“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit.” -B.K.S.Iyenger
When I first began practicing yoga nearly 10 years ago, I sustained a shoulder injury that made weight-bearing in my upper body uncomfortable. While many fitness professionals acknowledge that feeling pressure and experiencing modest discomfort can be expected at times, I knew I needed to step back and let my body heal. As my downward-facing dog went on hiatus, I needed to find an alternative to relieve stress and balance my mind and body. I began to experiment with the softer side of yoga: meditation, breath work, and ultimately, letting go of my ego through restorative yoga.
Imagine walking into a warm, dimly lit room, scented with lavender and filled to the brim with bolsters, blocks, and blankets. The instructor guides you to an open space as you quietly wait for the session begin. Each pose consists of a variety of props (blankets, bolster, blocks) arranged in a specific pattern in order to promote maximum support. Depending on the length of the class, each pose is sustained anywhere from 5-10 minutes; therefore only a small number of poses are practiced per session. Unlike the active movement of many yoga classes, restorative yoga focuses on passive muscular relaxation. As the instructor moves around the room making adjustments and assisting those who need modifications, a sense of timelessness envelops the room and, before you know it, class is over.
For many, the act of stillness can be as challenging as a vigorous asana class. The benefits of restorative yoga can include better sleep, athletic recovery, and stress reduction. A recent study from the National Institute of Health reveals there may be a connection between restorative yoga and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol; it is currently seeing success in weight loss trials.
The practice of yoga is an individual, subjective experience. There will be moments when you need to sweat through sun salutations to clear your mind. There will also be moments where you need to lay on the floor and force yourself to relax. Remember to listen to what your body is telling you and give it both the movement and the rest it needs.