My Musings on Restorative Yoga
Here are a few thoughts or musings from my own practice but also from my students.
Whenever I put on a Restorative Yoga intensive they sell out really quickly. I think this reflects a deep felt need in my yoga community to rest, unwind and restore the body and nervous system. I know my whole self sighs with joy and relief when I make time for my goddess to restore and rejuvenate. Permission to rest, to let go, to not do that one last item on your ‘to do’ list before collapsing into bed. How about making a ‘to be’ list instead – time for a 10 minute legs up the wall, time for a cup of tea, time to sit down and really chew and focus on what you are eating – and once you get going so many opportunities to find space to just be, breathe and reset with quiet time, with stillness.
Restorative yoga is a conscious and aware practice where we set ourselves up in the a super comfortable position allowing us to process our week, our lives, our physical body, our emotional body our energetic body and our wisdom body. Without a specific time, place and practice set aside for us to just be we will keep hurtling forwards at a faster and faster rate. It is almost as if their is a prize for making yourself so busy you don’t even really participate in your life it just becomes a series of jobs to get done – SLOW DOWN – I promise it won’t hurt you! In fact, you may find it so delightful you will be encouraged to give over to a slow considered more conscious life.
My studio with the lotus pads set up. Lots of props lots of space.
When setting up conditions for deep relaxation, the most important consideration is to be really comfortable as this really lets the body unwind. At some point in evolution when we walked barefooted on the earth and lived in tune with cycles of nature we would have been more comfortable in our bodies because we used them everyday to find food and shelter to support ourselves. Nowadays we live in shoes rarely touching earth with our feet, we sit a lot in chairs even when we are driving or indeed going to the toilet. wed . Back in the day when we roamed the land if our system was overloaded perhaps with a wild animal attack, a problematic neighbouring tribe, or some kind of environmental event like a flood or a fire after it was all over I imagine we would have been more than comfortable to simply lie down on the earth and give our body the time to reset, rebot, regulate and come back to a calm happy place. We knew about the relaxation response and how to use it to keep us healthy. Restorative yoga is the modern day version of lying on the earth and consciously switching on the relaxation response.
Today our bodies are all wound up, wonky, tight and tense out from our unnatural occupations, environment, food and continual low or high grade stress. It appears to me that many of us are genuinely not comfortable in our own bodies, and that the simple act of lying on the floor is alien or uncomfortable for us on a range of different levels. I have heard students say they felt guilty taking the time to just lie around yet once they did and noticed the difference in how they felt afterwards and through the week they want to do it again this time without the guilt.
What kind of world do we live in when resting and looking after ourselves makes us feel guilty because we are not doing.
So it seems we are not physically comfortable restoring and we’re definitely not emotionally comfortable with this idea either. What lying around doing nothing? How lazy? Or perhaps not wanting to actually be with what emerges from the body landscape – physical, energetic, emotional or mental. From observation most people don’t go anywhere without their phone whether meeting a friend or travelling the moile is there to keep us busy checking emails, soical media, streaming music, podcasts, even study. No wonder we find it really challenging to just sit still and do nothing.
How to Practice Restorative Yoga
Most important! You can not relax when you are uncomfortable no matter how hard you try. We are actively slowing down in the way we approach this practice for if we take the attitude of rushing and trying to get it done as soon as possible we are setting ourselves up form the start to fail – the restorative yoga will not work. Advice I learnt form a teacher, Donna Farhi, treat yourself the way you would treat a dear friend with kindness, grace and understanding. This is the attitude you want to to bring to your restorative practice imagine you are setting up your restore nest for a dear friend that you deeply love and care for. Use as many yoga props, pillows, blankets and cushions as you like.
Warm. It has to be warm. Wear layers, wear thick socks or better still two pairs of sock and make sure you have lots of blankets and the heating is on unless of course it is summer and already lovely and warm. As you start to set yourself up, have a blanket in easy reach to cover your body as you get into the pose. If you are cold it will be almost impossible to relax, and then you will need to get out of the pose to put on more layers. Plan ahead.
Once you are in the pose, invite the muscles to soften and surrender into the support of the props, the floor, the earth beneath you. Try to release any unconscious gripping, holding, or tension. Scan the body from toe to head and actively let go of tension when you find it. If needed subtly adjust your shape to allow the tension to melt away. Check these places as often they are receptacles of tension your belly, chest, lower back, shoulders, neck, thighs, jaw, cheeks, and tongue.
If you cannot get to a class where the teacher will keep an eye on the time then use a timer. If you are new to this practice start with 5 minutes and work up to 20. I often start with shorter length poses at the beginning of a class and then drop in some 15 – 2o minute poses. It really does take around 15 minutes for most people to relax deeply into a shape. Put your phone on airplane mode so there will be no distractions or better still turn it off.
Soft soothing sounds are what you are after sounds that lull you into a peaceful place. There is so much to choose from out there perhaps piano, cello, chanting, low fi environment music, or even simply the sound of birds or running water. Silence is also totally acceptable. Juts listen to the sounds in your environment. Go play!
Listen to some of my playlists on Spotify designed just for relaxing.
Give Yourself Permission to Let Go
It’s absolutely essential to give yourself permission to rest, to relax and to do nothing. That’s right to do nothing but melt into the props and allow what ever is arsing to bubble to the surface and take the time to just be with it. A definitive mental switch really needs to be made between quiet rest and work, thinking, activity. Once you have set the tone or intention for resting and doing nothing then just do your best to be unattached to whatever floats up from your subconscious, the messages from your body or emotions, feelings and stories from the past or more recently. It really doesn’t matter what happens as this is your time. You may sleep, have thoughts, visuals, go over scenarios or nothing. All of it is just fine no need to analyse. Just allow yourself to BE.
Trust yourself and know that the ability to relax and be quiet is within you and that the practice works. Set up the conditions, try to enjoy the softness and surrender to the pose. Be patient and kind to yourself.