We are living in a time when everything is very on the go. People often pride themselves on being busy and having a full schedule, and you can feel lesser than if a friend has a lot going on and you don’t have as much on your plate. I’m sure you’re aware that stress is a huge issue in this day and age because people never just stop and give themselves time to digest what is going on in their lives. People are running around from issue to issue without really understanding or giving 100% to any particular thing.
Often when introducing someone to yoga, they immediately think of the physical aspect of the practice. They can think that it is just an exercise full of weird poses; “You want me to put that leg where?!”, but yoga is much, much more than that. After an individual has been practicing, they will learn that yoga is so much more than just the asanas, it is also a strongly mental practice and is often spiritual as well.
In our busy lives, we often think that if we are not using every moment completing something, then we have failed. Even in the yoga studio, I can find myself pushing through a vinyasa when the option to stay in Downward Dog and rest is right there. This “go-go-go” attitude stresses why restorative yoga is so very important.
There are numerous benefits to restorative yoga and a regular restorative practice is essential to optimal physical and mental health! Unlike Hatha and other Flow practices, restorative yoga involves very little to no muscular effort. You will use a combination of props (blankets, blocks, bolsters and straps) to support you in your asana (pose), where the goal is to be as comfortable as possible to fully immerse yourself in a meditative practice. In restorative yoga, instead of flowing through poses or holding them for a few breaths, you will stay in the deeply supportive asanas for up to 20 minutes. In a recent restorative practice, we stayed in a supported heart opening pose for 30 whole minutes! The goal of restorative yoga is to allow oneself to focus on being receptive and to immerse yourself in being fully in the now.
So why practice restorative yoga? Can you remember the last time that you had time to yourself to do absolutely nothing? Not watching tv or reading a book, but just sitting in a moment and really being there? I bet it’s hard to remember! Even when you are sleeping you are not fully resting and restorative yoga allows the body and mind to 100% let go and relax. Holding the comfortable and supportive asanas for long periods of time allows the relaxation response to kick in which calms the central nervous system. You may not know that the body does not know how to differentiate stress from a work or school deadline from the stress of being in a dangerous situation. So while you may mentally understand that the stress from the daily grind is different from being chased down a dark alleyway, the body does not and can cause a multitude of problems. The relaxation response lowers stress levels and calms the “fight or flight” feeling, which in turn helps emotional healing, enhances resting mood state and improves immune function.
While there are numerous mental benefits, there are even more physical benefits to restorative yoga! We already know that restorative yoga balances the nervous system, but it also helps optimize digestive health and flexibility in the joints, muscles and the spine. Because a restorative yoga practice is so deeply relaxing, it benefits all internal organs, reduces blood pressure, lessens blood sugar levels, increases good cholesterol, aids in regular elimination, decreases muscle tension and improves insomnia and daily fatigue.
In a Hatha or Flow practice we tend to move through poses rather quickly, whereas in a restorative yoga practice you may only move through five asanas by the end of the practice. You never want to push or pull yourself into a pose, especially in a restorative yoga practice As previously mentioned, each asana will be very comfortable and instead of being held by the earth, you “bring” the earth to yourself by padding your pose with as many props are necessary. For example, instead of the standard Savasana, one may choose to place a bolster or two under the knees, and pad the head with a blanket. Each asana is very gentle to promote the optimal comfort and relaxation to increase the amount of benefits.
In restorative yoga, you will move through similar types of asanas as Hatha or Flow classes, such as heart openers and back bends, they are just much more gentle to allow them to be held for 5-10 minutes (or longer)! A favourite restorative yoga asana is legs up the wall (you literally hold your legs up a wall, or pad the bum with a bolster and raise the legs in the air), an excellent inversion! Inversions are especially important because they enhance heart function by allowing the blood to flow back into the heart and stops lymph fluid blood from pooling around the extremities.
In short, restorative yoga is a highly meditative practice that is extremely important for healing both the body and the mind. Restorative yoga is a real treat! It is important to value yourself and to give yourself the time to just “be”. To allow yourself to lay down in a comfortable asana and allow any thoughts that come to your mind to come and go without putting any feeling or investment into them. If you read this post thinking, “There is no way that I can find the time for this!” then you are the ideal candidate to practice restorative yoga! Living without rest is not living at all! Make the time for yourself, make the time to heal your body and your mind. You deserve to take a moment to yourself! You will love how restorative yoga makes you feel!
So after reading this, let me know… Have you ever practiced restorative yoga before? Did you do it at home or go to a studio? If you haven’t, have I convinced you to take the time to practice? I’m sure you’ll love it!
(Note: I am not a certified yoga teacher. I practice Restorative Yoga twice a week and I love it!)