You don't need to work hard to feel better! The health benefits of Restorative Yoga are accessible for anyone & can bring balance to our busy lives.
So what exactly is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative Yoga uses Yoga props such as bolsters, blankets and blocks to provide a completely supportive environment for total relaxation. The equipment helps us to shape each posture to an individual body, while also providing support to enable us to stay and be present in the pose much longer than in active poses.
A Restorative Yoga practice can be just as balanced and well-rounded as an active practice, taking the body through a variety of shapes and ranges of motion, but in a completely supported and restful way. This makes Restorative Yoga an absolute blessing for anyone dealing with conditions like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, or recovering from illness. However, having felt the nurturing benefits of Restorative Yoga as a regular practice, I believe it’s incredibly useful for anyone, including those blessed with strength and good health … because it’s a perfect balancing practice for our busy modern lifestyles and our usual way of going about things.
The benefits of Restorative Yoga
We often feel that we need to be “doing something” or working hard to receive any well-being benefits from a practice, but this is simply not the case. Letting gravity and mindful positioning to unwind tension in your body for 5 to 10 minutes can be so much more efficient than striving into a stretch, and the benefits are longer lasting. I know that if I’m doing a Restorative Yoga practice every week, my body is stronger, my balance is better, and all the active poses and sequences I also enjoy doing feel much more effortless.
There’s even evidence that Restorative Yoga is beneficial for fitness and keeping a healthy body weight. In a 2013 University of California study conducted by researcher Maria G. Araneta, PhD, MPH, a group practising Restorative Yoga lost 2.5 times the amount of subcutaneous (unhealthy) fat than a group practising more active stretching. The Restorative Yoga group also maintained the weight loss much better than the stretching group. All participants had metabolic syndrome as defined by International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) criteria. Researchers theorise that the deliberate, effective relaxation response learned in Restorative Yoga reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a hormone known for contributing to abdominal fat.
Restorative Yoga can also greatly assist chronic pain sufferers. Regularly practising constructive, mindful & well-positioned rest and relaxed breathing are essential for pain relief, and for coping with the fatigue of chronic pain. Pain is “wired in” with fear as a survival mechanism. Stress inhibits the body’s natural healing abilities and tightens the body unevenly, resulting in physical imbalances. Restorative Yoga can help break the cycle. Learning skills of deep rest and meditation are best learned through regular practice, not just when pain occurs when it’s then harder to concentrate. Preparation through regular practice daily can make meditation and relaxation more effective than taking painkillers when pain does occur.
In a Restorative Yoga pose we have time to use aids like eye pillows over the eyes to relax the ocular nerve, and it’s much easier to really slow down and notice where we’ve been holding tension in our shoulders, neck, or hips.
As Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., writes in the Restorative Yoga classic “Relax & Renew”:
“Some poses have an overall benefit. Others target an individual part, such as the lungs or heart. All create specific physiological responses which are beneficial to health and can reduce the effects of stress-related disease”.
The Yoga pose should be shaped to support your body, rather than you trying to fit your body into a pose shape.
Ideally, we learn how to specifically adapt each pose to our current unique physical needs. I prefer to limit my group Restorative sessions to around eight people, and it’s not uncommon for each of those eight people to need a different variation of the same restorative pose … such as a blanket rolled differently under the neck, or an extra support under the lumbar spine.
We can also adjust restorative sequences to the season. In winter we can use expansive and opening restorative resting poses that will make the practice particularly useful for encouraging good circulation and for reducing winter stagnation. We can rest the body in shapes that open the thoracic areas and the chest to deepen the breath, enhance energy levels, and uplift our spirits while still relaxing completely. In summer we might use more cooling poses, including forward bends with the forehead supported. We can even use Restorative Yoga to help boost our immune systems during cold and flu seasons.
Restorative Yoga still has its challenges!
The poses are less effective if the mind is busy racing around thinking of other things. To your central nervous system, there’s no real difference between thinking about work or conflict, for example and actually engaging in work or conflict, so you won’t find deep physical relaxation if you’re thinking about other things.
But this is all the more reason to practice Restorative Yoga, learning how to stay with your breath & the feeling of being in the pose, and teaching your nervous system to regain its ability to relax.
Breathing awareness techniques can make it easier to settle the mind into the present, as well as simply feeling the physical contact of your body on the Yoga supports. Just like strengthening a muscle through repetition and practice, you can keep bringing your mind back to breath and body gently but persistently, until it becomes easier. This is a skill that serves us well when we’re going to sleep, or when we need calm, focussed attention at work, and especially during difficult times in our lives.
Start with where you are and what you have.
There’s no need to feel like you have to have all the correct Yoga equipment before you can try Restorative Yoga. When I first start working with someone, I’ll often get the to use things that are lying around their house such as cushions, pillows, chairs and even books instead of Yoga blocks!
And there’s no need to feel as if you have to set aside a lot of time and learn a lot of poses to begin. You can start with just one Restorative Pose and do it for 5 minutes every day and you’ll feel the benefits and really get to know and love it!
Keen to try a restorative Yoga pose?
Try Legs Up Pose (Viparita karani), described here.
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Like all Yoga practices, Restorative Yoga works best when it’s specifically tailored to your unique body, mind and lifestyle. For a customised Restorative Yoga practice tailored to your unique body and mind, via Skype or in person, drop me a line using the form below, or click here for more information.
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