Our muscles are about doing, moving, acting and exerting. Our bones are about being, grounding, receiving, regenerating, and restoring. Our muscles are yang in that they are masculine, heat building, and associated with the sun. Our bones are yin, cool, feminine, passive, and associated with the moon.
Restorative yoga gently invites you into your bones and deeply into your breathing space. It is a practice supported by bolsters, blocks and blankets that cradle you to into complete relaxation and stillness. The poses are held for 5 – 15 minutes. They include a series that movements that move your spine in a variety of directions – with forward folds, twists, backbends and gentle inversions. This helps to align the vertebra, balances the central nervous system, and stimulates and soothes the organs.
A restorative practice is inspired by the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar who is known of his use of props to achieve optimum alignment and balance. This is a practice about being – we release the muscles so that we can align with our deepest presence, and and in doing so release deeply held conscious and unconscious tension held in the muscles and connective tissue. In a restorative pose the breath finds liberation and our mind finds space where it thought there was none.
The benefits of a restorative practice are numerous, but here are five highlighted that may be of value to your current lifestyle.
Balance the nervous system – When we are stressed the adrenal glands secrete hormones that activate the sympathetic nervous system known as “fight or flight.” This raises heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness, and muscle tension; prioritizing and shutting down systems like digestion, elimination, growth and repair. Stress hormones are healthy and necessary, unfortunately, given our current lifestyle many of us live in a state of chronic stress. This means that our parasympathetic nervous system is always a bit jacked up, leaving little or no energy for efficient digestion, elimination of toxins (emotional or physical), and restoration of the body’s cellular structure and organs. Restorative yoga allow us to make the shift into the parasympathetic nervous system where we can access active relaxation. Blood pressure lowers, heart rate goes down, growth and repair become active, and the breath softens. Our body can rest, digest and regenerate.
Stronger Immune system – When we are under stress we release an excess of the hormone cortisol which affects the immune system and the adrenal glands. This makes it more likely that our health can be compromised by infection or stress related diseases.
Weight Loss – That same hormone, cortisol, when released in excess causes the body to hold on to fat, particularly in the belly. And, when we are stressed we tend to make less healthy food choices! The limbic part of our brain which is now active will crave higher fat carbs and sugar which is easily digested and burns quickly into the energy we need to survive our threatening situation. When was the last time you reached for a carrot, not a cookie, when things felt out of control?
Improved Flexibility – Releasing tension can actually invite your muscles and your joints to let go leading to greater flexibility. A strong body can still be tight, and even someone who is hyper-mobile may be holding tension in the muscles. That tension may be keeping the muscle from stretching. Allowing the relaxation response to have it’s 15 minutes in a safe, secure and nurturing shape can often support greater flexibility and healthier joint movement.
Mindfulness – A restorative yoga practice inspires and supports mindfulness. When our bodies and our minds are more connected we are more present not only in our bodies, but in our life. Our energy seeks balance and stillness that is dynamic, clear and spacious. We can be in the bones of ourselves and our relationships with more clarity, more light, more wisdom and grace.
Introduce a restorative experience into your lifestyle and observe the difference this subtle yet powerful practice can have on your body, your life, your relationships and the spaces in between.