When we were younger, we had nap time. Ah, yes. A lovely chunk of time set aside to sleep, relax and restore. As we got older, this coveted time was taken out of our schedule. Although Restorative Yoga is NOT the same thing as nap time (but it’s okay if you do drift off to sleep if that is what your body is craving), you might feel the same calming effects afterward as if it was.
Restorative Yoga is the practice of asanas, each held for longer than in conventional classes, often with the support of props to relax the body. Because of these long holds, only a couple poses are taught throughout the class. This might feel a little strange for someone who mainly partakes in a more active/heat building type of class. These types of classes of classes are fantastic, but, the passive stretches that accompany a Restorative Yoga class can be quite blissful as well.
If you ever practiced Restorative Yoga, it’s likely that you already experienced some of the benefits it provides, even if you’ve only done it once. With the support of pillows, blankets, lavender eye pillows, aromatherapy, and much more, restorative yoga is not an escape, a time to tune out, but perhaps a chance to tune in. A chance to become aware of your breath, mind, and body — to be there in that moment. In Patanjali’s first teaching (sutra) he says, “Atha yoga anushasanam,” which means “Now, the practice of yoga begins.” Now is when the practice starts for you.
Extended Poses — Increased Flexibility
What’s lovely about the restorative style of yoga is that you’re able to hold poses for a longer amount of time. The addition of props that allow your muscles to relax into the poses because of this support. For example, in Restorative Pigeon Pose, you might expect to place a prop underneath your hip and one in front of you for your chest to lay on, allowing you to melt a bit deeper without relying on your muscles to keep you upright.
Fluid Introduction to Meditation
If traditional meditation seems a little scary to you, Restorative Yoga can be used as a lovely bridge between the two. Especially if you have back or neck problems that prohibit you from sitting upright for a prolonged period. By being supported in these pro-longed poses, it allows the mind and body to open up and provides a space for you to become mindful of your breath, body, where you’re holding tension, etc.
Deepening Self-Awareness and Introspection
A major positive attribute of this style of yoga is it’s slow, intentional nature. While holding poses for a longer amount of time than traditional classes, it helps you draw your attention inward and away from the outside world. It provides a space for you to look at who you are, how the breath flows through your body to, to be aware of your wants, and perhaps most importantly, the chance to heal emotional pain.
Calming the Nervous System
In light of recent events, you might feel that your fight or flight response has been tapped into a lot more lately. You might even notice that these feelings are derived from your gut. Restorative yoga is a powerful antidote to stress because it down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system and up-regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, digestion, energy conservation and slowing the heart rate. This allows the body to remain in a relaxed, neutral state, perhaps adding to the feeling of being asleep while still being awake.
Restorative Yoga is such a relaxing, and healing form. You might feel the sensation at least once during class that your whole body is exhaling and becoming light, and melting into your props. I like to imagine stress melting away in conjuction.
If you'd like to explore this style of yoga, we offer some opportunities to practice at home, using props you already have laying around the house!