“On one hand, it’s not surprising that restorative yoga has gained in popularity over the last twenty years considering that aging baby boomers might well be looking for gentler, more therapeutic physical practices. What is interesting is how young people are increasingly attracted to this gentle practice. In fact, www.alignyo.com named restorative yoga one of the top trends of 2014.
Characteristically, restorative yoga poses take on the shape of traditional poses but with the aid of props and an emphasis on ease and comfort. Typically poses are held for 3-20 minutes while students may be led through meditation or breathing practices, or listen to soothing sounds–music, bells, or crystal bowls.
The practice restores the nervous system, helps the body heal after illness or injury and calms the mind in turmoil, but it is not just for healing or correcting our systems through times of noticeable stress or discomfort. When we relax our bodies, we enable all systems of the body to be restored to a natural state of homeostasis. All systems work together effectively and the flow of energy, called prana in yoga or chi in Chinese medicine, is regulated.
Perhaps the most important benefit of restorative yoga is that it significantly reduces stress levels in the body, known to be at the root of most serious and potentially fatal illnesses in modern times.
This benefit was confirmed in a comparison study published in the October 2013 issue of the American Journal of Managed Care. Researchers interested in delving into the benefits of restorative classes versus more traditional stretching compared the students’ physical differences over a six-month period. The most significant finding showed those in restorative classes lost almost three times as much subcutaneous abdominal fat as the stretch class group. The researchers explained the difference was caused by the reduction in levels of cortisol, the chemical released during periods of stress that has been linked to fat storage, particularly in the abdominal region of the body. While most people don’t come to restorative to slim, it would be a welcome side effect for most of us.
Five years ago, I could not have imagined devoting my teaching primarily to restorative types of yoga but, like many others, I am impressed by the power of the practice to heal, re-balance, transform and unify the body, mind, and spirit.
Restorative yoga is inclusive of everyone from those who are elderly or recuperating from illnesses or injuries to those more active who desire an antidote to the ongoing demands of their lives. While attending a class is ideal in terms of deep relaxation, I encourage my students to maintain their sense of well-being by practicing poses at home, as needed.
Below are three typical stress-related issues and poses that effectively address the issues and require a minimum of props. Hold each pose with eyes closed or covered from 3 to 15 minutes while keeping your attention focused on your breath. A warm, quiet, dark space will increase your ability to benefit.
Problem: Overall fatigue caused by travel, long periods of work, especially sitting or standing in one position, or lack of sleep.
Solution: Viparita Karani-legs up the wall pose.
Lying on the floor, hips no more than a hand-width away from the wall, put the legs up with heels resting on the wall hip width apart. This gentle inversion reverses the flow of prana and refreshes the legs, organs and the brain.
Problem: Anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, unsafe or fearful
Solution: Balasana, child’s pose, especially when held with the head on a comfortable support is effective in reducing feelings of being overwhelmed anxious or fearful. Hips ideally come to heels but if this is uncomfortable hips can be supported by towels or blankets. Arms rest on the floor with hands beside the feet. Forward bends cultivate a feeling of being protected and when the head is in contact with the floor or support, the mind releases tension. Imagine your exhales releasing unwanted feelings and thoughts into the earth.
Problem: Lack of energy, sadness, depression
Solution: Supine supported backbend. Place a thin rolled towel or blanket across the back just over the lower tips of the shoulder blades. Lie back over the support with the head and shoulders on the floor. Knees are bent. Open-hearted poses help expand the capacity of the lungs so we inhale more oxygen. This enlivens our entire body and mind and encourages a sense of openness to life.”
Written by Charlotte Pregnolato of “Feel the Bliss” Yoga in Knysna.
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