Picture the soft flow of candles and low lighting, the warmth of a yoga studio, the comfort of cushions and bolsters, the cosiness of blankets and eye pillows, perhaps the subtle scent of essential oils diffusing into the surrounding air and the low hum of ambient music. Sounds like a blissful image, right? Couple the atmosphere with some passive poses held for 5-10 minutes at a time, with little to no effort for the body. A restorative yoga class sounds like a pretty decadent experience, right? You can almost feel every muscle relax as you imagine the situation. However, sometimes the reality of a chattering mind, a racing heart and shallow breathing takes over in the stillness when you are trying as hard as you can to relax. It sounds like an oxymoron but restorative yoga can often be often the most challenging of yoga styles. However, I also believe it can be some of the most rewarding yoga you practise. Restorative yoga is definitely not just about lying around in supported poses for 5-10 minutes and the benefits for the body and mind can be incredibly powerful.
My journey with restorative yoga began before my teacher training. I liked to combine Vinyasa Flow classes which can be physically challenging with a more slower pace style of class that I found deeply relaxing and meditative. During my 200 hour teacher training, restorative yoga was included as a module but I was keen to delve deeper into my learning and fully cement my knowledge by undertaking a Restorative Yoga specific teacher training. Last November, I has the pleasure and the privilege of travelling to Kripalu in Massachusetts to train with Jillian Pransky. Our training included yoga teachers as well as physiotherapists, occupational health professionals, nurses, psychotherapists and many other professionals working in both the wellness and health care fields. The breadth of students attending the course demonstrates that the benefits of restorative yoga extends far beyond the realms of a luxurious treat.
For me, I have found restorative yoga to be deeply relaxing but also a healing experience. It has allowed me to become aware of where I hold stress physically in the body and I have even experienced pain relief as a result of practising restorative yoga. I find it more accessible as a meditation practice in comparison to more traditional forms of meditation and it leaves me feeling calmer and clearer in my mind.
But why is restorative yoga so powerful and how can 'lying around' be so beneficial? The reason is namely the 'Relaxation Response'. During the relaxation response, the body moves from the 'Flight or Fight Response' where the body experiences increased heart rate and blood pressure, slowed digestive functioning, increased blood flow to the vital organs, increased release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to a state of physiological relaxation. This state allows the body to heal, regenerate cells, digest and gives our mind space to process thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Unfortunately, our modern society promotes the fight or flight response. Sitting stimulates the vagal nerve which helps to elicit the fight or flight response physically and our culture encourages and values perceived busy-ness and productivity. We have very little space to encourage our bodies to return to homeostasis. However, it should be noted that restorative yoga is not trying to achieve a life free from stress; this would be unrealistic and impossible to achieve. Stress is a part of life and restorative yoga is a tool to help us practise bringing the body into the relaxation response. The more we can practise moving the body from flight or fight to relaxation, the more resilient we can become to the stresses of day to day life.
If you have any more questions about restorative yoga and this powerful practise, please feel free to email me and if you would like to find out where and when I lead a Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra class, please check out my class timetable.