My yoga practice began with a Restorative practice. I was new to yoga and I had back pain and headaches and was looking for some relief. However, many yoga students start their practice with a basic Hatha style class or a Vinyasa Flow class. Learning the traditional poses in an active practice. I get asked most often, what is a Restorative practice, mainly by students who are advanced practitioners. I was no different at one time practicing only Ashtanga classes, challenging my body more than I ever imagined. So I am always excited to explain the benefits of a Restorative class to anyone who will listen.
Yes Restorative Yoga is way different from a basic hatha or especially a vinyasa style class. The best way to approach restorative yoga is 1. It’s truly for everyBODY and 2. View it as a separate practice to add to your weekly routine. Don’t choose one style over another, but let them complement each other.
The typical hatha class builds stability in the joints, strength and flexibility in the muscles. It affects us energetically and mentally as well but is primarily a physical practice. Restorative yoga is the method that allows us to go deeper into our energetic and mental bodies because it creates the space for it. The body is supported by bolsters and blankets and within that cocoon of safety, our brain is given the gift of the relaxation response. In restorative yoga, we get to relax, melt, surrender and let go.
We live in the “fight-or-flight” state most of the time due to our environment. We live in this stressful, defensive state over mundane events considered by the brain to be stressful, like traffic jams, long lines at the grocery store and job/school deadlines. This effects the body. Stress hormones are released by the adrenal glands, heart rate and blood pressure both elevate, and muscle tension increases. It becomes even more problematic when stress becomes chronic, when we just get used to “being stressed,” often a symptom of overscheduling that has become an unfortunate norm in our culture. This ongoing, stress wreaks havoc on our digestion, our ability to assimilate nutrients from our food, our immune system and our sleep cycles. Can you see why it would be important to have a practice that balances the stress we inevitably experience in life?
The relaxation response—our brain’s shift from “fight or flight” into “the parasympathetic state” helps us to counteract the toxic effects of stress by slowing our breathing rate, relaxing our muscles, reducing blood pressure and slowing down our brain wave patterns. Relaxing means resting deeply, one of our most basic needs…and that is what restorative yoga is designed to help us to do. If we can allow the body and mind to relax, we naturally feel better and we have more clarity on all levels of being.
How Restorative Yoga Works
Restorative yoga is great for everyone, from couch potato to athlete. It helps to release stress and tightness in the muscles which no matter how active, we all have muscle tension. It is particularly beneficial for people who are under stress for whatever reason.
Here is how it works so well:
*Bolsters and blankets allow the postures to be held effortlessly
*The postures gently open the spine in all directions, which soothes the nervous system, energizes the subtle channel which houses the seven chakras, and nourishes the spine and all the muscles on the back body which often maintain stress-induced holding patterns.
*Organs are soothed by supported forward bends which forces blood out of them and stimulated by gentle, supported backbends which then soak the organs with fresh oxygenated blood.
* The attention to the breath facilitates that feeling that you are letting go of tension and stress.
Everyone should add a Restorative class to their weekly practice. Those who are hesitant, are those who probably need it the most!