restorative yoga: more challenging than first meets the eye

Restorative yoga evolved from the seminal work of B.K.S. Iyengar who used different props and techniques to work with people who suffered from illness or chronic conditions that prevented a more active approach to āsana practice.

While originally the approach was therapeutic, everyone regardless of yoga style or level can practice restorative yoga and experience its benefits. Combined with an active practice, restorative āsana provides an important balance that supports conscious relaxation, healing and rejuvenation, as well as promoting evenness of mind – one of the main goals of yoga practice.

Distinctive from other introspective practices, restorative yoga postures are usually supine and supported by props such as bolsters, blankets and blocks. The intent of the practice is to bring about a relaxation response – most of the work in restorative yoga centres around this – slowing down the nervous system to shift out of the ‘fright, flight or fight’ response.

Breath work is a main focus in a class and is key in bringing about this shift of the nervous system. Poses are characterised by longer supported holdings which help to release muscular tension – when the body is supported there is a natural softening and comforting feeling of being held. The pace is slow and quiet. If possible the class is held in low light and the feel of the class is one of nurturing and care. In a typical hour class you may practice four to five poses at the most.

By the nature of its quiet and slow pace, a student is invited into a direct relationship with their own felt sensation of being – in this type of practice value is placed on going slow and allowing sensations, feelings and inner somatic experience to naturally unfold. This process can release deeply held emotions and tension as spaciousness and stillness influence and permeate perception.

In restorative yoga the general rule is ‘less is more’.

This can be confronting for many. Spacious, present awareness represents a sea-change of perception and patterning against the grain of modern living. To experience this kind of shift paradoxically takes time – time for the nervous system to register the change and shift gears.

Nowadays, stress is considered a leading cause of illness. Fearful perceptions around financial insecurity and the future, unresolved emotions, frustration and inability to communicate + connect, etc…hijack the nervous system into a chronic low-grade stress response which inevitably results in illness.

Conscious relaxation and breath work offered through restorative yoga provides a way to help manage and shift a nervous system that is out of balance. This type of class also helps to educate how the nervous system works and can be very helpful to relieving a chronic stress response.

A relaxed, centred and grounded state of being is the end result of this type of practice; a high leverage choice for quality in living. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by adding restorative yoga to a weekly yoga regime.

Anna teaches restorative yoga at Shoreditch on Mondays at 19.30 and at Camden on Sundays at 19.30. Click to book a restorative class.

Learn more about restorative yoga here.

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