WHAT IS RESTORATIVE YOGA?

January 7, 2019

Rest is essential to every human being, especially in today’s society. Restorative yoga is the practice of relaxation for active rest. During longer poses made comfortable with props, the body can release anxiety, stress, fatigue and even in some cases trauma. Being still for longer periods of time activates the parasympathetic nervous system – our ‘rest and digest’ response. Practicing restorative yoga can boost energy levels, balance emotions and promote equanimity at a deep level.

The world of wellbeing and messages around self-care can often seem like something extra, rather than entirely necessary. Choosing to spend time on hot baths, yoga, meditation, a massage, exercise or resting is seen as a treat within a culture of busyness, and wellbeing is mostly marketed as an add-on to life rather than an integral part of it.

What these messages don’t tell us about self-care, is that the practice of it builds resilience. During times of stress or a difficult period, your body behaves how it is conditioned to. If the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ response) is not used to being activated, fight or flight mode takes over, and the body and mind harden. However, if a person has given their body the time and healing it needs to unravel on a regular basis, it is easier to recognise the physical symptoms and manifestations of stress in one’s own body and to choose something different, or at least be aware of what is going on physically and mentally.

Resilience is becoming a popular new term alongside wellbeing, and as a good friend pointed out recently, this word comes with some baggage. It is being used as an individual’s need for greater resilience when in fact, it may be the systems around us which are the problem. Trying to ‘toughen up’ to life’s challenges might just cause more rigidity in the body, less flow, less opening. What I would like to see, is more people choosing to spend time on wellbeing as a practical choice, and for things like yoga (which balance softness and strength) to be seen as a life skill.

This is partly why I teach restorative yoga, because it is so powerful in re-setting and re-programming the body. It helps us un-learn those dominant responses, and gives an experience of deep rest which is unusual within Western society. As Adelene Cheong writes:

“Rest is not self-indulgence, Rest is not optional. Rest is self-preservation, Rest is respect for life”.

When seen as a practical choice, wellbeing activities, remedies and therapies are not just a fluffy extra for your peace of mind. They are tools for empowerment which as well as changing us, have the potential to influence our culture and the way that we live.