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!