The Art of Relaxation: Restorative Yoga

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For fast-acting relief trying slowing down” ~Lily Tomlin

If you’re anything like me, you’re attracted to a strong fast moving yoga practice. Your mind is fast paced and your world is too. You scan the studio schedule for a Hot Vinyasa class or maybe a Power Flow, only to be disappointed to find Restorative Yoga as the only offering. You figure relaxing on the couch or catching a few early Z’s would do as much good...

The truth, our nervous systems are taking a beating - we are exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed. Our minds are racing and they don’t just turn off because we’ve turned out the lights. Most people go to sleep still operating in the sympathetic nervous system; struggling to fall asleep, tossing and turning all night long and waking up feeling tense and sore.

While I’m all in favour of a fast moving flow and the benefits of a daily movement practice, is a 3-5 minute Savasana at the end really enough? Is it really enough to combat days, weeks and months of stress and tension? 

As we know, the body begins to rejuvenate and rebuild while operating in the parasympathetic nervous system. While we can stimulate it almost instantly with deep diaphragmatic breathing, it takes 20 minutes for the body to experience the full effects of this rest, digest and receive state. 

So what the heck is restorative yoga and why should you be doing it?

Restorative yoga is a beautiful way to balance a go-go-go lifestyle. It’s gentle therapeutic approach promotes the healing of physical, mental and emotional symptoms caused by stress. Through the practice, the parasympathetic nervous system is initiated and allowed to express itself fully, providing ultimate rest and recovery for the body.  

In Restorative yoga there is no muscular contraction involved and the body is fully supported by the use of props - bolsters, blocks, blankets, eye pillows etc. With the assistance of props a feeling of safety is initiated and the body begins to relax fully into the posture. It’s often believed that we have to “work” to increase flexibility, but often we can achieve more opening in the body by softening and relaxing. This same softening and releasing occurs not only on a physical level, but is mirrored in the mind and emotional body as well. 

If you’re already a loyal Restorative yogi, you’re well aware of the transformational pieces of this practice. You’ve experienced it on a cellular level that yogis like me are just starting to catch onto. In a speed dominating society, slowing down can be challenging but it’s never been more important. 

Benefits of Restorative Yoga:

  • Balance the nervous system

  • Stimulate the body's natural healing response

  • Enhance immune response

  • Increase overall energy levels

  • Help alleviate sleep disorders

  • Help relieve chronic pain

  • Lower anxiety and irritability

  • Improve memory and concentration

  • Relax and lengthen muscle tissue

So how did this go-go-go yogi find herself in a restorative class? Luckily for me I had the privilege of experiencing this practice with a master teacher. She revealed the deep work going on below the surface and gave me an experience that is yet to be replicated by relaxing on the couch.