose is a gentle release for the sides of your body that opens the torso, stretches the intercostal muscles between the ribs, and can help alleviate shoulder tension. And if you practice deep, calming breaths in this pose, the intercostal muscles between your ribs will soften, which helps to expand lung capacity. 

I practice this pose when I notice that my breath is shallow and short. Deep breathing while opening the side body helps me to feel more emotionally expansive and calm. The pose can also invite a sense of levity because your body is in the shape of a banana. I sometimes practice it when I need to be more playful and lighten up.

Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose: The Deeper Benefits

Opening the sides of your body is also important in terms of subtle energy flow. The left side of the body is often considered the “feminine” side, and is believed to embody the emotional, feeling, subjective aspects of behavior. It symbolizes the intuitive, receptive, relational side of ourselves. The left side might be thought of as being

The right side of the body is considered the “masculine” side, and is believed to embody the logical, analytical, objective, verbal, directional aspects of behavior. It is believed to govern the initiating, giving, career sides of ourselves. The right side might be thought of as doing

Opening both sides of ourselves through this supported stretch and breath awareness is a gentle way to balance and harmonize the integral aspects of our being.

This pose is generally considered a Restorative pose, but you can also use it to warm up for a more active practice of standing poses, backbends, and/or forward bends.

How to Practice Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose in Yoga

Time: 1 to 5 minutes per side.

Setting Up Side-Lying Stretch Pose

  1. To set up for the pose, you will need the following: yoga mat, 1 bolster, 1 to 2 blankets, 1 to 2 blocks. 
  2. Start by spreading a yoga mat on the floor. Place the yoga bolster horizontally across the middle of the mat. Restorative or Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose to help improve breathing.

How to Practice Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose

  1.  Sit on top of the mat in Lightning Bolt Pose (Vajrasana), kneeling with hips on the heels, and have your left side facing the bolster. Then turn to your left with your knees bent and stacked on each other and your bottom foot resting on the mat.
  2. Slide toward the bolster until the left side of your waist— just above the hip point—is touching the edge of the bolster. 
  3. Lower the left side of your torso onto the bolster so that it lies between your hip and armpit, ensuring that the hip point is not on top of the bolster. 
  4. When you are comfortable, drape your body over the bolster.
  5. Straighten your legs with them stacked on top of each other, or, if that is uncomfortable, keep your knees bent and stack the knees on top of each other.
  6. Extend the bottom arm above your head and rest your head on that arm. Then lengthen the top arm over the head and rest that hand on the ground, a prop, or the other hand.

Practicing Supported Side-Lying Stretch: Refine Your Yoga Pose

  1. Elongate the back of your neck, releasing your chin toward your chest. Allow the side of your torso to sink into the bolster and relax. Release the side of your hip, thigh, leg, and foot onto the mat. Then sense all the places you feel your body making contact with the props and the ground.
  2. Take several slow, deep breaths to release your weight, melting into the support. Turn your attention inward and focus on your breath. Inhale to expand the ribcage, soften the intercostal muscles (the small muscles between your ribs), and then exhale to release. Greet the sensations in your ribcage and the entire side of your body with an open mind, observing without judgment. If emotions arise, observe them and the changing sensations in loving awareness. If you feel any pain or discomfort, gently come out of the pose.

Subtle Explorations of the Pose

  1. You can also try releasing tension, stress, anxiety, worry, and exhaustion on the exhalation and cultivating peace, self-love, and comfort on the inhalation.
  2. In quieter holds, anchor your awareness in the sensations in your body by following the breath as it moves in and out, finding stillness as you open and expand into the pose.

Savasana Pose to practice between the practice of each side of Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose.

  1. Stay from 1 to 5 minutes as long as there is no discomfort.
  2. When you are finished, bring your hands down by your shoulders, bring your knees together if they are apart, and bend your knees if your legs are straight. Then use your hands to press yourself slowly up to a seated position.
  3. Before turning in the opposite direction and repeating the pose on the right side, you might pause between sides and lie in Relaxation Pose (Savasana) (shown above). Place your hands on your ribs. Take a few deep breaths, feeling your breath. Notice the difference between the right and left sides. Does one side feel softer, more spacious? Does the breath feel more easeful on the side you just stretched? Do you feel more spaciousness in and around the ribcage? When you are ready, practice on the other side for the same amount of time you spent on the first side.

Variations on Supported Side-Lying Stretch Pose

Variation of Side-Lying Supported Stretch Pose- arm variation.

  • If needed, place a folded or tightly rolled-up blanket or block a few inches above the bolster to support your head as shown in the photo above.
  • Place a block or blanket under the wrist and hand of either arm for additional support.
  • For those who cannot extend the top arm completely over the head, keep that arm bent and support the elbow on a blanket or block.
  • If it is uncomfortable to extend the bottom arm overhead, extend it perpendicularly away from the body, as shown in the photo above, and rest the head on the bottom shoulder or on a prop. You can also bend the bottom elbow in a cactus position, allowing the bottom arm and hand to rest on the ground.
  • You can place a folded-up blanket under the knees and legs for additional support.
  • If you are practicing with bent knees in the pose, you can place a folded blanket between your knees, as shown in the photo above, to relieve your lower back or to make the pose more comfortable.
Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Times of Change
leza lowitz

Leza Lowitz is a California girl who lives in Tokyo. Always willing to go to any length and travel any distance to discover who she was and how to be happy, she met her soulmate at a jazz club in Yokohama and moved to Japan to be with him. Ten years later, Leza and Shogo undertook the crazy project of opening a yoga studio in Tokyo. Three years after that, they adopted a beautiful boy and rescued two dogs, starting a family in their mid-forties.

For over two decades, Leza has been bringing together the worlds of yoga and creativity at her popular yoga studio, Sun and Moon Yoga, and in over twenty best-selling books. Originally from San Francisco, she studied meditation, yoga, and healing for over 35 years and taught for over 25. Lowitz credits her yoga and meditation practice with deepening her creativity, discipline, and compassion. She considers yoga and writing to be life-saving tonics that offer amazing self-discovery experiences, love, joy, creativity, and community. 

Recent articles


Upcoming courses

Yoga for
every body

How to Avoid the Top 3 Pitfalls of Forward Bends

With Julie Gudmedstad

Recent articles


Sorry, You have reached your
monthly limit of views

To access, join us for a free 7-day membership trial to support expanding the Pose Library resources to the yoga community.

Sign up for a FREE 7-day trial