You might be doing stretching exercises to get more flexible and weight training to strengthen your bones and muscles. The ancient yoga practice offers various options for both flexibility and strength. So you get the physical activity part covered but what do you do to rest, recharge and balance yourself?
Unlike other types of yoga practices, restorative yoga is designed to help relaxation and reducing stress through supported poses and focused breathing. During a restorative yoga practice you use pillows, blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets to support the body in a given pose where you are reclined or seated for 3-10 minutes. While in a pose you are focused on an emphasized breathing technique to help you ease into the pose and experience deep relaxation.
How can you benefit from restorative yoga?
You may not be familiar with any type of physical activity, or you might be overweight and intimidated by commonly recommended exercise modalities such as running, weight lifting, taking a flow yoga class because they all seem too much effort to begin with. In this case restorative yoga can help you start increasing body awareness and to get you into a regular exercise routine as well as helping you to lose excess weight. Research shows that with a regular restorative yoga practice the female participants who are obese lost more weight and continued to lose weight during a maintenance period compared to the control group who only practiced stretching. How does lying down and breathing help this? The answer partly lies on the stress management and its effects on the body.
Stress raises cortisol levels which raises the blood pressure to pump more blood into the muscles so you can escape or fight the perceived danger. The “perceived danger” can be anything from getting negative feedback from your supervisor to dealing with the issues related to your child’s future. As long as stress is not chronic it is beneficial to protect us but the concern here is not being able to switch off the fight and flight response-a sympathetic nervous system function.
When you practice mindful breathing during a relaxing restorative pose you turn on the para-sympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is associated with rest and recovery. Think about someone screaming “NO!, NO!, NOOO!”, and notice the feelings and reactions this cause in you. Then imagine someone with a soft and calm voice saying “YES, YES, WONDERFUL” and notice how this resonates in you. This is simply the difference between the functions of PSN and SNS.
Restorative yoga is an effective self-care practice in that it offers you space to listen and observe your body. If you are sitting on a desk for more than three hours a day or running around carrying stuff all day you might be dealing with a postural issue that is related to repetitive stress. When you are in a side lying pose over a pillow for instance, you may be instructed to completely release your weight and begin to notice if you are holding any unnecessary tension. Simply lying down and listening to your body may be difficult for you at first if you are competitive, work driven and do not know how to switch your “rest and recover” button on.
By observing the body consciously, you are beginning to notice your tendencies that might contribute into prolonged musculoskeletal issues such as neck or lower back pain which can be alleviated by releasing this gripping action (so that you stop blaming your bed for it J). The key is to be aware of where and how you hold this tension in your body and de-activating it consciously. In the case of a chronic or acute pain that is not relieved by resting you will have more information to give to your doctor through your observations. The better you inform them the best they can help you.
Triggers that stimulate and activate your survival mode might cause you to make unhealthy choices like excess eating which contributes to disturbances during sleep, and digestive issues in addition to weight gain. Many people adopt the level of stress that caused by work, relationships and technological devises. How you are affected by these is also depend on your relationship with them. By allowing your body to release tension in a restorative pose you begin to eliminate the time you are exposed stressors and create space to reflect on your day. As you continue to show up on your mat and breathe in and breath out in the poses with discipline and child-like curiosity your practice will get stronger and more effective. You will save yourself more energy for your activities and more likely to act mindfully throughout the day which is what the whole world can benefit from.