MYndful Musings | 21st December 2020
Restorative yoga- ‘It’s not self indulgent, it’s self preservation’
Have you ever experienced the strain to function properly when you’ve had a lack of sleep or are stressed? A chronic case of fast paced thoughts, short attention span, loss of focus, or trouble holding a coherent conversation sound familiar? Sadly to many of us, yes!
The human body quickly begins to malfunction without proper rest. Sleep and rest is one of our most important basic needs, it’s fundamental, yet many of us are deprived of proper rest. Taking time out to relax properly and renew is essential to living well, but with our fast paced modern way of living, it can sometimes feel like a luxury rather than a necessity. Even when we believe we are relaxing we are often being over-stimulated by constant interaction with a virtual world.
We are often juggling a myriad of responsibilities; parent, sibling, carer, lover, business owner, to show up to the world and for each other, expectations, deadlines and in many societies success is measured by the productivity and a busy life. Sigh. How did we get here..? We have lost the meaning of true rest.. most of us will only have experienced it at the end of a spa day once in a blue moon. But in reality that feeling is within reach for all of us.. if we kit out our toolbox well!
Rest is needed for healing, immunity, cell renewal, to support heart health, weight management, coordination, balance hormones and moods, proper cognitive function- that adult thing of being able to listen and hold that coherent conversation.
Sleep is one thing we can try to ensure we get more of, but as many people struggle with that for many different reasons.. how about rest during wakefulness? By that I mean a deep state of rest, no distractions, no scrolling, no watching TV, not even reading, I mean proper laying to rest, outside of the aim of sleep?
To rest properly is deep relaxation, this is very different from sleep. For some of us, this may be a foreign language even with a sense of extravagance surrounding it. But in all seriousness, it can significantly impact the quality of our life when built up over a period of time.
This is the role of restorative yoga, gifted to the world by Judith Hanson Lasater.
‘The age of chronic stress’
Restorative yoga was designed to combat the effects of stress – a practice to support living in this way of life. When stresses build up in our body, we experience negative emotions (impatience, frustration, irritation, anger) and it manifests in the body as muscle tension, headaches, digestion issues, poor elimination, to name a few. Stresses over time accumulate within us. When stress becomes chronic like this, a residue builds up in the body that becomes a breeding ground for disease.
Stress, as it would have been experienced by our ancestors would have a threat to life or perhaps defending food or basic needs like shelter. These days, fear of losing a job or business collapsing in a flailing economy would be equal to that. Our evolutionary response systems haven’t changed; in these instances when the body’s hormones respond and act upon the autonomic nervous system, fight or flight response kicks in. Physiological change occurs, cortisol (the stress hormone) increases in the blood stream, heart rate & blood pressure rise & muscle tension increases. In this state the body shuts down systems that are not a priority for immediate survival, these include digestion, elimination, growth, repair and reproduction. These adaptive responses served our ancestors well, situations resolved themselves quickly, they fought, ran, survived.. quite different from the nature of stress in the world we live in today.
The effect of living with modern day chronic stress is significant. The body’s capacity to heal is compromised, cardiovascular issues like heart disease and high blood pressure are rampant, we experience more reproductive issues, more depression, the list goes on and the cycle continues.
Restorative yoga is like our saving grace.. it can support those who suffer anxiety, stress related disease, depression, back pain, neck pain, high blood pressure, migraines, fatigue, insomnia and nervousness. In this practice, we get to fill our cups back up. We take deep rest, we restore our nervous system back to a harmonious state. In a restorative class, typically one posture would be held for anything up to 20 minutes with the body fully supported and held by blankets and props creating complete comfort and enabling the mind to rest, it can take 5 minutes to set up each pose.
Restorative postures for your home practice toolkit
It isn’t always possible to go to class or take so much time out of your day, nor does everyone have the copious blankets and props in a home practice. However we can still benefit from having some of these restorative poses in our home practice ‘toolkit’ for the days when we need then.
Below is a home-adapted approach to the practice which can be taken by anyone. Hold each posture ideally for 8-10 minutes. Ensure you will not be interrupted, light some candles, ensure you are warm and cosy, blankets, socks (essential), jumpers, eye masks, diffuse some lavender essential oil. Seriously, indulge! Treat all of your senses with what they enjoy. I would recommend laying a blanket underneath you also for extra comfort and cosiness. Even if you are truly busy at home, 10-15 minutes per day in just one of these postures will have significant impact on your health.
One thing I have learned for sure is that when I sacrifice my own practice time because I am busy and fill my day with life’s other things, life gets harder, not easier, stress builds much more quickly and ultimately, my inner environment is less harmonious and my ability to cope diminishes. Although it may seem counterproductive at these times, this truly is when we need to practice more than ever, this is when we gain the most benefit from our consistency and commitment. Even in the smallest of doses-10 minutes per day just a few times per week will be valuable time spent during times of pressure and stress which will be gifted back tenfold in the form of a deeper sense of clarity, improved focus, calm and elevated moods.
Give it a try, commit this small amount of time to rest, explore the sensations and feelings which arise when you become truly still.
You can find Helen teaching Sunday night Yin-Restorative classes Online for the studio.
Here’s where you can find her beyond that..