Practicing yoga has been wisely recommended to me by numerous personal and professional contacts. I have resisted the regular practice of yoga for a variety of reasons. I believe that a few of the primary reasons are due to my lack of flexibility and balance and because my basic personality style is on-the-go, all-the-time. I thrive on getting my heart rate up and tend to be a “cardio girl”. On breakingmuscle.com coach Eric Stevens states that although he is not a yogi, he believes that yoga has something for everyone. “I am not a yoga girl”, but I do agree with him. In exploration with coaching clients, it seems we often choose not to participate in those physical activities we do not enjoy or that are not strengths for us.
An article at naturalawakeningmag.com entitled Relax and Unwind, Meredith Montgomery described restorative yoga, in which the peak pose is savasana, often a pose called the corpse, in which one fully relaxes while resting flat on their back. I think I finally have found a style of yoga that I could practice as part of my daily routine. Sort of a meditating while you stretch if you will.
Leeann Carey, author of Restorative Yoga Therapy: The Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being, explains, “This passive asana practice turns down the branch of the nervous system that keeps us in fight-or-flight mode and turns up the system allowing us to rest and digest. It feels like a massage for the nervous system and encourages self-inquiry, reflection and change, rather than perfection.”
The physical, mental and spiritual benefits are similar to those of active yoga, but since the poses are held longer and supported by props such as bolsters, blankets, belts and blocks, “There’s no stress on the tissue and joints. Each pose gifts us with longerlasting benefits, including more time for the mind to unwind,” advises Carey.
“Restorative yoga allows both muscles and the brain to recover from fatigue, so we are stronger, sharper and better able to act in the world afterward,” explains Roger Cole, Ph.D., a certified Iyengar yoga teacher in Del Mar, California, and a research scientist studying the physiology of relaxation, sleep and biological rhythms. He attests that it also serves as preparation for pranayama (mindful yoga breathing) and meditation, which require a clear, well-rested, focused mind.
Perfect for beginners and used by longtime practitioners to complement other yoga styles, restorative poses are designed to accurately realign and reshape the body. They also can be tailored to support natural healing for issues related to tension, back pain, and recovery for athletes. “Poses for healing may require targeted gentle stretching, but prop use will coax the body into desired positions without requiring muscular effort,” says Cole.
Yoga Props 101 (from Relax and Unwind by Meredith Montgomery)
Yoga props can help new students maintain alignment and reduce strain. Always adjust the dimensions and placement of props to ensure comfort via soft curves in the body instead of sharp angles, especially in the spine. Body weight must be distributed equally throughout the pose; key places to check for tension are the lower back, abdomen, neck and jaw muscles. Here are some basic tools.
Yoga mats should have a non-skid surface and not exceed three-sixteenths of an inch in thickness. They cushion the body, serve as a blanket or a base for props or can roll up into a bolster.
Blankets and towels pad hard areas and warm the body. Different ways of folding and rolling transform them into many firm and comfortable shapes with wide-ranging applications.
Blocks in various sizes and materials can be laid flat, placed on edge or stood on end. They can add height or length to the body, access core stability and provide leverage. A stack of hardback books or phone books tied together can work in a pinch.
Belts stabilize joints, support inflexible body parts and create traction and space. Typically two inches wide, soft belts with a D-ring locking system are easily adjusted; two soft, wide neckties or scarves tied together are suitable. Avoid material that cuts into the skin.
Bolsters, typically cylindrical or rectangular cushions, provide good supports that are long-lasting, if sometimes costly. Combining folded blankets and rolled mats may be suitable alternatives.
Walls provide leverage, vertical support and a structure to rest upon. A closed door or large piece of furniture such as a bookcase or refrigerator works; a room corner simultaneously supports both sides of the body.
Chairs are versatile props for any practice and make yoga accessible to those unable to get down onto the floor. Backless folding chairs are typically used in studios, but any sturdy chair that doesn’t roll is suitable.
Sandbags, strategically positioned, encourage overworked areas to release. Their weight also provides resistance and stability. Homemade versions can be made by loosely filling a smooth cloth bag with coarse sand, pea gravel or rice. Retail bags of beans, rice or sugar are other options.
Eye pillows block out light during resting poses, can gently weight the forehead or hands or support the back of the neck. Typically made of silk or soft cotton, they’re filled with a mixture of flax seeds or rice and soothing herbs such as lavender, peppermint or chamomile.
Maybe we don’t need coffee, we need rest.
~Judith Hanson Lasater
“Restorative yoga has become imperative to balance activity and ambition with stillness and being,” she continues.