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Restorative Yoga: Is It For You?


Restorative Yoga

Just sit back and relax! That sounds good to almost anyone.

Believe it or not, yoga also offers the chance to relax on your mat and slow your pace. Many see yoga as a fast-paced way to get in shape, stretch and stand on your head. Fortunately, there are numerous styles of yoga offering a variety of benefits.

Restorative yoga serves up the chance to slow down and stress the Yin as opposed to the Yang. It may sound boring to some yogis, but many have learned to love the healing and rejuvenating powers of slower paced yoga classes.



What Is It & Where Did It Come From?


The practice of restorative yoga has been around for decades. This style of yoga is derived from the practice of B.K.S Iyengar. It's no secret that Iyengar is widely accepted as one of the most famous and influential yoga instructors in the world.

During his vast practice, Iyengar noticed that many times injuries could develop from students holding postures and straining for too long. Afterwards, he created poses which used props and posture modifications that allowed students to practice with little chance of injury. Iyengar also realized that these restorative practices could also help students recover from injuries and reduce stress.

This style of yoga practice also helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system as students relax into the postures and poses. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for slowing breath, controlling blood flow to organs and reducing our heart rate.

Restorative practices become popular in the United States during the 1970's with the teachings of Judith Lasater.

Over the years, this style of restorative practice has grown in popularity because it offers many benefits including the reduction of mental stress.






What Happens During Class?


It's safe to say that if you decide to try a restorative class, you shouldn't expect a fast-paced sweaty environment. By nature, restorative sequences are slow paced without any dramatic movement on the yoga mat. Don't expect to build a sweat!

Although the classes are slow moving, sometimes these classes can present quite a challenge. Many yoga students may find it difficult to find stillness both on the mat and within their daily lives. While in class, students should be prepared for the challenge of clearing the mind and focusing on breath rather than movement.

During class, the lights may be dimmed and soft music may be played to help stimulate relaxation.

Restorative poses are held for much longer periods of time as compared to typical yoga poses during flow based yoga classes. Typically, restorative postures can be held for 3 to 5 minutes or even longer depending on the instructor. Because poses are held for longer periods, virtually every restorative class will make use of yoga props. Yoga props make it easier and less stressful on the body to hold postures for longer periods of time, therefore allowing the body and mind to restore, relax and renew.

Some props you may encounter in class include yoga blocks, straps, pillows, bolsters, and blankets. These props will greatly aid you in achieving the feeling of being fully supported while on your mat.

Restorative classes are generally longer in length and can last up to a couple of hours in some cases.


Benefits of Restorative Classes


Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the restorative practice is that it trains us to slow our minds and experience stillness. In today's fast paced world, many of us find it difficult to simply find calm and feel the earth beneath us. Slower paced styles of yoga will offer you the challenge of removing movement to invite renewal to your body.

Because of the use of props, restorative classes are a celebration of the passive. Your body and muscles will experience total relaxation through support from the props and earth. This passive mindset cultivates healing and rejuvenation.

Students may also find that a restorative practice can also lead to better flexibility as the body and mind relax. It may become possible to reach deeper into postures.

As mentioned earlier, these restorative practices are almost instantly beneficial for our parasympathetic nervous system. As a matter of fact, the parasympathetic nervous system is sometimes referred to as the "rest and digest" system. These types of yoga practices can help stimulate this system to slow our heart rate, breath, and help promote intestinal activity for better digestion.

Because of its ability to promote our parasympathetic nervous system, restorative time on the yoga mat acts to achieve balance with the sympathetic nervous system which is sometimes called the "fight or flight" system. Fight or flight refers to our body's way of responding to danger. Obviously, if we experience "fight or flight" too often it can be unhealthy. Restorative classes help to create balance between these two important parts of our nervous system.


Common Yoga Props For Restorative Classes


As mentioned earlier, these classes are usually filled with the use of yoga props. These props make it much easier to hold poses for longer periods of time, and they truly make it less challenging to find true stillness during the posture. There are numerous props that you may find useful during a restorative class, they may include blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets and neck pillows. Of course, you will also likely use a yoga mat like most all yoga classes. Below is some basic information on a few popular yoga props you may use during your restorative practice.

Bolster:

The bolster is a common prop that you will find in most yoga studios and many use the prop during restorative classes. Bolsters are basically oblong pillows that can be placed under the back, shoulders or head to help provide support. This prop can also help to open the chest and lengthen the spine. Bolsters are much like body pillows, but more firm. Students may also use bolsters in prenatal yoga classes. The most common postures combined with bolsters are gentle backbends and forward folds.


Blocks:

Yoga blocks are widely used to help students achieve proper alignment which is essential in avoiding injuries. Blocks are very useful in allowing a yogi to practice a pose without straining beyond their current abilities. Blocks basically raise the floor. In restorative classes, blocks could be used to provide support in certain postures like Bridge Pose by providing back support.


Yoga Straps:

Straps like most yoga props are also used for support. However, straps also provide an extension of the arms. Straps allow you to reach further without straining. By wrapping a strap around the arms or legs, this prop can be used to prevent the legs or arms from sprawling apart from one another in certain postures.


Blankets:

Blankets may be the simplest of all yoga props. Naturally, blankets are used for support and comfort. If needed, blankets can be folded over to create firm support. Chances are, any home blanket will suffice as a yoga blanket. In a restorative class, a blanket may be used for nothing more than adding a little cushion to your yoga mat.



Common Restorative Poses:

Child's Pose
Legs Up The Wall
Supported Reclining Bound Angle
Supported Seated Forward Fold
Supported Bridge Pose




Preview Of A Restorative Class



In conclusion, think of restorative yoga as merely a way to truly relax and feel supported while on the mat. Even if you love a good sweaty yoga flow class, an occasional slow paced restorative class can help provide balance. It's possible, like so many others that you might even grow to love the feeling of releasing yourself and just melting into the earth below you.