Journey To Restorative Yoga

by Deirdre McWade

Does the idea of laying around supported by blankets and pillows for 60-75 minutes sound heavenly, like ahhhhhhh, or create an instant tightening of the jaw and that catch of anxiety in the belly?  Either way, Restorative Yoga may be just what you need.

In teacher training, Restorative Yoga was one of the final segments taught.  In my experience, lying down in Yoga was something that happened at the end, not for the whole hour!  The kind of Yoga that I sought out was usually preceded by hot, power or sculpt so that when you reach Savasana at the end of class, you feel like you really earned it.  So, how did I go from that mindset to embracing and even teaching a weekly restorative class?

My teacher Cindy is fantastic, seriously, if they gave Yogi’s PhD’s she’d have two.  She trained with Bo Forbes, so we learned Bo’s postures and practice philosophy.  Bo is a yoga therapist superstar who believes yoga therapy it to be a more effective intervention than talk therapy in the treatment of anxiety and low-level depression. If you’re interested in the science, check it out: Interactive Journal of Yoga Therapy Article

So, I was curious, but by first restorative practice didn’t go well.   I couldn’t relax, no posture was comfortable, and my thoughts were negative and judgmental, I felt like I wasn’t ‘doing it right’.  When I told my fellow teachers, ‘I just don’t get Restorative’, without judgement, they would say: ‘that must mean you really need it.’  My lovely friend even left a copy Relax and Renew on my doorstep.  So, determined to crack the relaxation code, I re-read my notes, did some light Bo Forbes cyber stalking, read my book cover to cover, and started to practice.

I also kept seeing this National Institute of Health study: Lose Weight with Restorative Yoga

It wasn’t so much the weight loss that triggered my curiosity, rather the reason for it.  By consciously relaxing, and observing the relaxation response, the participants in the study likely reduced their cortisol levels, and that lead to not only weight loss, but subcutaneous fat loss.  Sounds like a mind body connection, right?

The postures lower cortisol levels by moving the nervous system from fight or flight to rest and restore. And we are in fight or flight a lot. However, if you can move yourself to rest and restore, the vital functions of your body, like circulation, digestion, hormone and immune system regulation kick in.  It takes about 20 minutes for that transition to occur, hence the longer holds for restorative postures.  The practice is cumulative, so, the more often you practice the postures, the quicker you can settle into rest and restore.  So, it wasn’t that I wasn’t doing it right, I wasn’t doing it enough, I didn’t have enough practice.

Because, here’s the thing, you must give it some time.  When you first settle into the posture, your body relaxes, your breath slows down, you feel supported and grounded with your props, and then, suddenly, the committee upstairs starts to chatter.  You start to ruminate, worry, rehearse conversations, re-run the reel of your mother in laws/bosses/spouse’s greatest hits.  It starts to get really busy up there, think Disney Pixar’s: Inside Out.

Now, I practice the postures regularly, and I see the benefits.  I set myself up when my house gets quiet at night, after 9pm.  I always anticipated doing a posture or two,  but end up going from one posture to the next and before I know it, an hour has passed.  I find I sleep much better.   When I practice, I noticed a gripping, or tensing in my left hip, I breath into the gripping to release the hold, and when I notice the same gripping while sitting at my desk, or driving, I breath and consciously release the tension there.  It really helps!  So, better sleep and less hip pain, I’d call that a productive use of an hour after all!

So, give it a try!  If you would like a guided practice, I teach Sunday nights in Westford at the Revolution Community Yoga location in Millworks.   See you on the mat😊

Deirdre McWade




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