Get on the Mat
There are times in life when we could all use some rest and relaxation and time for our body and mind to restore. Overscheduling, stress, physical and mental exhaustion, injury, and grief are just some of the reasons we may need to unplug, slow down, and unwind. Listening to our bodies, and our needs is an important skill to cultivate, and knowing when to give yourself permission to slow down and restore is one of the most important gifts you can give to yourself. As I was recovering from knee surgery, this message was given to me regularly and I tried to embrace the opportunity to do less, move more mindfully and let my body heal. It’s not always easy, and some days I am still frustrated with my physical limitations, but these challenges definitely teach me patience. The practice I turn to in times like this is Restorative Yoga. I found Restorative Yoga 8 years ago, and I have experienced its benefits personally as a student, and as a teacher, I have been fortunate to witness others heal and release tension as they move through the postures. I consider Restorative Yoga to be the dessert on the yoga menu and many of my students have said it’s as relaxing as a massage.
Restorative Yoga is a gentle, meditative practice that uses props like bolsters, blankets, straps, and blocks. The poses are held for several minutes as you are supported with the props. The soothing postures allow the body to open slowly in a relaxed state and sometimes breathing exercises or pranayama are practiced simultaneously which helps to calm the mind. The restful practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest, which helps bring equilibrium to the body. This is important as it will help reduce stress hormones like cortisol. Chronic stress and high levels of stress hormones have been shown to trigger many diseases and illnesses. It’s crucial that we find activities that bring us rest and relaxation and integrate these into our daily lives to balance our bodies and enhance our long- term health.
Anyone can practice restorative yoga regardless of experience. Although it is usually not physically difficult and some people consider it a basic class, in some ways, it is more advanced. The ability to unplug doesn’t always come naturally to us in our high paced, connected world. Intentionally slowing down and relaxing can be challenging for many of us and it is actually something we need to nurture, now more than ever. With advancements in technology we now have a constant stream of information inundating our brains from multiple sources. This can be useful to stay connected in our world, but we need to remove ourselves from it at times. Active relaxation through restorative yoga provides benefits that are different than other types of rest such as reading or lying on the couch watching TV. Restorative yoga provides an optimal environment for brain rest and allows our bodies and minds to just be. Mental breaks you get through meditation or restorative yoga can actually be rejuvenating and improve productivity and enhance creativity.
“Most of us need to be given permission to switch from the doing to the being mode, mostly because we have been conditioned since we were little to value doing over being.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Restorative yoga can be done in a class setting or at home. You can modify the props at home by using blankets, pillows, and cushions. I like to start with some gentle stretches and movement before I settle into the restorative postures. I particularly like to begin with cat/cow, a few gentle twists and perhaps a down dog. The following sequence with a few minutes of gentle stretching before should take you about an hour. If you don’t have a full hour, pick one pose daily and practice it for 5-10 minutes. Even practicing a small amount once a day has amazing benefits. Enjoy!
Legs Up The Wall 7 minutes
Supported Twist 3 minutes each side
Crocodile Pose 5 minutes
Childs Pose 3 minutes
Savasana 15 minutes