In the world today people lead a fast and busy lifestyle and so many are always on the go. Sometimes you feel like you just want to slow everything right down.
In order to find some rest it’s a good idea to get in touch with nature, or find some meditative and reflective time. While most yoga classes are fast and demanding, there’s a peaceful practice people are doing called Restorative Yoga. It is a completely different experience than most contemporary yoga.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga is all about deep relaxation while holding the poses for longer periods of time, with the help of props. The props are used for support so you can stretch deep and relax into the pose.
This is a practice that is really about slowing down, you open your body through passive stretching. In a restorative class you might just do a few postures during the course of one hour, since it is quite common to hold a pose for ten minutes (or longer).
During the long holds your muscles are allowed to relax deeply, with the props, instead of the muscles, being used to support your body. It is a time for you to find relief and an inner peace.
The 3 Qualities of Restorative Practice
Restorative yoga is a type of yoga known for its relaxing, calming and healing effect. As you relax with the aid of props, like blocks, bolsters, blankets, belts and straps, you are taught to spend time focusing on your breathing.
Awakened Breathing – A big part of a restorative practice is the breathing. It is maybe the most constant thing in your practice and therefore the perfect thing for you to focus on.
As you move into each pose and hold it you can practice deep breathing techniques to help:
- regulate heart rate and blood pressure
- trigger your relaxation response
- reduce stress
- letting go
As you focus on the breath it can grow steady and regular, calming as you hold the poses and stay even-minded. This breath management helps to cultivate mindfulness and is maybe the greatest contributor to the restorative relaxing.
Relaxing with breath management will aid as well with calming the mind and any wandering thoughts. It may seem ironic but the relaxing can also increase blood flow to your vital organs.
Besides just feeling good the relaxing can help with common ailments such as headaches, backaches, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Restorative yoga is great for sleep!
Smart Use of Props – Restorative yoga uses props extensively to support your body so you can hold poses for longer periods of time. They are used to allow the body to be in the most comfortable, supported position possible.
The props are a support and take the stress off of your muscles, relieving strain and encouraging the relaxing into poses. The long, supported poses help your body to fully engage and soften, thus allowing the precise positioning to work its wonders for you.
With props you can set the postures up well so your attention and focus won’t be distracted by discomfort. An important part of the practice is learning about setting up the props intelligently and with precision.
You have to adjust each posture for the person who is doing it. For example, someone with sore shoulders would have a different set up than someone who doesn’t. Just moving a prop a little bit can make a big difference.
The goal of prop setup is to support and assist the posture, to help you remain present and in the moment. Really when you set up each posture you are building your own mindfulness. The set up today may need to be different than you set it up last week. This way you focus acutely and stay responsive, moving toward greater balance and ease.
Holding the Poses – The idea of restorative yoga is holding the poses for about ten minutes so the stretching really sinks in for deep relaxation. This releases stress stored in the muscles and fascia and offers a very peaceful, relaxed way of exercising and moving the body.
Restorative yoga poses include gentle twists, seated forward folds, and gently supported backbends. Besides providing deep relaxation and lower blood pressure, you get looser hips and spine which is a big benefit and feels good too.
When you attend a restorative yoga class, the teacher will likely go around the class to adjust postures and help students go deeper into their pose. He will show you that your body can move comfortably in ways that it doesn’t normally move.
Sometimes the lights are turned down in the room, gentle music may be played, and the practice may be combined with guided meditation. If you don’t have traditional props (blocks and bolsters), you can use use books and pillows.
The idea is to build support and settle into poses that will help you rest, digest, and ultimately recharge. It is a receptive practice, so you’ll feel open afterward and interact with yourself and others in a more loving way.
Many yoga instructors include some restorative poses at the end of their normal active routine. In regular classes, a Restorative posture or two as an ease down towards Savasana is always greeted with enthusiasm by students.
One popular restorative pose is Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Benefits of Restorative Yoga
A restorative yoga practice has the main benefits of relaxation and healing but is good for more things too. Since it is so calming and restful it is a good companion practice to do with other active yoga practices.
It has benefits like:
- Improves capacity for healing
- Balances the nervous and immune system
- Helps with sleep
- Enhances your mood
- Centers the body and mind
- Deep relaxation
- Boosts immunity
- Improves breathing
- Leads to meditation
This practice is very popular with students who are recovering from illness or injury, It has healing qualities and can feel therapeutic as well as relaxing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Holding poses for extended periods of time can take some getting used to and so you might want to start out by just doing the postures for a couple of minutes. Practicing just one restorative pose each day, even if it’s just for ten minutes, brings a beautiful balance to your life (like Legs Up The Wall pose).
Healing Through Meditation
Restorative yoga is considered an ideal balance to hectic and stressful modern lifestyles. It is the centering of your breath and body – aligning the physical and mental by practicing stillness or gentle movement for extended periods of time.
This practice incorporates the wonderful experience of simply being – not being this or being that, just being. It is simple yet can be profound, both in healing and finding inner peace.
Restorative yoga is intended to take the mindfulness that is found in all disciplines of yoga to the next level. It is still and slow, and it’s as much about the mind as it is the body.
With this practice you can discover the benefits of being, focus and fine tune the senses plus balance the body and mind with how you interact in the environment around you.
The Origin of Restorative Yoga
Restorative Yoga is based on the work of B.K.S. Iyengar who has pioneered the use of props to help support the body in Yoga postures. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest yoga masters in the world and has practiced yoga for over 60 years.
He learned in his years of practice that pain or injury could happen when you strain too hard in a pose. When he saw this he developed poses that were safer and often supported them with the use of props.
These practices are still in use and benefit many people who suffer from injuries or require healing. But as we see anyone can do restorative yoga, you don’t have to have ailments to enjoy its fruits and benefits.
Another teacher who helped develop this practice is Judith Lasater, who helped evolved the practice and has written extensively on Restorative Yoga. One of her famous books is ‘Relax and Renew’, an excellent resource for anyone wishing to know more about restorative yoga.
We see in Restorative yoga a practice that is usually very relaxing and slow paced, so don’t come prepared for a workout. We see its beauty because, by relaxing in poses, with the aid of props, we can achieve physical, mental and emotional relaxation.
Restorative Yoga balances a fast lifestyle with its enormous capacity to heal both physical and mental symptoms, like injuries or stress related. And it does this without strain or pain!
With the use of props we can affect deep release of muscle tension and built up stress to get to a place of peace and calm. We use the props in a smart and careful way so that when we practice they support us fully and we may profoundly relax.
- See also Yin Yoga Benefits
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Photo credit girl: By Matthew Henry
Photo credit boy: By AnkurKapoor – Own work.