Updated: Oct 18, 2020
Imagine you had a spare 20 minutes where you could dedicate the time to pure being and feel fully rested, relaxed and refreshed afterwards?
Well you can, by practising restorative yoga!
Neuro-science recognises that we have an inherent negativity bias that drives our survival instinct. This primal urge is motivated by self-preservation and resides in the Limbic part of our brain, so when we feel threatened, this puts us into the stress mode of “fight, flight or freeze”.
Restorative yoga is proving to be an essential practice, as it is nurturing and nourishing and so relaxing, that it helps to melt away feelings of stress. Since Covid-19, there has been a more palpable feeling of fear communicated through the media and felt in our communities, this has the effect of switching on the nervous system to "FFF" mode. Many people are suffering adrenal fatigue with the effort of “being on alert” and it is adversely affecting sleeping patterns.
This is where Restorative yoga comes in. Just 20 minutes of resting in 1 restorative posture can be enough to replenish your energy and refresh your mind. Sounds amazing, right?
The practice of Restorative yoga, gives you permission to stop and take time out and dedicate yourself to rest and relaxation. The healing process that ensues from the practice, is harmonious with the body’s innate ability to balance and maintain homeostasis. If you haven’t tried the practice before, you might be wondering………
What is Restorative Yoga?
This style of practice originated from the teachings of the great late Yogi, BKS Iyengar and has been popularised by restorative teacher, Judith Hanson Lassater, who I trained with. The practice is based on the principle of restoring mind, body and spirit by using props, such as a bolster, blocks and blankets. The body is supported in a pose that is held for a period of time, which can be anything from a few minutes to half an hour. The experience of this support is that physically, mentally and emotionally, there is a letting go of tension and a return back to ease to our true nature what the Yogis call, “atman”, or "purusha". Yoga recognises it is just as important to learn how to relax, as it is to move the body physically.
It is a calm, slow, peaceful practice that gives pause for space and time to simply be. This is about allowing effortless relaxation, without strain or making effort to stretch further or go deeper in any pose.
This is where the magic happens. The release of worry, tension, tightness and the holding on or bracing that we do when stimulated into “fight flight”, melts away and we inhabit a place of calm and ease. There is a settled feeling where we feel comfortable in our own skin.
The Need for Restorative Yoga.
Our busy, fast-paced lives, increase in mental health issues & rise in stress, call for us to take action to counter the damage we are wreaking on our lives The practice of restorative yoga brings balance, to our wellbeing and the prevalence of the more dynamic styles of yoga. It is the Yin to the Yang, though very distinct from Yin Yoga. If you are a busy person and find it hard to make time to stop, this will bring balance. The practice teaches us stillness and how much we can benefit from simply being present in the moment.
Restorative practice will help to neutralise adrenaline and noradrenalin stress hormones that are released though fear and stress and bring the nervous system into para-sympathetic mode, which is when healing takes place. For this reason it has value in reducing pain and inflammation in the body. It is essential to get nourishing sleep in order to maintain mental wellbeing, clarity and energy. Without it, we are more prone to being triggered into a state of “high-alert” and lowering our immune defence system.
Health benefits of this practice
The relaxation mechanism releases pain in the body.
It helps the healing process in the body/mind, for injury, convalescence, recovering from trauma or stress.
Nervous system shifts into rest, digest and heal (PNS - parasympathetic nervous system)
Good for insomnia as it facilitates a deeper nourishing sleep
Antidote to FEAR
Why I practice Restorative Yoga
Teaching yoga is not a 9-5 job, sometimes I am getting up at 6am to prepare to teach a 7.30am class and other times I am teaching at 8pm in the evening. I need to be able to manage my energy levels if I am to sustain and maintain my health and wellbeing . I have found that by incorporating a regular restorative practice into my daily routine I am able to restore and recharge myself. My favourite way to restore, is with legs up the sofa as in the photograph at the top of the page, I will take anything between 30 -45 minutes to rest in this pose.
Restorative is an accessible practice in that you do not have to have special yoga props to practice as demonstrated in the photographs below.
The shift in the way we practice our yoga with live and online offerings, means we may not have access to the props we would find in a studio. This is where the versatility of this practice lends itself well.
You don’t need a mat, bolster or any of the typical yoga equipment you would find in the studio.
This is Supta Baddha Konasana, reclined bound angle pose, which is a highly beneficial go to classic restorative. 10 -20 minutes is enough to feel the benefits. This pose helps to facilitate easy breathing, relax digestion, provide support for tight neck and shoulders and ease out stiffness. This pose can be practiced by most people and is also suitable for pregnant women.
Supta Baddha Konasana
With props found in the home
With props typically provided by a Yoga Studio
Seven Core Elements of Restorative Practice
Typically in a class you will find these essential props:
- STUDIO PROPS: Yoga Mat, Bolster, Blanket(s), Foam Blocks, Yoga bricks, yoga belt, eye
- HOME PROPS: At home you can use a rug, pillows, cushions, blankets, any clothing belt, scarf/sarong
2. Fewer poses
Much of the practice typically takes place low down on the ground with seated and supine poses.The principle of “less is more” applies here. Time is taken to prepare the props and set up the pose, and then some time is allowed to be still and rest in the pose. In a 1 hour class we practice 3-5 poses.
3. Time to stay
The poses are held anything between 3-20 minutes. Taking time to stay in a pose facilitates gradually letting go of tension and accessing the peaceful space within.
4. Being present & still
You are encouraged to connect and explore present moment sensations and to check in that the body is at it’s most comfortable and easeful and that the breath is quiet and natural. Although there are times when Pranayama can be incorporated into the practice to use the breath as a resource for releasing tension and facilitating deep relaxation.
Bright light stimulates the nervous system into action and the mind into thinking, as does daylight, so covering the eyes is helpful to allow the brain-waves and thought processes to slow down. An eye pillow, or light scarf over the eyes helps to soothe and calm the brain.
6. Opening as opposed to stretching
When we are feeling tense or under pressure, there is a tendency to grip the jaw, or hunch the shoulders and brace ourselves. When we are being supported by the props, the body yields to gravity, as we begin to feel safe and secure, we can let go and the body opens out and eases into relaxation.
7. Mindful awareness
The practice can help us along the journey of the 8 limb path of yoga by turning our senses inwards. It facilitates a state of being, known as “pratyahara”. This is where we take our attention inwards, shinning the inner light of awareness to our true nature.
Restorative yoga helps us to connect to our essence and experience integration of mind, body and soul. We meet ourselves as we are, in that we might start in a state of “storm” then gradually come to rest in the calm. As we inhabit this sense of calm, we get to know that essentially we are ok, we are enough and we can recognise that we have the capacity to soothe and be soothed and experience inner peace.
I have posted a video below on a Restorative Home Practice for Peace using home props only, so you can practice.
I teach Restorative Yoga at Yogahome and at Down To Earth Studios in North London and these classes are also streamed live . To see the schedule and practice a class, please click on my Studio and online Yoga page at the top of the page.