Restorative yoga is arguably one of the most radical yoga practices out there. Why you ask? Because it includes barely any movement and allows body and mind to do what they most certainly need: rest.
What is restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is a physically passive yoga style. It involves a lot of props, such as pillows or even specific yoga bolsters, blocks, straps as well as blankets. The poses are each being held for a longer period of time, such as 5 to even 20 minutes. The physical goal is to use no muscle, which is why many props are being utilized to make this possible. In that way, it is very similar to a yin yoga practice, although restorative yoga takes one step further by wanting students to very feel little to no physical sensation at all. This also means that there aren’t many different poses in restorative yoga practice. Common ones include supported child’s pose, reclined butterfly, dear twist, supported supine twist or supported savanasa. As you can see, support plays a very important role in this yoga style.
However, “restorative” as an adjective is used quite frequently to describe a yoga practice that is very wholesome, gentle and usually includes a lot of stretches. These kinds of practices are different to the original practice. This can easily lead to a confusion to what restorative yoga actually is.
Rest is best
Rest is the most important part of a restorative yoga class – hence the name. This is quite contrary to other styles of yoga, which usually contain a final relaxation pose at the end as a form of physical rest. However, restorative yoga, even though it is a modern practice, actually leads us back the roots of yoga and why it was created in the first place. It was the wise Patanjali, also referred to as the founding father of yoga, that wrote: “Yoga-Chitta-vritti-nirodha“. This refers to calming both body and mind through the meditative techniques of yoga. The image that modern yoga has, especially in the west, as some sort of workout, usually doesn’t remember this meaning most of the time. Restorative yoga brings us back to where it all began.
We currently live in a very stressful and rushed society, that demands that we give over 100% at what we do. It is no surprise that burnout or simply exhaustion are very common health problems for many people these days. When it comes to a yoga practice, a lot of us then tend to choose a more physically demanding practices, like with Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga, but forget about resting. Rest, however, is equally important for both our physical and mental health. The challenge that some people face in a restorative yoga class is usually on a mental level. Enduring this kind of stillness can be quite demanding – but more on that later.
What are the health benefits?
The emphasis of a restorative yoga practice is on deep relaxation as well as meditation. This allows for both the body and mind to relax. During a class like this, students are invited to only focus on the breath or physical sensations that come up. As we live in this fast-paced society, this is where a lot of practitioners first really learn to tune into their mental or physical sensations. However, there are a lot more benefits that a restorative practice brings to the table.
When we start to breathe deeply, we signal the parasympathetic nervous system that we are safe and can therefore relax. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for things like digestion, regenerating resources, immune response, and also rest. However, the more active part of our autonomous nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, is more dominant in most people, due to a quite stressful and demanding society: we have to be alert at all times. So, if we manage to dive into a period of deep rest and restoration, this allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over.
Restorative yoga and stress
A key response of a restorative yoga practice is that we can finally rest. The body starts to regenerate resources and get to do everything that it cannot due when we are active – a little similar to when we are napping or even sleeping. However, rest feels to a lot of people like “doing nothing” and it feels like it’s time wasted when they could be doing something productive.
But rest is such a crucial thing for our nervous system. Not only can a few minutes of restorative yoga allow you to recharge and feel fresh for whatever lies ahead, but it can also turn into a preventive technique for your mental health. If you practiced restorative yoga on a more regular basis, this can help you generate all the resources that modern life demand from you on a daily basis.
Other benefits of a regular restorative yoga practice are
- Decrease of chronic stress
- Improved relaxation
- Increase in mood
- Improved quality of sleep
- Decrease in pain
- Better immune response
It’s all connected
All of these factors are intertwined. A lack of sleep will also mean that you are more likely to catch a cold. Less chronic stress will allow you to be in a better mood and simply improve your general well-being. When you feel anxious and tense, it is quite hard to fall asleep, let alone have a good night’s sleep. If we go to bed feeling relaxed, say after a restorative yoga class, this can help improve the quality of sleep. The list goes on and on.
You might notice that, even though some of these benefits are connected to our physical health, the key stimulant in a restorative practice really is our mental health. Luckily, the importance of regulating our mental health is slowly getting the awareness it deserves.
However, lying still and simply being with yourself can also be challenging for people, especially those with mental health battles. So perhaps trying a short class, maybe just one pose, and giving yourself permission to rest can be the start of a beautiful relationship with rest. Give restorative yoga a try and allow yourself to simply be today.
Stay Safe and Be Well
The Positive Professional 🙂