Why You Should Give Restorative Yoga a Try Today
When students venture into my restorative yoga class, the first thing I usually tell them is to get ready to “lay around like broccoli.” If you’ve ever seen the kind of energy that broccoli brings to the table, it isn’t much and that’s what I expect from you. If my students don’t leave the class half cock-eyed and stumbling, then I haven’t done my job well.
With that said, there are two kinds of people that venture into my classroom. Those that know they need to relax and are practically “lights out” before the class begins and those that swear they can’t relax and raise a skeptical eyebrow. They’ve heard about the mysteries of restorative yoga and like an anomaly that lies behind a circus tent door flap they’ll gladly pay .50 to see, they’re curious what it’s all about.
If you fall into that second category I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say you need what restorative yoga has to offer the most, even if you don’t know it yet. I will always remember the student that came and declared that “I cannot relax!” and at the end of Savasana (our final resting pose), she was sound asleep. I’m not saying it will happen with everyone, but if you’re open and willing to try it and give your body a chance to unwind, I promise that over time, you will receive its benefits.
So what is restorative yoga all about anyway? When we lead busy lives, when we’re not feeling well, when we don’t feel in tune with our minds or bodies, a restorative practice offers us a safe space to rekindle these relationships with Self. A chance to move out of our sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” mode into our parasympathetic nervous system or “rest & digest” mode. It comforts your mind and body down to a cellular level and gives it an opportunity to repair any damage caused inadvertently by overworking ourselves, stressing ourselves out, and absorbing all the craziness in the world around us.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the pictures social media spreads around of the ripped man balancing on one foot at the edge of a mountain peak or the one where the woman balances on her forearms with her back arched and toes resting lightly on her head like it ain’t no thang?
Now imagine the complete opposite. A woman lying on her mat with a blanket underneath her for comfort. She’s turned to rest on her favorite side with a folded blanket both under her head and between her bent knees and she’s snuggled up to a big pillow or yoga bolster. Her breath is long, steady, and restful. She’s comfortable and feels safe enough to relax completely and let go of the day.
In yoga, a good rule of thumb is to know that you receive the greatest benefits from your practice not through forcing yourself into a pose, but by releasing and surrendering to it. I.e. you lay around like broccoli.
You can practice restorative yoga any time of day. If I’ve had a restless night’s sleep I’ll do a pose in the morning before I start my day but they can prepare you for a good night’s sleep as well. If you’re on your feet all day, you suffer from insomnia, have chronic pain, or are recovering from surgery, restorative yoga is the perfect respite to calm the nerves and take your mind away from “chatter”.
Ten minutes is all you need and below I’ve provided two wonderful poses for you to try.
But first, set the mood by telling anyone that might come barging into your sacred space that you have killed for less and this time you require is not to be bargained for. I’m not joking.
Put your phone on do not disturb mode, turn on soothing music, light a candle, set an intention (such as “I intend to remain present” or “I intend to feel peaceful and at rest” or perhaps something else that resonates with you and your intention), and allow yourself this tiny little slice of bliss.
This first step is of utmost importance. There is nothing more annoying than being jerked out of a state of blissful rest.
As with anything physical you choose to do, please talk with your doctor to make sure a restorative practice is right for you. Chances are they will give a resounding “yes!” but there can be some contraindications that might be more harmful than beneficial.
What do you need?
Second, you need to grab a few props i.e. any supportive object that will help in your practice. Restorative yoga props can include:
A mat (a comfy blanket can be used if you’re already on thick carpet), a yoga bolster or two firm pillows, two yoga blocks or two thick books, a yoga strap, bathrobe tie, or dog leash. I also include at least two blankets or two thick towels.
Optional props to make the practice even more delicious include a scented eye pillow and sandbags to rest on your palms, belly, or shoulders. You can substitute bags of rice or beans for the sandbags.
Comfort is queen and the more propped up and supported you can make yourself, the more relaxed and comforted you will feel!
This pose is wonderful if you’re on your feet all day, have swollen ankles, or have trouble falling asleep. Don’t practice this pose if you have a hiatal hernia, if you are more than three months pregnant or at risk for miscarriage, or if you have sciatica. It’s also been said if you’re on your moon cycle to stay away from inversions as the blood flow moves back towards the major organs. I might suggest avoiding it on heavy flow days.
This is a wonderful pose to try if you’re feeling overwhelmed, worried, or fatigued. It can help with digestion as well if you choose to rest on your left side! This is nice for pregnant women as well. Just be sure to support the belly with an extra blanket underneath it.
Amber Kleid is a 500-hour Registered Yoga and Mindfulness Mentor who loves helping her students feel good inside their bodies while they explore their potential for well-being on and off the mat. Her specialties are Slow Flow Yoga, Restorative Yoga, and mindfulness practices. If you’re interested in scheduling a private mentoring session with Amber (available online or in-person) contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.
If you happen to be visiting or living in Western North Carolina you can join Amber for a live Restorative class on Wednesday night at 7 and Beginner’s Slow Flow Saturday mornings at 10:30 at Waynesville Yoga Center. Register for her class here.