Why you (yeah, you!) should be practicing restorative yoga

You might think restorative yoga is too slow and passive to be beneficial. I’m gonna tell you why you’re wrong.

Restorative yoga is a very gentle, slow, still practice that involves holding a short series of passive postures for longer periods of time, sometimes for five minutes or longer. Poses may be prop-assisted, using bolsters, blocks or blankets.

That sounds lovely, you may be thinking, but how is it yoga? Sounds like a nap to me. I thought yoga was stretching and stuff.

Well, here’s where I’m gonna blow your mind: I happen to think restorative is one of the most advanced practices in yoga.

I said what I said.

Listen, we live in times of prolonged stress and anxiety. Late-stage capitalism, war, an unending pandemic, heteronormative patriarchy, white supremacy, the 24-hour news cycle, an endless stream of social media ridiculousness…I could go on and on. We’re worried about each other and our families and our friends and our livelihoods. We’re worried about society. Our nervous systems have been on high alert way longer than they’re designed to be.

That much stress can result in interrupted sleep, feelings of isolation and loneliness, anxiety about the uncertainty of the future. All of this has very real implications for our mental and physical health. While it would be irresponsibly naive to suggest that restorative yoga can solve all or even any of the world’s complex and systemic problems, it can be a very powerful tool for helping our nervous systems become calmer and more balanced so we don’t suffer the ill health effects that come with sustained levels of stratospheric stress on the daily.

Restorative yoga activates the parasympathetic or relaxation response in the body, which helps to balance the nervous system. This allows our bodies and minds to experience deep healing and rest – something that is needed now more than ever.

A restorative yoga practice is highly internal, in many ways more like an embodied form of meditation than a physical asana practice. While a more active yoga class involves stretching and building strength, the work in restorative yoga is in the release. But make no mistake: this is work. Our society emphasizes and rewards effort, striving, hustling, grinding. When we come to the mat in restorative yoga, there is none of that. We begin to notice the places in our bodies where we might be holding tension, and invite those places within us to release. We notice our thoughts cranking up as our bodies become still, and we invite that to release, too. When we stop running, all that stuff we’ve been running from has the opportunity to catch up.

Restorative yoga is a great companion to talk therapy, which is why I teach a weekly restorative yoga class at a mental wellness clinic. What we do on the mat can help us integrate the things we’re learning and discovering in therapy, and therapy can help us process what comes up on the yoga mat. If you have a history of trauma, this practice can bring incredible healing. I highly recommend finding a trauma-informed yoga teacher who knows how to help you stay safe and grounded in practice.

Restorative yoga has all kinds of amazing benefits. Apart from allowing us to relax our bodies and still our minds, it helps to boost immunity, facilitate better sleep, and release muscular tension that contributes to chronic pain and stress in the body.

So, I’ve convinced you, right? But wait: there’s more!

One of the best things about restorative yoga is that it’s accessible to everyone! Anyone can do it regardless of fitness level. Practicing at home and don’t have props? A firm pillow or couch cushion makes a great bolster. A thick book or two, a sturdy box or low stool can give the support of a block. (I’ve even seen someone use two full rolls of paper towels as blocks, and it worked pretty well!)

Finally, restorative yoga is a way to send some compassion to yourself during an unprecedented and extremely stressful time. It’s important (and very healing) for us to look at each other, to look at ourselves, and say, “I see you. I see your struggle.” I think we can all benefit from a little more compassion right now. When we heal, we help heal those around us.

I invite you to give restorative yoga a try! Consider it an act of resistance against the forces of stress, anxiety, overstimulation, oppressive systems, and unceasing noise of the modern world.

Slow down. Be well. Love y’all.

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