Some people think yoga is mostly lying down in a room of legging clad women, when in fact most yoga classes in London are actually pretty high intensity, such as Vinyasa Yoga, Power Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga.
However, Restorative Yoga really is lying down in different positions and poses for over an hour. It may sound boring, or even lazy, but it is actually very powerful and an essential balm for our over-stimulated bodies and minds.
During a Restorative Yoga class you will use various props, such as bolsters, blankets and blocks, to support yourself in various reclining poses, holding each pose for at least 5 minutes. There is no pushing or straining, it is meant to feel comfortable and relaxing. You will often be directed to close your eyes and tune in to the sensations of your body and your breath.
One of the major benefits of Restorative Yoga is it’s soothing to the nervous system. The practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming down the ‘fight or flight’ stress response that can be damaging to your physiology and your mental wellbeing. This is especially beneficial during moments where we feel we must be ‘always on’, huge social media consumption and busy, achievement focused lives. Our whole systems need to wind down and deeply relax, not just with a glass of wine and Netflix, but with mindful awareness and inward focus.
The second major benefit of Restorative Yoga is increased body and self awareness. We spend so much of our time externally focused, that we become distracted by other people, by our phones or devices and by what is going on around us that it is very easy to lose touch with the wisdom of your body. During the practice, whilst still in the poses, you can tune into what your body is telling you. If you have injuries or are experiencing pain in the body, you can ask that part of the body what it needs, what it is trying to tell you by being out of balance, or what messages you’ve ignored on a day to day basis?
I took a Restorative Yoga class recently and I left feeling a deep sense of peace and calm, I no longer needed to be distracted by the radio, TV or talking to someone. I was content to just be, to have a relaxing bath without my thoughts tumbling over each other desperate for air time.
Very soon after the class started I was aware that the tension in my shoulders and upper back had information for me; the tissues were holding on to unexpressed sadness and grief and my shoulder was screaming because I hadn’t been listening to what my body needed. The tension eased significantly and I felt lighter and relieved.
Restorative Yoga reminds us that we need both the activity and energy of vigorous movement and exercise and the deep relaxation and mindfulness in order to maintain balance, wellbeing and vitality in the body. The restful, soothing practices are not optional or just a ‘break from vigorous exercise when we’re tired’, the yin is just as important as the yang even though our society today rewards constant action and over achievement.
Written by Gemma Ford