SUPPORT THE BODY / RESET THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
Restorative yoga is just what it sounds like: a form of yoga designed to nourish and restore body and mind. It is a particularly slow practice, reliant on an array of yoga props, requiring little exertion from the practitioner. In our full, often over-scheduled lives, restorative yoga serves as a welcome rest stop. It encourages and requires us to put the brakes on and press the all-important reset button.
The practice style and speed of Restorative yoga is not unlike sleepwalking through time. Poses are held in a delightfully supported way by cushy bolsters, carefully folded blankets, and ergonomic Yoga Eggs such that the spinal structure is adequately reinforced and the musculature of the body can truly release.
Originally conceived of by B.K.S. Iyengar as an adapted, accessible version of yoga that required little strain on the part of the student, Restorative yoga was expanded upon and popularized by Judith Lasater in the 1970s. According to Lasater, restorative yoga poses “help us to learn to relax and rest deeply and completely.”
THE UNIQUE BENEFITS OF RESTORATIVE YOGA
Anyone who has held a restorative pose or two at the end of a vigorous flow, or better yet absorbed a full 2-hour restorative class can tell you the end result is an overall tranquil ‘high’ of sorts. The pervasive feeling is one of slow, serene awareness in which the nerves are calmed, the body rested, and the mind easeful. But how is this different from any other yoga practice?
For one, a restorative practice simply takes longer. Each pose is held not just for a breath or two, but for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Secondly, there is an intentional exclusion of a key element of typical yoga practice: efforting. Restorative yoga encourages just the opposite: the student – along with gentle deep breath of course – passively relaxes into deep, long holds of each pose, thus inviting the nervous system to ratchet down. Restorative yoga helps relieve chronic stress, move the lymph (and thus boost immunity), slow down the heart rate, stimulate and soothe the organs, and balance the body’s energy. Similarly, a regular practice serves as a training ground of sorts for the frazzled nervous system to learn how to respond to stress.
NOW IS THE TIME
As the winter solstice approaches, the body’s natural rhythm in response to colder weather and longer nights is to quiet down, simplify, and rest. But the stresses and fullness of the holiday season signal us to do just the opposite. That makes November and December the perfect time to spend more time and energy re-patterning the nervous system by giving it ample opportunity to power down instead of gear up.