Restorative Yoga is either strongly embraced or valiantly avoided by many students in Western societies. Why is it so difficult for us to find rest throughout the day, whether at the start of the morning, midway through the day, or in the evening before bed?
Secondly, why do we not appreciate the time during our work day for rest and relaxation? Often times we are punishing ourselves and constantly staying plugged in - running on auto-pilot, trying to roll with the punches of all the notifications, emails, messages, and updates we think we will be missing out on.
The human body does not operate at the same consistency and productivity level for all hours of the day, each day of the week if optimal rest is not attained each night and day. In healthy individuals, our circadian rhythms allow our metabolic rates and energy to be highest first thing in the morning when the sun rises, and both variables decrease throughout the day.
By going on overdrive, increasing our workload and increasing more mentally challenging tasks towards the end of the day without taking short breaks can not only decrease our efficiency, but also lead to other physiological stressors that may lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, indigestion, the list goes on and on.
Even 20-30 minutes a day of downtime, whether it be a mindful walk, a brisk nap, or a simple seated meditation can do wonders in increasing productivity, efficiency, and clearing the mental capacity to engage in more challenging tasks.
We are considerably doing our bodies damage, not being able to turn off and thinking that by simply attributing one day (some day) or that hour of the week (if it ever happens) to relax and do nothing that we will find a miracle to be able to shut off completely.
Restorative yoga can be practised either first thing in the morning or in the late evening before settling into a rested slumber. The great ability of practising restorative yoga is it can be done at home with lots of props such as pillows, blankets, and warm items of comfortable clothing that you can find laying around the home.
Setting up the space is incredibly important, so if a large area of flat floor space with warm room temperatures is not available to you, attending a public class at a studio is a great alternative. You can light candles, burn incense or sage, diffuse essential oils, and keep all other digital stimulations (i.e. tv, phone, electrical lights) off for the duration of the practice.
Essentially, using more props adds greater accessibility to being able to release further. Here, more props are better, regardless of your flexibility, experience, and practice frequency of Restorative Yoga.
Because poses are typically held for 7-10 minutes in either a reclined, front-facing, or seated position, gravity is usually the benefactor to allowing you to release deeper physically and psychologically through the subtle layers of the body with the breath.
Supine Cobbler's Pose
Spine lays along the length of a bolster, sacrum off the bolster as back of pelvis sits on the ground, soles of the feet press together, allowing the knees to bend and resting outer thighs on blocks. Arms rest down on floor, palms facing up. Back of the neck is kept long.
The Restorative practice typically begins and ends in a supine (reclined) position where legs
can be stretched out long (savasana)
knees touch each other in the center as feet are placed in a wide stance on the ground
or soles of the feet meet with knees out wide, like in Cobbler's Pose.
The bolster under the spine, allows consistent length from the cervical (neck) to lumbar (lower back) spine. The back of the shoulder blades wrap around the bolster, taken by gravity to draw together on the back body, thus lengthening the anterior (front) chest and shoulder muscles.
Enhancement: blocks under the spine
To enhance the lengthening through the chest and anterior deltoid muscles, one block can be placed under the thoracic spine in between the shoulder blades and one block is placed under the base of the skull for elevated support.
This variation enhances the pose by being able to draw the shoulder blades closer together, bringing more thoracic extension in the upper back. The bottom edge of the block under the thoracic spine should sit at around the bra line leading up to the base of the neck. The block under the head will vary in height depending on flexibility through the thoracic spine and bone composition in the neck and upper back. This pose should feel supportive and not achey, so it may take a few adjustments of the desired positioning and height of the blocks before settling into the final shape.
Supported front-facing twist
Using the bolster to support the length of the spine, legs are bent and placed to the right of the bolster. Torso is draped along the bottom edge of the bolster, head can face the same direction of the legs, placing the left cheek on the bolster. To enhance the twist, head can turn the opposite direction to the left, placing the right cheek on the bolster. Roll shoulders away from ears and place forearms and hands alongside the bolster.
There are many variations and options to add more props to this pose:
placing a folded blanket in between the legs to provide cushioned support
draping a folded blanket over the top third of the bolster to support the head and neck
placing a block at the first or second height, under the bolster, right under the head for additional elevation
Twists are beneficial in providing slight compression to the digestive organs for better movement of the endocrine system, enhance nutrient absorption, and flushing the body of toxins and waste products.
After holding the pose on one side for 7-10 minutes, switch to the other side and adjust the props and shape accordingly to your comfort level.
Supported Supine Twist
Lying on the back, arms spread wide at shoulder height, knees are drawn into the chest then draped over to the right of the body, using a bolster under the legs as support. Gaze either up towards the ceiling, or away from the direction of legs.
The supine version of the twist also lengthens the pectoralis minor muscle (at the arm pit), the lumbar spine, and the lateral (side) IT band and gluteus medius of the top leg and hip.
Bring the knees closer to the armpit to increase the stretch in the thoracic spine
Draw the knees further down, coming closer to straight legs if the lumbar spine feels impinged, or if you experience sciatica or piriformis syndrome.
Switch sides, bringing the bolster under the legs for additional support.
These are just a handful of various Restorative poses that you can incorporate into your own practice. Not every 60-75 minutes will have the same poses or order of poses like any other asana practice.
Respecting how your body feels and knowing when to move out of a pose or deepen is important in staying true to the practice. Before you start making judgments or disregarding Restorative Yoga as a style for lazy people or when I feel like I'm in the mood for it, notice how your body reacts and settles after your first class. The benefits are truly very nourishing and cumulative over time and more practice frequency.
Some benefits include:
better sleep at night
feeling better rested with optimal energy levels during the day
more consistent feelings of calmness
lessened sense of anxiety and depression
more clear state of consciousness and awareness
less muscular fatigue and dehydration
improved joint mobility
feelings of spaciousness and lightness in weight-bearing girdle, the pelvis
Where and when do you restore?
Share your comments and responses in the comments below!