What is Restorative Yoga Anyway?
by Denie Shae
You might be wondering what is restorative yoga? Or if you have experienced restorative yoga, what makes restorative yoga so restful? To answer my first question yoga is a Sanskrit word and when defined means to “yolk” or to come together, to unite. “To tie the strands of the mind together”, “to attain what was previously unattainable”. Documenting yoga began with the Vedas, the oldest record of Indian culture, approximately 5,000 years ago. The deeper meaning throughout many of the great texts invites us to practice and experience ways of seeing and creating opportunities for us to recognize ourselves more clearly. Patanjali, a great Indian sage, systematized yoga as a special darsana (or school of thought) and the 8 limbs were put down on paper. The 8 limbs can be viewed as steps on a path that are a means to liberate us from the physical body. It can be integrated into our lives so we can experience bliss in the world rather than remove ourselves from it. Students of yoga are often told to view the 8 limbs as a tree. There is the trunk and then the branches (or limbs), all connected, all growing in proportion to one another. Each limb is essential for the optimal functioning of the body, mind and spirit. The details of the 8 limbs are vast and rich and will be shared at a later time. For now, back to restoratives.
Yogis all around the globe can thank B.K.S. Iyengar for his development of these deliciously relaxing and supportive postures. In his early teachings he experimented with props to aide students is postures when he noticed pain or injury compromised the proper and safe alignment of the pose. Iyengar went beyond that and began exploring and observing how these modified supported postures help people recover from illness and injury.
Flash-forward to today’s typical asana (pose) class is a series of active postures followed by a brief restorative pose, 99% of the time- Savasana. Anyone that has been to a yoga class has experienced this (hopefully). I have yet to attend a class where the teacher did not close in a Savasana or a similar restorative posture, at times they have been very short yet they have still been a part of every one of my practices.
In a Restorative yoga class, the entire time is dedicated to these healing restorative postures. You begin with props- lots and lots of props. Restorative practices use bolsters, blankets, and blocks to prop students in passive poses so that the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort. The props and proper alignment provides a completely supportive environment for total relaxation. A well-rounded restorative sequence will move the spine in all directions to ensure the maintenance of a healthy spine. Supported twists, backbends, forward bends and inversions move the column left, right, forward and back. Inverted postures reverse the effects of gravity by changing the relationship of the legs to gravity. Fluids that were in the lower extremities are now returned to the upper body allowing the circulatory system to recycle and pump new oxygenated blood throughout the entire body.
Ready To Practice? Here is The-Need-To Know Before You Go
Who: Everyone, all ages, races, female/male can and will benefit from a restorative practice. There are some contraindications to certain postures and should be modified by the teacher. Most teachers will ask prior to beginning a sequence if you have any medical conditions or injuries. Be sure to speak up so the teacher can modify as needed.
When’s a good time: Restorative is good all the time to counteract the effects of day-to-day stress and the negative pull gravity has on the body. They are especially beneficial at times of high stress such as: major life events (good or bad), change of job or residence, marriage, divorce, holidays, vacations, when ill or recovering from illness or injury.
All hours of the day, although most people find it more beneficial toward the end of the day. I like to sneak in a class midafternoon. It is always best to wait awhile after eating before any exercise. Although this is a very gentle practice we are still twisting, inverting and lying down, none of which feel good after eating. I say try and hold out 2 hours before attending a restorative class.
What to bring: A yoga mat if you have one, most classes at a public studio will have props. If you own any props and prefer to use yours bring them along too.
Yoga invites us for brief time in our day to pause and be fully present in what we are doing. To unite the body, mind and spirit. Bring your intention to remain awake and aware throughout your practice. It is only an hour- all your thoughts will be there for you when you leave the mat.
How to show up: Yoga etiquette says to show up clean, un-fragranced and ready to practice. In my classes it tends to go like: show up clean/get ready to be fragranced (if you like)/and ready to relax. As a common courtesy to your neighbors on the mat showing up with clean hygiene is always respected and appreciated. I perfume myself everyday with essential oils, it’s my passion, it’s my self-care ritual I learn to be flexible with while practicing. When I go to a public class I apply a single drop on my solar plexus, just a few inches above my navel, I get the benefit of the oil without the perfuming quality the oils would have if I applied the drop to my wrists, neck or any exposed body part. Enough about oils let’s move on.
Lastly show up and do what you came to do- relax and renew. Always practice the yogic principle of ahimsa, or non-harming. I see too any people pushing themselves on the mat, during other forms of exercise, in all ways throughout their life- all you need to learn if nothing else from yoga is that there is no need to be hard on yourself. Especially not in a restorative class where the focus is on relaxing into the supportive environment that is created. There is nothing to judge, no body part to be critical of, and no posture you couldn’t master. You are simply being, observing the way the body relaxes, the mind calms, energy balances. Ahimsa reminds us to be kind and gentle to our bodies and our hearts. The best way to get the benefits is to be kind to yourself, relax and renew.
Where to practice: Find a yoga studio near you, ask friends or family if they practice or know anyone that practices and can refer a good studio. I’d like to say most studios offer restoratives however I cannot. As we are all unique and different so are studios. Some like it hot, some like it tough and others like it balanced. It may take some searching to find a restorative class near you, I promise it is worth the effort.
Another wonderful option is to seek out a private teacher, someone who is specializing in restoratives and inquire about their service. Why: There are countless benefits that a restorative practice has. I always encourage people to try for themselves, so they have their first-hand experience. My slant is that it is simple, easy and it works. Here are just a few benefits of what a frequent restorative practice can do:
-Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
-Improved immunity, digestion, circulation, & memory
-Lowers blood pressure & relaxes the nervous system
-Physical, mental, & emotional pain & tension relief
-Improved posture and increase in flexibility
-Clearing and balancing of energy systems
-Increases self-acceptance, mental awareness, & confidence
-Balances the brain hemispheres
If restorative yoga sounds like something you are interested in seek out local teachers and studios, see who is teaching this gentle and healing yoga practice and show up.
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Enlightened Health & Wellness