By Ann West
Restorative yoga is for everybody
It’s not uncommon to encounter yoga students who feel they don’t need restorative yoga. They come to class for other admirable reasons – to train and stretch their body, to heal from injury or disease, or to experience an inner connection that they can’t quite find with other forms of exercise.
They may think restorative yoga is too slow or that nothing is really happening. Or they may just want to sweat and feel the burn. But, by neglecting the wonderful realm of the restorative poses, they miss out on a unique opportunity to rest and replenish at profound levels.
I must admit it took me a while to get used to allowing myself the time and space just to lie around and do nothing – or at least that’s the way it seemed at first. But over the years, my weekly restorative practice has developed into an oasis of relaxed calm in my life, and now I wouldn’t live without it.
Below are six reasons why restorative yoga is excellent and healthful for everybody.
1. Restorative yoga relieves physical tension
Physical labor, injury, stress, and anxiety can all cause tension to build up in the body. It’s an unconscious process that’s easier to create than to release, and it’s cumulative over time. A good night’s sleep helps, but only so much, and many of us struggle to get even that on a regular basis. Resting for extended periods in comfortable restorative stretches is a highly effective way to unwind and let the tension go.
2. Helps recover from injury & illness
Carefully positioned supported poses can also be used to help the body recover from injury by gently directing extra blood flow to the injured tissues, and by encouraging them back into healthy alignment. Yoga has also been shown benefit many other health issues including lower back pain, neck pain, chronic fatigue, recovering cancer patients, and people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
3. Restorative yoga relieves fatigue & compliments sleep
Overwork, stress, and lack of sleep are some of the major causes of fatigue. A vigorous yoga practice or exercise regimen could actually make things worse by firing up an already tired nervous system and further depleting low energy reserves.
Sometimes the body simply needs to rest. The cooling, calming, quieting effects of a restorative practice can be the perfect antidote. Using props to open and support the muscles and organs, and soothe the nerves and mind, creates internal space and fosters deep peace. And when practiced before bedtime, restorative poses help guide our body and mind into a more relaxed state, preparing us for quiet and more restful sleep.
4. Restorative yoga lowers cortisol levels
Cortisol is one of the hormones released by the adrenal glands when we encounter stressful events. Its purpose is to switch us into “fight or flight” mode, so we can either confront or escape potentially dangerous situations. This normal, healthy response only becomes a problem when we get continually bombarded by stress without a break. The resulting constantly high cortisol levels can lead to a host of serious health issues including heart attacks, strokes, obesity and a weakened immune system.
Thankfully, most of us rarely run into dangerous physical encounters in our everyday lives. But modern living is full of other, more psychological stressors that can cause cortisol levels to remain high. The good news is that we don’t have to fall prey to this way of living. Through yoga practice and focused breathing we can choose to release the stress. Research has shown that restorative yoga can actively lower heightened cortisol levels by helping to deeply rest the body and mind.
5. Restorative yoga quiets the mind
When the mind remains confined to the head it becomes prone to brooding, anxiety and negativity. Yoga and deep breathing help free the mind to become more aware of the entire body. Switching our attention away from our worries and concerns for a while allows the mind to rest. This helps to disrupt negative thought patterns and reset them to new, healthier ones. It can be achieved by simply shifting the mind’s awareness into the body or breath, which is easy and natural to do when we’re resting in supported restorative poses.
6. Restorative yoga develops self-awareness & helps change how we perceive stress
Learning to change how the mind perceives stressful events is essential in managing stress. By practicing self-awareness through yoga we also develop the ability to be more self-aware in our daily lives, which in turn enables us to more easily recognize stressors when they arise. Then, our more dynamic yoga practice can come to the rescue, providing us with the inner strength to face and master our obstacles as challenges, instead of viewing them as insurmountable problems.
Are you inspired enough to practice yet? Here are four restorative yoga poses to help get you started.
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