A yoga practice is meant to fuse together opposites in order to attain balance, or equanimity. In life as well as in yoga, we want to add what is not there, to find better balance. So if we are stressed, rushed, and on-the-go, we need to add more relaxation, pausing and doing less, in order to get ourselves back into a better flow of life. The most intelligent choice in hectic times is to destress and to restore.
What is restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is a kind of active relaxation, since its techniques help us learn how to unwind, relax, and de-stress in order to reboot and restore our nervous system by taking as much pressure off our bodily functions as possible. The aim is to feel weightless. The way we do that is by using different props to support the body so we can let go of all tension. We stay in the poses for a long time so the nervous system has time to alternate from firing from its active part to its more restorative part. The aim is to communicate with the brain through the supported poses in a way that tells the body there is no tension, no danger anywhere. After a while, the brain gets the message and will lower the stress hormones and increase the life-enhancing hormones that we need in order to heal and feel well.
Restorative yoga is what I call a “lifeline” yoga practice. It helps at times when you feel weak, fatigued, stressed, before or after major life events, change of a job, divorce, through challenges in marriage, parenting, major holidays, and vacation—in any moment in life where you feel unsure, unfocused, challenged, scared or vulnerable. It also works beautifully as a boosting practice for athletic performance, creativity, and mood enhancement.
Restorative yoga is pretty clear: Grab the props you need, set yourself up in a nice space, settle into a pose, stay there, let go, and breathe. Pillows, books, blankets, towels—anything that helps support the body can be used to create a restorative pose.
Unlike other exercises, this practice places minimal metabolic demand on you and increases your energy rather than subtracting from it.
The benefits of restorative yoga
Restorative postures are a powerful way of rebalancing our energy. We can choose from a variety of poses to help achieve this: Backbends lift our energy, forward bends calm our energy, twists calm the nervous system and help with digestion, and inversions quiet the mind. And there are so many more benefits from restorative yoga:
- All the organ systems of the body benefit from deep relaxation. Just a few of the measurable results are the reduction of blood pressure, serum triglycerides, blood sugar levels as well as an increase of the "good cholesterol" levels.
- Deep relaxation can also provide an improvement in digestion, fertility, elimination or reduction of muscle tension, insomnia and generalized fatigue.
- Restorative yoga helps to release tension on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Since our bodies store all our past experiences, when we let go of the hold on the physical body we often have strong emotional releases as suppressed emotions bubble up. For this reason, it's very important to create a supportive environment.
- Restorative yoga can be practiced by everyone. People who aren't physically able to practice asana, such as the elderly and physically challenged, can practice restorative yoga and reap the benefits of deep relaxation and energy rebalancing.
Yoga can help you self-heal
Our yoga practice should help us to live fuller lives. Our practice should help us climb a little higher every day, and if we climb too high, teach us we have to come down and rest, and next time, learn how to equalize.
We often forget the importance of pausing, calibrating, and equalizing. We often push and go full speed. But in order to get safely up our inner mountain, we need to fail, reflect, try again, push, rest, breathe, stop, go, do, be, and mix them all up in a nice blend.
That is what yoga is here to teach us: To find our own personal way, our own yoga, and our own balance where we see and connect to our fullest potential, becoming who we really are beyond all the reactions, beliefs, and fear. Yoga allows us to integrate what we already have—lots of tools inside our body, brain, and nervous system. The more we yoke all of our systems together, the more they work together.
For the longest time, yoga has claimed that we are self-healing creatures and that we can mend ourselves if broken. All we have to do is yoke the things we already possess: the gifts from our bodily systems. In yoga, we see that the nine systems in our bodies are connected and supposed to work in unison. When this unison is interrupted or distorted, then disease, stress, and imbalances appear. Therefore, yoga says, let’s yoke together the circuits of the systems again. These systems carry so much intelligence on their own; however, when united, we become full-powered beings that can reproduce (reproductive system) ourselves, evolve beyond the imaginary, and create wonderful things.
The power of the breath
We need to find and clear the pathways for our systems to unite. Historically, the masters of yoga tried different ways and came up with body postures; asanas to connect different parts of the body with other parts of the body; getting the systems (muscular system, nervous system, and skeletal system) to work; and slowly finding each other through doing. The great masters understood that one system was superior in connecting all the other ones:
The breathing system (respiratory system), since it affected the mind and energy of the individual (endocrine system, cellular system), and in adding breathing with asanas they saw that the overall health and balance (homeostasis) improved dramatically. They learned that a person’s balance has a lot to do with how well the body circulates blood (the circulatory system), since the blood carries nutrients and oxygen to all the building blocks and maintenance stations in our bodies and brains.
Update your body and mind through meditation
Meditation in particular allows us to step away from the patterns and challenges in our life and see our greater roles, feel our places in the universe, and return to daily life with new perspectives. The expansion of ease, awareness, and prana (life force) that results from yoga is an expansion of our ability to live and follow your karmic path with ease and grace.
Before I started doing meditation and yoga, I often identified myself with my thoughts and feelings. I became them. Today, I have learned to view them more as patterns and reactions coming from my mind and soul. In looking closely at them in meditation, I learn a lot about myself in the now and how I function; and I begin to see what takes me out of balance and out of reach of myself.
Yin yoga and restorative yoga are two practice methods that both are mindful practices where one can look at and relate to reality and understand one’s relationship to it. Paying attention to something can be done in several ways. These techniques creates understanding, both of our current condition and of the reluctance or avoidance of being in what we perceive as negative or unpleasant experiences.
I often see my practice as updating all my inner programs, like when you are upgrading your computer, so they function better and can communicate more easily with each other, without friction or disturbances.
Parts of this text comes from my book RESTORATIVE YOGA (available here in Swedish, for English go to Amazon.com) if you wish to explore this topic further.
This week's yoga and contemplation
This week the goal is to meditate on a daily basis. Try to find time each day where you move away from social life, sit yourself down somewhere tranquil and breathe deeply for ten minutes. That is your investment. Your lifeline. Your blissfood.
How to sit when meditating
In order to feel comfortable with sitting in meditation, we need to have a practice that works towards good alignment. All seated meditation postures aim for one thing: holding the back upright without slouching or strain so that energy can run up and down the spine more freely.
Contemplation of the week
- Can I try a little yang practice after my yin/restorative practice one day? Like a brisk walk, a jog or some gentle weight lifting?
- Can I maybe treat myself to a massage?
- Can I list four awesome things about life and living here and now?
Yin, restorative & mediation videos for this week
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