Restorative Yoga

I have been practicing a lot of restorative yoga recently, so I thought I’d share some of its benefits. 

I have done restorative yoga in the past- the odd class here and there, and loved it. Since I started my new job though, I’ve been doing a lot more of it. It probably shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it was (clues in the name, duh!) just how restorative it is. The first self-led practice I did came on a day I was completely exhausted. I really felt pulled to practice but the idea of getting on the mat and doing my usual dynamic asana made me more tired even just thinking about it. Instead, I spent an hour taking just a few different shapes, supported by as many props as I could find and centring on my breathing.

At the end of the hour I felt revitalised, ready to teach my next three classes of the day. The restorative yoga was so nourishing, it gave me back strength in a way that a dynamic practice could not have done at that point.

One of the main benefits of restorative yoga is that it gives us a chance to slow down. Restorative yoga forces you to really bring down your pace of movement. Slowing down to such an extent is in direct contrast to how most of us live our lives. In slowing our movement, we give our breath space to naturally slow and deepen. In the quietness we create through a restorative practice we open ourselves to a deeper contemplation. Here we can make connections and garner understandings that normal life just does not leave space for.

The reason for this is that restorative yoga allows our bodies to switch from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relaxation). Our brains and bodies are designed to release adrenaline and cortisone when we are stressed. However in daily living what is usually making us stressed is a traffic jam or a deadline or demands from children and others, rather than a bear attack or fighting for survival. Our bodies don’t differentiate between the types of stress we perceive so most of us are walking around ready to fight or fly at any moment. Restorative yoga aids the body in active rest, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over.

The parasympathetic nervous system engages when we are relaxed, when we feel no threat. A restorative yoga practice is just such a time. It is a safe place to let go of our days, to fully relax our bodies, breath and minds.

According to Bo Forbes, the author of Yoga for Emotional Balance, ‘when the body is deeply relaxed and the nervous system is balanced the mind is able to engage in our direct experience’. Restorative yoga helps us deepen our mindfulness practice. Learning to be mindful in our yoga practice helps us to be more mindful in everyday living. Most people I know, myself included are working towards being more present in their world and with their loved ones. Restorative yoga encourages and supports that practice.

For me, including a restorative practice or two in my week is becoming a habit, and a major part of my self care. It allows me to connect to myself and my breath. It supports my meditation practice. When my muscles are aching it soothes me and gives my body solid time in active rest to recuperate. Mainly, I just feel better after each practice, and that is so cherished.

You don’t have to spend an hour doing different poses to feel the benefits of restorative yoga either. If you can find 10 minutes to lie on your back with your legs up the wall or over a chair, you will notice the effects. You give yourself permission to do nothing, to simply be with yourself and your breath.

If you are looking for some inspiration for a restorative yoga sequence head over to my Facebook group, Grace Yoga, and have a look at the suggestions I put up there.

Rest, relax and restore. Whenever you need it, self love is world love.

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