Engage the quads. Straighten the arms. Bend the knee. Now straighten the knee. Straighten the knee more! Reach, press, stretch, lengthen—more!
Power vinyasa and hot yoga were my go-to for years. Just the stench of the hot room made me feel accomplished and I loved seeing myself in the mirror kicking some yoga ass. It felt good. I felt strong and flexible. I felt capable and every once in a while that feeling spilled over into my life. I had a lot of physical tension masking my emotions and baby, I was burning through it.
One day I went to class and the teacher mentioned that we’d be doing a restorative sequence.
“What?!” I thought. “That s**t was not on the schedule!”
We did a total of four poses over the course of one and a half hours and the whole time I was thinking:
“Did I really just pay for this? I mean, we aren’t doing anything.”
I was not a happy yogi.
Fast forward to a few years later and a myriad of stress-related life events left me feeling broken and exhausted. Every time I went to yoga, I flung open my mat and laid down. I prayed the teacher wouldn’t make us get up.
When I look back on those moments, I realize my central nervous system was in overdrive. I needed less pushing, less stretching, less muscle engagement, less effort. I needed a space where I could soften, surrender, open and rest.
I needed to be nurtured and I needed to feel safe. I started dabbling more in restorative work and slowly finding a soft place to fall. Every time I left class, I felt a little more normal and at the time, that was a huge relief.
Several years later, I got my first yoga teaching gig and thought I’d take a stab at teaching restorative yoga.
“I mean, how hard could it be, right? It’s just a few poses.” Humility set in when I realized that the people I was attracting through this practice were overworked athletes and hospice caregivers, cancer thrivers and the newly diagnosed, people healing broken spines and people healing broken hearts.
But even more important, these people weren’t just sick trying to get better.
They were on the wellness train—working hard to to prevent further illness, balance the effects of chronic stress and optimize their potential as human beings. These very wise students were giving this very “green” yoga teacher a lot to learn about this practice.
With a ton of studying, training and many mistakes along the way, I now try my hardest to offer a nurturing, open space where people can practice resting (I intentionally use the word “practice” ‘cause learning to rest ain’t easy, folks).
And even though someone passing by might see a restorative yoga class as adult nap time (which would be completely wonderful, by the way), I know these students are doing way more.
They are courageous enough to get quiet and potentially uncover physical and emotional states that are often masked by overbooked schedules and never-ending checklists.
They are aware enough to know that they must take responsibility for their own healing if they expect to be well. They are trusting enough to know the body can do amazing things when we get out of our own way and allow ourselves true rest. And over time, as each student has come and gone, I’ve come to a clear realization that even though I’ve never seen them do a standing pose, restorative yogis are warriors.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love a good sweaty yoga class. However, now I inwardly laugh at the intensity and seriousness with which I used to practice active yoga poses. Instead, when I’m needing to fill up on strength, I take it to the bolster and know that the notion “support equals release” has metaphorical implications that go way beyond the mat.
I’m practicing unclenching my jaw and softening my belly, so my body can teach my mind to stop. I’m practicing becoming aware of how I actually feel, so I know what I actually need.
I’m practicing noticing what is and accepting it, not with the intention to give up but with the intention to be honest about what is happening in my life and move forward with more authenticity.
And to me, that is some seriously power(ful) yoga.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Daniela Vladimirova, Flickr Creative Commons