Rest and Relax: The Importance of Restorative Yoga

by Laurel Erilane

In a society driven by technological advancement, we often treat the body like a machine.

There is a lot of outward pressure to work extended hours, and we often expect to push our body to its limits in our exercise workout as well. At a certain point our bodies, like our machines, deplete their battery banks and need to recharge or they will shut down. With regards to the practice of yoga, it’s important to recognize the consistent need for a restoration. While our yoga asana practice has the capacity to take us to our edge physically, within its structure there are built-in periods of rest. A well-balanced class incorporates counter poses, which help to create a system of recovery. These restorative postures provide the opportunity for our bodies to absorb the full benefits of our practice.

It is often said our yoga practice creates a mirror for our life. If our goal is to create harmony, we must find a sustainable equilibrium of effort and ease. To achieve a sense of equanimity, one must be able to control these opposing forces, and attain a mind-body connection. If a posture is physically challenging and the muscles are actively engaged, mentally we confront our fight or flight holding patterns. It is possible to reprogram these tendencies with practice by continually refocusing the energy exertion, until the process becomes calming. For most, this evolution takes years to master, and therefore is most easily taught through passive engagement of the muscular body.

Yoga is often prescribed for those recovering from injury or illness because of its ability to reprogram the way we think and communicate with the internal systems of the body. When we become connected through this meditative practice, we are more easily able to identify areas of tension, stress and fatigue in the body. Not only does this allow for restoration but it also helps prevent future injury. Yoga helps us to discover physical blockages or limitations and enables us the capacity to understand our own energy levels. Often times, we must let go of a desire to attain a posture before we are ready and settle for a position where the body can fully relax.

Restorative, or Yin Yoga, is the best way to feel the capabilities of the subtle body. Many of these postures are performed seated or reclined in an effort to slow the active body down. This type of practice focuses on deep stretches of the connected tissue (fascia) that surrounds the main muscle groups. Because we are constantly in motion, this practice can often prove to be more mentally challenging without the distraction of an aerobic exercise. However, don’t underestimate the power of this practice, while it might not feel like you are actively “doing” anything, you are. Think of it as an internal massage for the organs and multiple complex systems of the body which functionally don’t like to be rushed.

Benefits of Restorative Yoga

  1. Quiets the brain
  2. Releases muscular tension
  3. Relieves joint aches
  4. Decreases blood pressure
  5. Controls hormone levels
  6. Fights depression
  7. Eliminates fatigue
  8. Recovers nervous system
  9. Promotes better sleep
  10. Immediate calming sensation

While this practice of minimal effort can seem counter-intuitive, less movement can help strengthen the need for acceptance and detachment. This can have a lasting nourishing effect on the body promoting an introspective view that helps to slow down the pace of life. When we move slowly, we explore the refined elements of our yogic journey, becoming more mindful of the where our energy is being overexerted. This may have profound effects on our personal life as well. It may even encourage us to change our environment to promote a relaxing atmosphere where we can combat the turbulence of our busy lives.

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