What is Restorative Yoga?
Hey Readers! I am so glad you are here! Have you ever tried a restorative yoga class? If you answered "no," you are missing out big time! In this blog post, I will give an overview of what restorative yoga is, and why you should highly consider including this style of yoga into your wellness routine.
Restorative yoga is a practice that practically everyone can benefit from, and it can be especially helpful for those with chronic pain (e.g. fibromyalgia) and injuries.
Restorative yoga is essentially about learning how to rest and relax. I know, I know, that sounds so easy, right? Well, restorative yoga is actually much harder than you would think. In fact, some yoga practitioners consider restorative yoga an advanced practice. As Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. (the creator of Restorative yoga), defines, "true relaxation is a state in which there is no movement, no effort, and the brain is quiet." This state can be difficult for some people to achieve, particularly at the beginning of a restorative yoga practice.
Restorative yoga uses a bunch of yoga props to completely support the body so that the practitioner can relax and rest (click here for my blog post about common yoga props). The use of props provides the practitioner with a completely supportive environment in which to reach total relaxation. Indeed, restorative yoga actually restores your body's natural ability to relax. And let's be honest, relaxing is hard to do in our go-go-go culture.
In addition to yoga props, the following environmental conditions are required for you to truly practice restorative yoga:
Quiet (soft and gentle music is optional)
Dark (or at least not super bright with lights directly in your eyes)
Safe (so you feel free to completely relax and let go)
Warm (or whatever temperature truly allows YOU to relax)
The goal of restorative yoga is NOT stretching - that would be more of the focus in a yin yoga class. Restorative yoga IS about restoring your natural ability to rest and let go. Restorative yoga is also NOT about physical work such as you would experience in a flow-type yoga class or another movement activity (e.g. running, weightlifting, etc.). The whole point in restorative yoga is to reach true relaxation, so you want your muscles to do as little as possible, while being supported as much as possible.
In a typical restorative yoga class at a yoga studio, the class length is often one hour, but it could be shorter (e.g. 30 minutes), or longer (e.g. 90 minutes), depending on the particular studio. In a one-hour class, there are usually about 6 poses (give or take a few), where each pose is held for around 5-10 minutes, with the complete support of yoga props. Similar to a flow-type yoga class, the teacher typically demos the set-up and how to enter each restorative pose in class. The particular poses used in class will likely vary by teacher and studio. Restorative yoga poses can be held for longer than 10 minutes if the student practitioner needs/prefers.
Why Do Restorative Yoga?
In our modern-day culture, most of us tend to live extremely busy lives - we work all the time, our kids have a million things scheduled every week, and we rarely make time for quiet rest. And on top of all that, most of us tend to remain in a high-stress mental state "on the regular." You know - we are constantly worrying about bills, retirement, our health, our loved ones, our community, and the list goes on and on. And recall from my "Autonomic Nervous System" (ANS) blog series, chronic stress is associated with a wide range of health issues (click here to read more on the ANS), such as headaches, digestive issues, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, chronic pain, and this list also goes on and on.
Thus, we need a way to curb this chronic stress so that it does not make us sick or bring us disease. Restorative yoga is one such way. As Judith Lasater also explains, "the antidote to stress is relaxation." When you practice restorative yoga regularly, even if just one pose a day, it can help to heal the effects of chronic stress.
Through restorative yoga we can begin to calm the pull that the mind has on us by relaxing our thoughts and body, restoring health to our body and mind. Restorative yoga is excellent for increasing activity in your parasympathetic nervous system (click here to read more about the parasympathetic nervous system). If you remain in states of high stress and arousal (as we often do in our current society), it leads to overactivity in your sympathetic nervous system, which recall, is your "fight, flight, or freeze" system (click here to read more about the sympathetic nervous system). Restorative yoga helps to quiet the sympathetic nervous system, so your parasympathetic system can perform its many life-sustaining jobs (e.g. cellular repair, digestion, elimination, etc.). In this way, restorative yoga is really a self-care routine. It gives your internal body a chance to do all the things that keep you running, focused, and energized in life.
Restorative yoga is sort of like "spa yoga," where the whole point is to relax and rest. Restorative yoga is a great antidote to a busy, stressful life. Chronic stress can be quite damaging to your body and mind, and restorative yoga helps to counter all that stress. As little as 5 minutes a day of restorative yoga can ward off some of the harmful effects of chronic stress. Your body, mind, and spirit deserve some quiet time to rest. Restorative yoga is excellent for helping you to feel refreshed and restored after your practice. Keep in mind that your restorative yoga practice will ebb and flow along its own path, just like your other fitness activities. Some days will be easier and some days will be more challenging to find that perfect relaxation zone. Some days your mind-chatter will be really noisy, and on other days, your mind-space will be quieter. Some days you might even start coming into contact with deeper layers of your being, like memories you hadn't recalled in a long time. Just like with other forms of yoga, let go of expectations of what your restorative practice should be, and instead just let it be what it is on that day, in that moment.
If you are interested in the restorative yoga, check your local yoga studio's schedule, as many studios offer some type of restorative class. As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about your restorative yoga practice, please consult with your physician, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can book services on my website ("Book Online" from the menu at the top of the page), or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT
Lasater, J.H. (2011). Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. Shambala. Boulder, CO.