Having energy is vital to leading a happy and healthy lifestyle, however in this day and age many people are running on empty. Today’s world is fast paced and overstimulating. We are constantly pressuring ourselves and many of us are in a state of high alert and are over-activated most of the time. Statistics indicate that people are far more prone to stress than ever before. According to the Global Organization for Stress 75% of Americans are experiencing moderate to high levels of stress and 91% of Australians feel stress in at least one important area of their lives. It is VITAL that we find ways to relax in modern times, which is why yogic practices like Restorative Yoga are becoming increasingly important.
Many people think of Restorative Yoga as per the teachings of B.K.S Iyengar which uses props to support the body, so that it will surrender. However, ancient texts speak of a set of exercises known as ‘Sukshma Vyayama’ or ‘Subtle Exercise’, which the Bihar School of Yoga adapted and shared as the Pawamutasana series as well as other relaxation postures, with the purpose of influencing the subtle layers of the mind and prana. Restorative Yoga therefore can be thought of as practices which helps us to relax deeply and re-establish homeostasis or equilibrium at both physiological and mental levels.
This balance is primarily achieved by activating the relaxation response – learning to consciously ‘switch on’ the ‘relax and recharge’ system, aka. the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative Yoga focuses on poses that induce a state of relaxation including those that nourish the adrenal glands, which are responsible for managing the stress hormones. It is a nurturing practise of surrender, inner awareness and stillness, supporting you into relaxation.
Although helpful for those who are sick, in emotional turmoil, injured or stressed, almost all of us could use some lessons in turning on the ‘relax and digest’ state. One of the many benefits of Restorative Yoga is that the nervous system is getting trained to adopt the parasympathetic response. It brings us back in touch with our inherent ability to be in balance with ourselves (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) and the environment. A restorative practice is gentler, slower and has a deeper focus on the breath.
Learning how to breathe diaphragmatically is another form of restorative practice, which helps induce the relaxation response. Despite breathing from birth until death, many of us do not breathe correctly. When under stress, the breath is usually short, shallow and chest oriented. Abdominal breath helps one to immediately access the relaxation response. Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) is another important practice that allows one to rest profoundly.
It is often challenging for people to slow down as the nervous system is so used to being in overdrive. Thus, Restorative Yoga can be challenging at first and is sometimes considered a more advanced form of yoga, akin to meditation, where we take the time to observe our sensations, our breath, our emotions and mind, and an internal space is created to welcome all experiences.
Here is why Restorative Yoga is so important:
- Restorative Yoga practice balances your nervous system. The highly alert and activated state known as the ‘fight or flight’ response (sympathetic nervous system) designed for emergency situations, is often perceived as the ‘normal’ state of being. In this physiological response, the stress hormones are stimulated, immediately altering the blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, digestive process, alertness etc. When we practise Restorative Yoga, we lower our blood pressure & heart-rate, send blood to our digestive system and turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, which is what creates the ‘rest and repair’ response.
- Deep physical relaxation of the body increases our capacity for healing and balance. It enhances our immune function by stimulating the vital organs and the relaxation response, which allows for the body’s inherent wisdom towards healing and stress resistance to do its job. The induced homeostasis allows the body to heal at a cellular level.
- Restorative Yoga can enhance the mood and lower anxiety by the release of neurotransmitters, such as, Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).
- A lot of modern yoga has been reduced to exercise. In much of the yoga advertising we see extremely fit people dressed head-to-toe in neon exercise gear doing a fast paced and strenuous ‘power yoga’ practice. However, slower-paced forms of yoga are not to be overlooked. They work on our mental and emotional fitness and flexibility and train the nervous system to unwind. Restorative Yoga can be an incredibly useful tool for minimizing stress and allowing ourselves to recover from an overwhelming external environment. The definition of yoga is ‘union’, between mind and body. Therefore, we do not practise yoga solely as a form of exercise, it is equally important that we show up to our mats to improve our mental states, to become more compassionate, aware and thoughtful beings and then incorporate this into our daily lives.
- When we’re stressed, the adrenal glands produce cortisol, which naturally calms down once the perceived danger or stress has passed. However when we’re constantly anxious and under pressure this hormone can have detrimental long term effects on the body, such as: increased blood pressure, fertility issues, irregular menstrual cycles, damage to our mitochondria (where we make our energy), suppression of serotonin and dopamine production and gut issues. It is therefore important that we take the time to allow our bodies to rest, repair and rejuvenate so that we can sustain our energy in a fast paced world. Restorative Yoga is a deeply healing practise that helps reduce stress on every level.
Learn more about Restorative Yoga and other relaxation practices at our upcoming retreats:
- Our 5 day Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga Immersion is the perfect option for you if you’re seeking a personal, restorative retreat. Learn the relaxation practises with more spaciousness, time for reflection and optional theory sessions.
- We also offer a 10-day Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga Teacher Training, a professional development residential retreat followed by a 3 month training package. This is perfect if you’re looking for a more intensive experience that will equip you with the tools to share these transformative practices in different settings, such as yoga teaching, healthcare and education.
Dr. Sannyasi Gopalananda (Bogota, Colombia) Gopalananda, 1997 ‘The Great Healer’
Yoga Mag, ‘Sukshma Vyama Asanas and Stress’
Global Organization for Stress, ‘Stress Facts’
Sacred Moves, ‘The Eight Essentials of Restorative Yoga’
Ekhartyoga, ‘Restorative Yoga’
Ekhartyoga, ‘Why Restorative Yoga?’
Judith Lasater, Rest and Renew