I got into yoga during the peak of my athletic career. I had suffered my first setback, a back injury that was teaching me a lot about myself, and how to slow down. Breathing and moving my body with a purpose to recover from the pain was essentially my first lesson in self-care. Being only 20 years old at the time I recovered quite quickly, and I know that yoga played a key role. One year later, a shoulder injury this time – I couldn’t raise my left arm above shoulder height. Slowly, with breath, I stretched until gradually I could get into gomukhasana arms. I never thought that would be possible to regain that range of movement and I was now more flexible than before my injury. Instead of writing myself off, however, I chose yoga.
Fast forward a decade to a time when I’m regularly practicing vigorous vinyasa yoga including lots of arm balances, deep backbends and twists, and no shortage of sweat. My body feels great, but something is out of balance… I’m flexible, but not fully at ease or even as laid back as I once was. I was in need of a balancing practice, enter restorative yoga.
In an ayurveda workshop with one of my dear teachers, Rod Stryker, hypothesized that at a true ayurveda yoga conference students who enrolled in a vigorous vinyasa workshop would enter, the doors would then lock and instead of Shiva Rea or David Swenson, Judith Lasater would enter with bolsters, blankets, and eye pillows for everyone; meanwhile those who had registered for the restorative yoga session upon entering the doors would lock, the heat would rise, and vinyasa would be practiced. It’s true, our ayurvedic constitution desires to attract like components. For example, as a posterboy for pitta dosha despite having come into yoga from a therapeutic approach I quickly became attracted to strong, active practices which are, of course, healthy and have many benefits; but along with being naturally fiery, living in an arid climate, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, eating spicy foods, sleeping when the battery was finally out of juice, etc. one can see that a cooling, soothing balance was needed in my lifestyle.
Maybe your not immediately attracted to restorative yoga, like me, or perhaps you are. Regardless here are 8 compelling reasons to practice restorative yoga (at least once a month).
1. Deeply relaxes the body – letting the body rest on support and flooding it with nourishing breaths, while listening to soothing music is a recipe for deep relaxation – one of the greatest benefits of restorative yoga. We all just need to let go and rest periodically, so we can recharge.
2. Quiets the mind – when we are stuck in thinking mode the volume of our thoughts, both symbolically and literally increases. When we are ‘in our heads’ the thoughts never seem to stop and the noise they create gets louder and louder. When this happens slowing down, breathing and letting the body be still and quiet will also quiet the mind. Ahhh
3. Soothes the nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is healthy in certain situations but needs to be balanced with the complementary actions of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic response, identified as ‘rest and digest,’ is calming and nourishing. We stimulate the parasympathetic response by breathing deeply and relaxing the body from tension. Restorative yoga is the ideal way to balance the nervous system.
4. Boosts the immune system – our immune system functions optimally when we have healthy levels of stress. When we are feeling run down and drained it’s often a result of stress dictating our behavior, but we can take control of the situation. Yoga helps lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulating the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body, and bringing oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function. In other words, ‘do yoga, feel better.’
5. Enhances flexibility – laying over the support of yoga props and breathing deeply relaxes muscle tissue and connective tissue. Restorative yoga is a passive style of stretching, and when we release into the support our muscles will gently stretch while in a relaxed state. This is an effective way to increase flexibility and can help reset resting muscle length.
6. Develops qualities of compassion and understanding toward self and others – when we are relaxed and comfortable in our own skin, our mind’s become laid back and we know beyond doubt that everything’s going to be ok, and that there is nothing to accept or reject. This feeling of sublime equanimity is us returning to our truest selves. When we access this truth we relinquish all judgement of self and others, leading us to be more compassionate and understanding in any situation.
7. Enhances mood states – we all enjoy feeling good, so why feel bad? We let ourselves go there because we often forget the things that truly bring lasting happiness. Activities like restorative yoga that nourish us and restore balance simply make us feel better. Plus, the more often we do them the more connected we stay to positive mood states.
8. Improves capacity for healing & recovery – yoga has healed the physical bodies of many and also the lives of many. The ancient techniques bring balance to the hectic pace of our lives and the physical demands we put on our bodies. It helped me recover from injuries that I thought would be debilitating, and as the practice took root in my life it helped me become more patient with myself and others. I believe in the transformational power of yoga, and restorative yoga is deeply nourishing when I need it most.
Wishing you all the great benefits of a regular restorative yoga practice!
Join guest instructor Jill Sockman this weekend at Breathe for these Restorative Yoga sessions:
Finding Calm Friday 9/25 7-9pm
Cultivating Ease Saturday 9/26 2-4pm
Yoga for Healing Sunday 9/27 8-10:30am