Much like active yoga poses, restorative yoga has many benefits and is useful for creating a well balanced yoga practice. There are a variety of poses, each with its own benefits and energetic qualities. Generally restorative poses relieve stress by taking students into a deep state of relaxation. It also stimulates and soothes organs and improves concentration. A restorative practice is excellent for calming and grounding.
With the fast pace of life today, it is common for the sympathetic nervous system to be on overdrive and for our bodies to stay in a constant state of heightened alert. Our bodies do not know the difference between stress created from work and actual danger such as the threat of an attack by a bear. In order to restore, the body needs to be able to relax and return to the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative yoga poses support the muscles and bones with props so that they can relax. As a result, the nervous system send less messages to the brain, the mind quiets and the body returns to the parasympathetic nervous system. This lowers the heart rate, reduces blood pressure and slows down the breath.
Some restorative poses target specific areas and each has its benefits. Forward bends tend to be particularly calming. One example of a restorative forward bend is supported Balasana (Child’s Pose). The best way to feel the calming effects of this pose is to try it: all you need is a bolster or large pillow. Place the bolster or pillow length-wise on the floor. Beginning in a kneeling position, place the bolster or pillow in front of you between your knees, hip width apart. Lengthen over the bolster. Turn head to one side and rest it on the bolster or pillow. Switch sides midway through the pose. Remain in the pose for 10-15 minutes. When you come out of the pose, notice the effects the pose had on your energy.
Another restorative pose, Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle), opens the whole front side of the body. To set up the pose, prop up your bolster on a block that is set on the middle height. The block should be about 1/3 down from the top of your bolster, creating a gentle angle. Sit directly in front of the bolster and slowly lower down to recline on your back. Place the soles of your feet together and if your knees are off the floor, prop them with blankets or blocks. If you’d like, you can place another blanket over your body and use an eye pillow to really relax into the comfort of the pose. Let your arms rest to your sides with your palms facing up. This is a pose of surrender, and while you may feel exposed at first, staying in the pose will help you develop an open and receptive mindset. After holding the pose for 10-15 minutes, carefully roll to your right side into fetal position (roll to the left side if you are pregnant), and then slowly push up to a comfortable seat. Notice how the pose has affected your energy and your body.
Restorative yoga is a good antidote to the stressful, busy lifestyles that many people lead. Just as you take time each day to eat and sleep, so should you take time to relax. Your muscles will become less tight, your mind less restless, and your life less stressful.
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