It’s hard to know where to begin with this blog post. It’s been a journey to get here. I’m not one to easily open up verbally about true emotions (hence using yoga rather than other forms of therapy as my self-care practice).
My journey into restorative yoga began during the hardest time of my life a few years ago. Without going into too much detail, I suffered a major setback, then another… then another completely life altering event. The circumstances aren’t relevant but they set the context. Basically it was rough… rough as it could get and getting to yoga class was a mission in itself. Although, if I didn’t go… things got worse. My religion became restorative yoga on a Monday night. I craved it, I waited for it weekly and I NEEDED it. It helped that it was on a Monday night as that was often the hardest day during a super low point but it set me up for the week ahead and got me up and out knowing that in the evening I could go to restorative yoga.
At the time I was undergoing counselling… I am only speaking completely for myself when I say that it didn’t work for me. Or didn’t work for me at that time. I got nothing out of it by crying for an hour to a complete stranger to the extent I couldn’t talk anyway and then doing the same a week later. I remember thinking how pointless it was while I was there, watching the clock and thinking to myself I wish I was at yoga right now… I’d get so much more out of that than being sat here. Somehow, moving my body, focusing on my breath and then having the chance to be completely still – no demands, no need to talk, released far more pain and tension out of me than crying or trying to use my voice.
Restorative yoga requires nothing of the participant, other than lying down, or being seated, getting as cozy as possible and being still. Surrendering all body weight, muscular effort and tension onto soft props such as blankets, pillows, bolsters, melting into blissful gentle long-hold gentle stretches. The holds are long, between 5-10 minutes so in one restorative class you may only do 5-6 postures. This is so that the props and gravity can work on the body, gently easing you into stretches and getting deeper down into the fascia (connective tissue), the ligaments and tendons – areas of the body not reached during dynamic, fast moving flow classes. By holding the poses for longer and deeply stretching out, it can help to prevent injury and give tired muscles the attention and restoration they need to heal and undergo more strenuous work.
It can be the hardest thing, being still. I found it was the first time in my life that I’d ever been truly still. No fidgeting, no tension or pain just complete ease and comfort to the point that my mind stopped whirring and churning and yelling like a maniac. My body also felt so at ease and at peace that I didn’t want to move or fidget! It helped and each breath surrendering down deeper into these postures I entered into a different state. I’ve since learned this is the parasympathetic state of the nervous system – the rest & digest mode rather than fight or flight. Or, it was what the scientist Herbert Benson named ‘The Relaxation Response’ in his same-titled bestseller 1970’s groundbreaking book. Benson gave us the tools to counteract the physiological effects of stress. Learning the Relaxation Response (below) is a great skill that can help us to be better equipped to deal with life’s unexpected stressors, heal ourselves and achieve better health.
“You will learn that evoking the Relaxation Response is extremely simple if you follow a very short set of instructions which incorporate four essential elements: (1) a quiet environment; (2) a mental device such as a word or a phrase which should be repeated in a specific fashion over and over again; (3) the adoption of a passive attitude, which is perhaps the most important of the elements; and (4) a comfortable position. Your appropriate practice of these four elements for ten to twenty minutes once or twice daily should markedly enhance your well-being.”
Dr. Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response
Benefits of this ‘response’:
- Lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate
- Deepens the breath
- Enhances flexibility
- Stills the mind
- Improves capacity for healing
- Balances the nervous system
- Aids health problems such as:
- gastrointestinal ailments
- anxiety disorders
- Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease, GI diseases and adrenal fatigue
- Advances circulation
- Boosts the immune system
- Detoxes the body
- Enhances low mood states
- Develops qualities of compassion and understanding towards the self and others
Although the benefits for me were deeper… I meditated in a space where I thought of nothing other than going deeper, seeing colours, seeing light and getting a sense of peace that no one and nothing else gave me at that point. There was no more anxiety, no more discomfort and no more tightness in my breath and chest for a few short pockets of time. It was the only thing that worked for me and that was enough to keep me coming back. If you asked me what postures did we do, what music was played, I couldn’t tell you and I didn’t care. I just needed to lie down and enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing and listen to the stable, secure sound of my heart beat and the teachers soothing voice giving me permission to do… nothing! No demands on me, no responsibility, no pressure for a full hour. What a gift and absolutely guilt free!
Due to my own experience and personal journey into restorative yoga, it’s a true honour to now teach and share this passion with others. I endeavour to create a space where no matter what you are going through you can feel safe, nurtured, cozy, comfortable and held. We all need that from time to time with the dips in life. I combine cozy props with essential oils and massage assists to help with the blissful transition into the ‘relaxation response’. I hope you find this area of yoga as restorative as I have.
“Imagine what the world would be like if everyone practiced restorative yoga every day.”
Judith Lasater, Relax & Renew