Although I have practiced various forms of yoga for over 20 years, I was surprised to learn that there is an immensely therapeutic style of yoga that I hadn’t heard of.
It’s one that would quickly become my go-to during the more stressful periods of my life.
This form of yoga, restorative yoga, is as relaxing as it sounds and is aptly named; it restores, recharges, and rebalances both the body and mind. And, it’s accessible to anyone—anywhere and anytime.
Other benefits include releasing muscle tension, relieving aches and pains, lowering heart rate, enhancing flexibility, increasing mindfulness, boosting immunity, enhancing moods, calming the mind, balancing the nervous system, and even reducing body fat, particularly in the abdomen area, according to a study carried out by Maria G. Araneta, PhD, MPH, from the University of California, San Diego. Weight loss occurs when the stress hormone cortisol is reduced, as high cortisol levels contribute to weight gain.
Another study published in Psycho-Oncology found that women with breast cancer who practiced restorative yoga for only 10 weeks were found to have a better outlook, a 50 percent decrease in depression, a 12 percent increase in feelings of peacefulness, and noted that they felt far less tired throughout the day.
B.K.S Iyengar, who has practiced yoga for over 60 years and is regarded as one of the greatest yoga masters in the world, was the first to develop restorative yoga sequences, and did so to help those who struggle with illness, injury, overwhelm, and fatigue.
The main purpose of this practice is so that students could still receive the benefits of yoga without any pain or strain, and to achieve emotional, mental, and physical relaxation. The aim of restorative yoga is to combat the stresses of life and ease ailments such as headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and backaches with the use of gentle poses and deep breathing.
One of the main reasons I was beyond thankful to have discovered restorative yoga is that when life got hectic and I was struggling to feel motivated to keep up my yoga practice, this felt more like surrendering to a lazy Sunday afternoon nap rather than something I had to keep focus on and find energy to partake in.
It was particularly beneficial as an antidote to emotional stress (which can quickly lead to physical stress and injury), so by engaging in my most-adored hobby, I was also healing my body and mind.
I practice restorative yoga at home with candles lit and light music playing, and all I need is a mat, a blanket, a firm pillow, foam props, and more often than not, I’m dressed in my pj’s or casual loungewear.
This style of yoga is more about slowing down, finding stillness, and aligning the physical and mental bodies to achieve inner and outer harmony and balance. It is taking time to relax and calm the mind, breathing deeply into areas of tension, and gently stretching and opening the body at the same time.
Unlike traditional yoga, where you move from one pose to the next, restorative yoga does not require the body to actively move much at all.
Instead, the benefits are found in using support props to gently hold the posture for a longer length of time while deeply relaxing the muscles. The foam props or bolsters can be placed under the knees or back to help with stability and to allow a deeper stretch without straining or exerting the muscles. Folded blankets can also be used as a softer support option.
Over a one-hour period, I usually only move into three or four different poses, with each posture being held for around 15 minutes. Although this is a gentle yoga style, there is a noticeable difference in how my body feels after practicing it, and despite it being slow and gentle, it leaves me feeling focused, invigorated, renewed, full of energy, lighter, and most of all, anxiety-free.
Not only that, if I practice it an hour before bedtime, I fall into the deepest, most restful sleep and rarely wake throughout the night.
Gail Grossman, author of Restorative Yoga for Life, explains, “I tell people that in some ways, this is the hardest class you’re going to take. When you’re still, it’s hard to shut off your mind, and that’s where the real work is. That’s also where you might find the greatest capacity for growth, deep relaxation, and true well-being.”
Click here for Grossman’s restorative yoga sequence that she recommends practicing for 60 minutes at least once a week.
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