You’re lying on your back atop an ocean of blankets and bolsters. The room is quiet, the lights dim. So in tune are you with your internal rhythm that you can perceive the sound and feel of your heartbeat. You draw air in through your nose. Your inhale cools you as air floods into your lungs. You feel taller, more open. When the exhale finally comes, it’s warm, your face softens as you release any lingering tension from your body. Down into the blankets and bolster, into the mat and through the earth your tension dissipates — away. This is a taste of restorative yoga.
Restorative yoga is an invitation to slow down, retreat inwards and silence the chatter. In a culture where the ongoing mantra is a flood of “do, do, do — achieve, achieve, achieve — be better, better, better...” an invitation to quiet the mind, step outside of that headspace and into the body and realm of the breath is not only relaxing but life altering.
"The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear." - Rumi
It just may be that one of the keys to finding balance in the modern world lies in a consistent restorative yoga practice. 75 million American adults are currently living with hypertension — that is one out of every three people. 3.3 million American adults currently live with an anxiety disorder. 60 million American adults are affected by insomnia. 100 million American adults live with some form of chronic pain. Restorative yoga, with its emphasis on balance through the practice of connecting with the breath and quieting the mind, may be just the prescription we need.
Meditative and slow, Restorative Yoga draws upon the yogic limb of pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses, offering practitioners the opportunity to quiet the mind and cultivate peace. Integral to the practice of Restorative Yoga is mindfulness and meditation. To aid in this holistic process, Restorative Yoga calls upon the use of abundant props such as straps, blankets, bolsters and blocks which help the practitioner manipulate their body into a state of relaxation, which in turn helps to release tension, activates the parasympathetic nervous system and encourages the mind to be still. Unique to the practice, restorative poses are held for upwards of ten minutes. During this time, practitioners can be guided through a meditation, they can engage in pranayama and connect with their breath, or perhaps perfect stillness where the practitioner is invited to enter into a sleep-like state.
Research is beginning to point to yoga, Restorative Yoga in particular, as one of the best natural ways to combat stress-related illnesses and disorders. According to the Harvard Health Publications, over 55% of people who practice yoga on a consistent basis, conclude that it helps them get a better night’s sleep. Science supports this claim. The baroreflex, a reflex associated with blood pressure is activated during reclining and inverted positions (common to Restorative Yoga) and this activation promotes sleep and reduces stress hormones.
High Blood Pressure, dubbed “the silent killer”, is a particularly insidious condition affecting approximately 1 out of every 3 adults. A regular Restorative Yoga practice has the potential to greatly reduce your risk of high blood pressure. The science behind this is clear. With high blood pressure, the pressure of the blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels is extremely strong, causing the heart to have to work much harder in order to pump blood effectively through the body. In time, this can lead to hardening of the arteries, heart failure, strokes and heart attacks. Luckily, Restorative Yoga is particularly effective in reducing the diastolic number.
Blood pressure is gauged by reading the systolic over the diastolic. The diastolic number, which should be no greater than 80, is the most important number when it comes to a blood pressure reading. The reason Restorative Yoga is so beneficial to those suffering from High Blood Pressure has to do with the fact that stress is a major trigger when it comes to High Blood Pressure and slow, breath-centered Restorative Yoga helps with this. When practicing Restorative Yoga, the heart is not put under stress, the body's requirement for blood and oxygen decreases and the muscles soften and relax, activating the parasympathetic nervous system which stabilizes the autonomic (fight or flight) nervous system.
In addition to counteracting stressful conditions, Restorative Yoga is detoxifying and cleansing, having a profound impact on the lymphatic system, due to pranayama practices. Deep, mindful breathing helps to better circulate helpful fluids through the body, encouraging bad fluids and toxins to become eliminated waste. In particular, poses that invert the legs, such as ‘legs up against the wall pose’ allow gravity to act naturally on the lymphatic system, the system in the body responsible for the filtration of toxins and circulation of antibodies.
Research shows that Restorative Yoga has the ability to lessen the severity of mood disorders and depression. The science behind this being that Restorative Yoga poses stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which causes the heart rate to slow, dilating blood vessels, which leads to an increase in digestive and glandular secretions which in turn, calm the muscles. A body in such a relaxed state is less likely to suffer from stress-related and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
"Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are."- Rolf Gates
Due to their deeply therapeutic and calming effects, restorative yoga poses just might be the antidote for many of our modern western ailments. As outlined above, a regular restorative practice can help lower blood pressure, lessen anxiety and depression, assist with the management of chronic pain, and ease insomnia. It can also relax back and nerve pain, assist with flexibility, lessen the severity of arthritis, boost the immune system which has the potential to ward off a host of ailments from the common cold to cancer. Restorative yoga, rooted in the tenets of ancient yogic wisdom, is an often overlooked and arguably life-saving remedy.
In gyms and studios, people are often attracted to the classes that promise the most sweat and the highest calorie burn, but what restorative yoga lacks in the calorie-burning department it makes up for in the department of therapeutic benefits. With yoga in the west shifting from its original roots in mindfulness towards an athletic trend and fitness phenomenon, restorative yoga holds at its heart the ultimate purpose and goal of yoga — samadhi, or union with the divine. Through deep introspection, connecting with the breath and quieting the mind, the practitioner of restorative yoga is able to transcend physical space, transforming, balancing, and relaxing their way to awakening the divine within.
Ready to give Restorative Yoga a try? Check out my virtual 1-on-1 restorative yoga private lessons!