Restorative yoga is a yoga style in which the main focus is to simply relax as deeply as possible, using a variety of props and holding postures for extended periods.
The reason we use the term restorative yoga instead of relaxing yoga is because, when practicing restorative yoga, the nervous system switches into the parasympathetic nervous system mode that enables the body to more effectively repair and restore itself.
However, I have discovered that there is something much deeper going on, on a mental and emotional level, when practicing restorative yoga and other similar practices where the main emphasis is on slowing down and being still for extended periods of time.
Some people find that they get into it quickly and easily. They are able to relax and bliss out and are very grateful for the opportunity to practice. Others, however, really find it difficult. They just can’t seem to get into it, they feel like nothing is happening, it appears to them that there is no possible benefit from this practice and they wish that they had gone to the other class because this class is going to drive them crazy.
Whether you have the first experience or the second, neither one is right or wrong because what will happen, if you stay with it, as with everything, your experience of it will change. In fact, it often flips to the other extreme and this flip can happen in the space of a class, or after years of practice.
Those who were blissed out at the beginning will probably come into feelings of uneasiness and agitation, unable to relax like they used to and those who found it very difficult to begin with start to really get into it and will be able to sink easily and relax deeply.
What is going on here? What is happening? Why does restorative yoga tend to change my emotions so much?
Restorative yoga, because of its nature to be still, quiet, slow and receptive, tends to trigger shifts and changes at a deep level. These changes inevitably lead to, at some point, bringing up suppressed feelings and emotions as this is the natural tendency when we go towards a slower and quieter practice. When we strip away all the distractions, the noises, the activity, the dramas, what comes up? After the initial layers of agitation or bliss subside, the deeper stuff will bubble up.
Unfortunately, most of us are not taught or guided with much wisdom as to how to manage our uncomfortable emotions as they rise to the surface. We are usually encouraged to avoid them by running away from them and seeking more pleasurable experiences and feelings, distracting ourselves or even popping pills to numb it out.
What is inevitable in our restorative yoga practice is that it’s not always going to feel good or relaxing and, because its slow and still nature—it’s going to give rise to some rough bits.
Okay, so if we don’t run away or avoid them, how do we manage them?
The best and most transformative approach is to first accept that these uncomfortable bits are a part of the journey and that running away from them doesn’t really help. Instead, become the witness of these feelings and then lean into them.
Let the feelings and emotions bubble up and stop resisting them while remaining as the witness. When we resist uncomfortable feelings we only feed them with energy and then suppress them. If we let them pass through us, unhindered, you will see that they will eventually run out of energy and dissipate of their own accord and all associated thoughts will also dissipate.
Learning to lean in and let go of resistance is a powerful practice and one that can change your life and your attitude because it automatically, of its own accord, begins to re-contextualize everything.
Restorative yoga is the perfect opportunity to experience this for yourself.
So, next time you are in a restorative yoga class, or sitting in meditation, and those uneasy feelings and uncomfortable emotions start bubbling up, don’t run away. Instead, become the witness and lean into them. Watch what happens to your practice and to your attitude when you let go of resistance to life in all its expressions.
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Assistant Ed: Leace Hughes / Ed: Catherine Monkman