I see Restorative Yoga as a vital component of my practice and teaching. It is easy to find classes all around the world that teach the more active ‘asana’ or yoga postures but I see and sense the increasing desire of so many people to rest and let go of the ever mounting stress of being a contemporary human. Here in Nelson I run a regular Tuesday ‘Rest your Self’ class, a ‘Wellness Wednesday’ class for those living with cancer as well as monthly Restorative Fridays open to all; a blissful way to end your week of to do lists and find ease.
Restorative Yoga is an approach and term coined by Judith Lasater, a well-known teacher from the U.S. She credits B.K.S Iyengar as the inspiration for her work as his legacy of work embraces the use of “props” in order to modify poses and practice without strain. Her book Relax and Renew is an inspiring resource and she holds trainings and workshops in the northern and southern hemisphere. I have learnt the more subtle aspects of Restorative Yoga from my teacher Donna Farhi.
I have also learnt so much from my colleagues Karla Brodie and Neal Goshal who run various Restorative classes, workshops and teacher trainings around Restorative Yoga here in New Zealand and I see them as being at the leading edge of this refined art.
Neal suggests that a restorative practice can be an almost revolutionary thing to do considering our predominant attitudes of striving and achieving:
“Whilst our culture promotes a never ending amount of doing, Restorative Yoga is the radical, counter-cultural experience of simply being.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Neal and through my own regular practice of Restorative Yoga have found there to be an amazing base level support for my personal wellbeing and rhythms because they increase my energy rather than take it away from me. I include one or two restorative postures in my regular daily practice but turn the whole practice to a restorative sequence during my pre-menstrual time as well my menses. Over the years I have found there to be a profound effect on minimising the usual fatigue, pain and emotional turmoil that has accompanied my menstruation in the past. This kind of a practice is a wonderful opportunity to turn inward and nourish ourselves. It epitomises the underlying philosophy of non-violence known as ahimsa in yoga and can help us to softly befriend ourselves with self-compassion.
Restorative Yoga and it’s use of props comes out of a lineage of creativity, responsiveness and experimentation. Let your own practice be a part of this by coming to it with an attitude of curiosity and an intention to nourish yourself fully with deep rest.
The following principles allow a way into the poses that ensures this deep rest. The list is inspired by Neals more in depth article called the Eight Essentials of Restorative Yoga.
Business Class Propping
- Set up the props as if preparing a space for a dear friend – offering optimal comfort
- Create smooth transitions that allow a sense of flow through the body
- Every joint should be supported so that you are safe to soften.
- Pay extra attention on supporting your neck.
- We should look for ultimate comfort for all our body systems – our nervous system, muscular, skeletal and organ systems, the fluid body etc.
- Find blankets and fabrics that can wrap or support every part of your body; the more props the better!
- Enquire: How do I create the best set up for my needs today?
Can I sustain this position with absolute comfort for my whole ‘flight’?!
Take your time
- Set a timer (ideally with a gentle chime or sound) to time the poses so that you can let the clock watch the time for you so that you can focus on relaxing
- It takes a minimum of 15 minutes to really relax. The relaxation response (a term coined by Edmund Jacobsen M.D) takes a minimum of 15 minutes. It’s state is characterised by a slower heart rate, metabolism, rate of breathing, lower blood pressure, and slower brain wave patterns. It is an activation of the parasympathetic aspect of the Autonomic Nervous system….our Rest and Digest response.
- Set an intention so that you can practice an effective sequence to meet your needs
- Build up your knowledge by noticing which postures sedate, rejuvenate, or centre you.
- A well rounded set of postures will take the spine gently through it’s basic movements -flexion, extension, rotation and lateral extension to release tension in the spine
- Judith Lasater suggests including some kind of an inversion in every practice
Yield to Receive
- Use the key yogic principle of yielding to help let go into relaxation
- Yielding is not a collapse, as we might slump into an old armchair but yielding allows us to be in a clear and dynamic relationship with our environment
- Be aware of and feel supported by the ground and the props
- Surrender any tension to the force of gravity and be open to what you can receive
- Cultivate a relaxed breathing pattern that flows unimpeded through the body
- Use a more focussed or controlled centring breath to draw you in
Ensure that the diaphragm can move easily in every pose
Nourish your Cells
- Beyond external respiration lies the desire for prana or life force from the cells themselves
- Where breathing is easeful, the cells are vital and alive
Where breathing is restricted, cellular breathing becomes restricted
- Tune in to the pulsing or tingling beyond the breath to invite healing on a cellular level
There is a palpable inner atmosphere that is created when we move from the busy ‘doing’ aspect of our lives into a place of just ‘being’. This is a place where we feel nourished, with an ability to digest the present moment just as it is.
As we settle into a Restorative Yoga sequence, there’s nothing to do but be with our selves. Joy and wellbeing comes from resting in a place of stillness and simply being. There is a state beyond the confines of our relationships and daily engagements and outside of our ego and identity. As we connect with this part of ourselves, as Neal describes, we can arrive “with a remarkable acceptance, presence and responsiveness to this moment. It becomes a graceful relaxation back into our True Nature.”
by Steven Barza
When we awaken there is a moment
before we remember
the burdens we bear,
that yesterday we lost or won
a fortune or a battle or a love
or that today we must go
to work or to court or to hospital
or we have nowhere to go,
before we start piecing together
who we have been or who we will be,
and in that moment we are simply
appetite not yet linked to
memory or will.
I like the way we are
in that naked moment
before we are defined,
in that briefest moment
before we don ourselves.