Sometimes we think of the body, mind, and soul as separate entities, but in reality, they are interconnected as a whole. The interactions between the parts and how they influence us, guide us, and support us are much like a dance. Similarly, the way we do asana, the poses we use in our yoga practice, is the way we do life. We often dance between loving our practice, resenting it, using it as an escape, and so on. What is important to remember is that our practice is neutral, it simply mirrors who we are, our emotional state, and how we are in the world.
Being present in this day and age is often a challenge with all of the distractions within, and around us. One single breath of gratitude can change that. Restorative Yoga uses physical props and at the same time, your body is a prop for your soul. Some of the important questions to ask in Restorative Yoga are, “Who are you bringing to the mat today, what do you need, and what will you give? Where are you allowing your attention to go right now?” Being present is essential to the practice of Restorative Yoga, otherwise, it’s just an exercise.
What Restorative Yoga is Not
Restorative Yoga is not simply stretching, it’s about opening oneself and one’s body. In fact, the emphasis is not on the pose, but on the opening. Who you are and what you bring to your practice is as important as the particular poses and postures used. We all bring a container, or vessel, ready to be filled with our practice. It’s different than Yin Yoga, which focuses on active asana, versus the emphasis in Restorative Yoga on holding and being still. Our focus is not on striving; we know you can do more, but Restorative Yoga asks the question, “Can you do less?” It is not about ambition, which is the opposite of relaxation; we do not need to do more.
What Restorative Yoga Is
In Restorative Yoga, we focus on the truth that we do not need to go anywhere else, do anything else, or be any different than who and where we are now, and what we are presently doing. We focus on the fact that what we seek is already here – the pose is right here, right now, as we’re present with it.
To be relaxed we need to be still, quiet, dark and warm. Restorative Yoga takes us toward sleep. To be still where we are, our body sleeps and our mind watches. As we practice, we learn to relax enough, without falling asleep. This is valuable because our bodies are used to moving around constantly and therefore, stillness is a radical thing. It’s something we’re not used to pursuing in our hectic lives. This is why Restorative Yoga emphasizes spending time finding a comfortable shape where we can be still. We find quietness, without music; pursuing darkness, which is difficult because even if you close your eyes, light filters in. Darkness is good for the organs below the diaphragm, irregular periods, our livers and our digestion. Finally, we pursue warmth, even using swaddling blankets around our hands, feet, belly, back, or anywhere! There is a reason this is comforting to babies as they enter a new, seemingly chaotic world – we can receive the same comfort as we pursue stillness in our active environment.
Why Is Restorative Yoga Important To Do?
The reality is that most of our nervous systems are hyper-stimulated as we suffer from a lack of sleep, improper diet, and stress. The intention is what makes Restorative Yoga different. Our bodies sleep while our mind watches as we sense our way through our practice, without thought. The use of props is to support our bodies in positions of comfort and ease; that is, to facilitate the relaxation response, which is where healing begins.
Restorative poses work with the rhythm of the body. They are powerful for removing blockages, to allow our body to heal. Restorative poses are often helpful in recovery from cancer, and poses like legs up the wall can even aid lymphatic drainage. Back bending is helpful in opening the front body for digestion, posture, and breathing. Semi-inversions like legs up the wall are effective for relief of jet lag, restless leg syndrome, and jobs where you stand a lot. Gentle forward folds are great to initiate the relaxation response. The focus of Restorative Yoga can be summed up as, “Heart up, brain down.” As we let go of our thoughts, we will begin to notice changes in our breathing and a more relaxed state, as we drift toward the present moment.
How Can We Start A Restorative Yoga Practice?
Doing Restorative Yoga 20 minutes per day releases tension and lets us gently sink into the present, without judgment, ambition or needing to do anything. In our practice, we are truly with ourselves, for ourselves – we are just simply being.
Restorative Yoga is what our hearts and our souls cry out for in our busy lives. When there are fewer choices, we have more time. We pursue meaning based upon our presence, versus our busyness. Through our practice, we not only relax our bodies, we learn to relax and create space in our lives. As we develop our deep relaxation practices, we gently manipulate our nervous system into the relaxation response, putting it into a place of comfort whereby healing and restoration can take place. Through our practice, we can live with peace and rest, even in the midst of the busyness and turmoil of our daily lives.
May we live like a lotus at home in the muddy water.
I hope this article helps explain what Restorative Yoga is, and how it might be helpful to you. I’m excited to announce that we will be starting a regular Restorative Yoga class at Alongside You in January 2019. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please click below to check it out on our website. We’re taking pre-registrations now and we’d love to have you!
Click here for more information about our Restorative Yoga class!
What is a chronic pain? This term is tossed around so freely nowadays. I don’t think there is one person who isn’t either affected themselves or knows someone who uses this term regularly in describing themselves or their situation. It seems like the pain is all around us!
According to Neil Pearson, who teaches at UBC, lectures worldwide, and has been working exclusively with patients who suffer from chronic pain for over 20 years, “Scientists explain aspects of chronic pain through explanations of neuro-immune plasticity. They are able to show that when pain persists there are relatively permanent changes in neural and immune systems and cells. The problem is that attempting to change these back takes effort, practice, and patience. Our efforts are required, to rewrite this story and to create lasting ‘positive’ neuro-immune changes…and most include disruptions of breathing and muscle tension. For many of us when the story has continued to play for some time, it includes changes in our feelings of competence, difficulties in letting go of tension, being out of balance in life, being disconnected from our life’s purpose, and as such, if we direct our yoga practices (or any contemplative movement practice) towards these, we can rewrite the story.” Persistent, chronic pain requires a different approach for healing than acute pain which usually goes away eventually on its own.
What Yoga Therapy provides is an individualized practice specifically aimed at your needs. This is why it’s important to view yoga therapy as a physical and/or rehabilitation process, not a studio style practice, and also includes integration of practices for mind and breath. We teach students to experience their practice from the inside out. It’s not about how it looks on the outside, it’s about how it feels on the inside.
Viniyoga™ methodology specialist Gary Kraftsow is part of the lineage that I am practicing under. There are several principles that separate this method from others and create its effectiveness in the healing process, and these include:
- Somatic Experience – practicing and feeling from the inside out, not focusing on what you look like on the outside, and befriending your body
- Moving with your breath – allowing your body and breath to move in unison, learning to follow your breath
- Repetition and Stay – the choice to move in and out of a shape or pose, or hold it for several breaths depending on your comfort level
- Individual Sequencing – a collaborative approach where you and your teacher create a practice that is unique to your needs and makes appropriate changes as you progress.
The physical part, called asana, a portion of your practice uses a technique to empower you to check in with your body before and during a posture. First, by going to the edge of pain, that is your baseline, or where you start from. This prevents the sympathetic nervous system [SNS] from firing up, thinking you are going to a place of pain or danger and tightening up even more. You will find yourself forming new habits such as asking yourself, “Is this safe, am I going to increase pain, is this working for me, am I ok here?” By always starting from a place of comfort, listening to your body rather than to generalized cues, and by working through a complete practice in this way, you will begin to change your perceptions of your pain, and notice as it decreases. You will learn breathing practices to integrate relaxation and create the space for your body to move into. Your movement will eventually follow your breath and you will practice breath awareness, noticing the quality of your breath. Your thoughts are reflected in the quality of your breath and your breath is a reflection of the quality of your thoughts.
You will also learn positive mindfulness techniques to change how you perceive your pain and start to work from a place of comfort. This allows you to move away from the painful story toward a place of feeling comfortable in your body again and reconnecting with your true self. This part of the learning may also involve surrounding yourself with positive minded friends and supportive people, or be joining a group of others who also want to play a meaningful role in their personal healing.
Restorative Yoga poses are vital to bringing the body into the Relaxation Response, where the parasympathetic nervous system [PNS] replaces the fight, flight or freeze state of the SNS, taking you to a place of deeper relaxation where healing of the body and mind can take place.
There are many studies that are ongoing in support of evidence-based knowledge regarding Therapeutic Yoga. In the International Journal of Yoga Therapy [IJYT], No.26, 2016, Mindful Yoga Pilot Study Shows Modulation of Abnormal Pain Processing in Fibromyalgia Patients, J.W. Carson et al. report that their, “program showed significantly greater improvements on standardized measures of fibromyalgia symptoms and functioning, including pain, fatigue, stiffness, poor sleep, depression anxiety as well as improvements in measure of relaxation, acceptance, and vigor.”
In my teaching of therapeutic yoga, I have witnessed the physical and lifestyle benefits for my clients. I am currently midway through my Certification of 1000 hours as a Yoga Therapist, (CYT) with Maggie Reagh, founder of Yoga Therapy International, and look forward to many years of service to those who are searching for a path to healing. With loving self-awareness and compassion for yourself, learning to listen to your body’s whispers so that it won’t need to scream, and letting your body know it’s OK to let go and breathe, you will come to know that you are not your pain! Listen to your body more than you listen to your pain.
I’ll be away in India for further training through January and February but I look forward to reconnecting with clients in March. We have brought on another colleague to provide therapeutic yoga in my place while I’m away, Janet Richardson, and I’m excited for you to meet her! Please look for the announcement on our website and social media soon! Until March, may peace be with you and your families through the holiday season, and I’ll be sending warm thoughts from the warmth of India!
Reality is that life is not peaceful. Trauma can arise from any number of daily things, seemingly small to one person, yet overwhelming to another. Having experienced trauma, whether recently or in the past, one can feel like something is broken within us, wrong with us, or we feel damaged. This is not so but is a part of the healing process and a normal response to internalizing a traumatic experience. Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy is not about fixing or changing anyone. It’s about learning how to find healing and support within, by empowering yourself to feel safe in your own body and mind and seeing the potential in yourself. By separating yourself from the traumatic event, you are able to witness and self-observe. Through witnessing awareness, you begin to look at it objectively and come to realize that you are not the trauma, it is something that happened to you.
Through your yoga practice, you can return to wholeness by seeing the experience from a place of comfort and safety within your own body, and in time, finding meaning in it. This will arise when the time is right for you. Post-Traumatic Growth will evolve, remembering that people don’t become great in spite of their challenges, but because of them. Eventually, your yoga practice will take you to that inner place where you can be the witness, and know that you can return to that place anytime during your practice or in your daily life. The change will come from that untouched true nature when you are operating not from brokenness, but from wholeness.
Trauma activates our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) for survival but leaves us frequently stuck in the fight or flight response. Yoga practices that can help us get back into the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) include Therapeutic Yoga, along with talk and physical therapy, and meditation. In The Relaxation Response: Yoga Therapy Meets Physiology published in Yoga Therapy Today, Summer, 2017, Maggie Reagh, Yoga Therapy International renowned founder and teacher, lists restorative procedures under topics of Relaxing through Positioning the Body; Relaxing through Lengthening the Breath; Relaxing through Stilling the Mind and Balancing the Nervous System.
Utilizing guided meditation of Yoga Nidra allows healing to begin by building resilience to challenging circumstances that arise in our daily lives. In the International Journal of Therapy, No.19 (2009) p.123, David Emerson et al. state in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice, and Research, “Trauma exposure is ubiquitous in our society. Over half the general population report having had exposure to at least one traumatic event over their lifetime…research has shown that Yoga practices, including meditation, relaxation, and physical postures, can reduce autonomic sympathetic activation, muscle tension, and blood pressure, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decrease physical symptoms and emotional distress, and increase quality of life. For these reasons, Yoga is a promising treatment or adjunctive therapy for addressing cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma, and PTSD specifically.”
When we get stuck in the SNS, the brain is affected, the amygdala grows, making us more reactive, the hippocampus shrinks and we may lose perspective on time, the frontal cortex goes off-line, making it harder to make decisions or think things through. Trauma often makes us feel detached from our body, and sometimes feeling unsafe in our body. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson Henry Institute has found in Harvard University’s research that spending 20 minutes a day in the relaxation response can lower or turn off our stress genes. Through comforting Therapeutic Trauma Sensitive Yoga we experience the relaxation response of coming back to our body and mind. Yoga and guided meditation also help one to understand the significance of the breath. Controlled, yet easily learned, breathing is a powerful trigger to engage the relaxation response. Yoga Nidra supports organization of thoughts and flow of memories and puts us in touch with our physical self.
I hope this article helps explain some of the benefits of a yoga practice, particularly when we’re hoping to recovery from trauma in our lives. You may not think that yoga is for you – and you know what, I don’t blame you. For many, it’s an entirely new concept and outside of the box in terms of thinking of treatment. The research is showing that Yoga Therapy and Trauma Sensitive Yoga can be effective in helping reduce symptoms of trauma and change the physiology of our brain.
At Alongside You, we work as a team and I’m pleased to be able to work alongside the other staff in helping clients, many whom have benefitted from yoga therapy as an adjunct in their recovery. If you’re curious, please give me a call at (604) 283-7827 ext. 709 or contact me through the website here and I’d love to speak with you about how I might be of help.
It’s World Continence Week! Since its inception in Cairo in 2008, we celebrate from Monday – Sunday in the last week of June. It is estimated that incontinence affects approximately 400 million people worldwide. Historically people didn’t talk about their symptoms, finding it too personal, embarrassing, or thinking there was something different or wrong with their bodies in the form of involuntary leakage.
The purpose of World Continence Week is to increase public awareness and encourage people to educate themselves by talking to a friend or family member, a doctor or healthcare provider, or a professional who specializes in pelvic floor health and rehabilitation.
Incontinence issues can affect self-image, self-confidence and quality of life. So, if you’re reading this please know that you are definitely not alone, or different in some weird way! Will you take the first small step, get curious, and seek help? The good news is that it’s never too late to retrain the pelvic floor and associated muscular system. These muscles are no different than others, they respond to strength training programs and techniques, as well as release techniques. Yes, your pelvic floor muscles can be hypertonic (too tight) and need releasing before retraining. People often assume that incontinence is due to hypotonic (weak muscles) which often it is, if you are not an athletic person. There’s so much more information I’d love to share with you!
In honour of World Continence Week, we at Alongside You, are promoting pelvic health, and offering our 6-week Progressive Series for pelvic floor rehabilitation by retraining and conditioning. Bookings start July 1st, 2017! There is help available, take the first step!
Please give me a call today at 604-283-7827 ext. 709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your appointment!
Mindfulness is a term you may be hearing a lot lately as it is being brought into everyday conversations, in response to our stressful lifestyles, and increased alienation from other people. This is due to many reasons, not the least of which are our busy lives, work hours, use of technology, cell phones, texting, and video games, just to name a few. Mindfulness is paying attention to the here and now with acceptance and non-judgement, kindness and curiosity.
Mindfulness Meditation has been a part of Hatha Yoga practices for thousands of years, so it’s not new, but thankfully is being rediscovered. It’s for all of us: children, teens and adults.
Have you ever found yourself repeatedly telling a child to “stop doing that?” It’s no wonder they either continue doing it or find some way to avoid not doing it. What we really need to do is teach them how to stop. This brings it back to you, the parent, to start integrating mindfulness into your own life, by practicing and showing your kids how to respond rather than react. By being compassionate first to yourself, you are resolving your buzzing thoughts, which will magically get passed on to others. Try an experiment: pick a time during the day and check where your mind is, past, future or the present?
Many seeds of mindfulness are planted early in life, but need to be tended and nurtured. As children, we lay on the grass staring up at the blue sky, watching clouds, hearing birds chirping, noticing the breeze gently caressing our face. Nowadays, we enjoy the moment, but most of us never learn how to integrate this into our life. Notice what you are doing already to set an example to children, teens or other adults. What do you do daily for self-care, relaxation and reflection?
Our children also need to be encouraged to have time to themselves to reset. As parents, we spend hours driving our children to countless extra-curricular classes and sports activities, as well as driving ourselves to the gym to work out on the way home from our jobs, texting frantically to communicate and at end of the day feeling more burned out than ever. Through mindfulness practice we can learn to stop – Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed (STOP). Sometimes we don’t realize that all of the extras we take on can have issues attached, whether it’s with a coach, a team mate, feeling inadequate, comparing ourselves to others, and so on. So, the tough parts of the day don’t always end after school, they can confront us wherever we go and in our interactions with others.
Coming from a place of mindful self-compassion it’s important that we check in throughout the day to appreciate the taste of food, notice our bodies, and notice where our thoughts are and bringing them back to an anchor. Our anchor is often our breath, but an anchor can be a colour, a body part, a word, there are endless choices. I encourage you to take a moment in the morning before checking your e-mail, and think of the acronym R.A.I.N.: Recognize and be with your feelings, Allow your feelings to be as they are, Investigate your emotions by becoming curious as to why you feel the way you do, and Notice the troubled thoughts are Not you, it’s not personal to you.
Mindfulness is not about being self-indulgent, weak, selfish, irresponsible, or having self-pity. On the contrary, it’s about not beating ourselves up when we fail and being more likely to try again. It’s about taking more responsibility for ourselves and our families. It improves our perspective and brings awareness that we are not alone. As we take action we gain perspective and empathy for others. It has been said that 80% of life is just showing up. All we have to do is SHOW UP, and be in the present! The words medicine and meditation are both derived from the same Sanskrit word for “Inner Measure.”
May you experience an inner measure of mindfulness and self-compassion this week as you go about your life with intentionality. If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness and be introduced to how you incorporate it into your everyday life, I’d love to have you at my Introduction to Mindfulness class on Friday, July 28th at 8 pm. Register today and I hope to see you then!