If you haven't tried a Restorative yoga class yet – you're missing out and here's why.
Restorative yoga, derived from Iyengar yoga, differs from other yogas in that there are lots of props used. These maybe chairs, blocks, bolsters, belts, sandbags and foam pads.
You can improvise at home by using pillows, cushions, ties, scarves or anything else you can find. The poses are usually held for a few minutes, and sometimes up to 15 minutes, and the props keep you well supported so the muscles release and the brain can rest.
Ensure you are dressed warmly and there is proper support for the head and neck so the throat area can relax.
#1 – Enhances sound sleep
A regular restorative yoga practice increases melatonin levels, an antioxidant and a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland which helps you relax and promotes sound sleep.
At the end of a busy week, I look forward to my evening restorative practice on a Sunday evening which pretty much guarantees me a deep sleep that night and renewed energy for the week ahead.
#2 – Increases longevity
There are many well-known yoga gurus who have lived to a ripe old age – Indra Devi was 102 when she died, Krishnamacharya (notorious for stopping his heartbeat!) was 101 and K. Patthabi Jois, he of Ashtanga fame was 93. BKS Iyengar recently passed away at the age of 96 and when I was privileged to see him practise in a corner of his studio in Pune, India, he was often in headstand for at least 5 minutes - he was 90.
Anna Ashby, (albeit rather younger!), is one of London’s leading yoga teachers and has been teaching Restorative yoga at Triyoga in London for over 10 years. She says:
In restorative yoga the intention is to experience an environment of calm, quiet and simplicity.
This brings about a slowing down of the nervous system and other activating systems through gentle, slow stretches, conscious ‘natural’ breath and the different restorative asanas (poses).
#3 – Improves flexibility
As we grow older, we lose our flexibility, strength and balance and maintaining a committed yoga practice along with a nourishing diet and regular exercise will help ageproof our minds and bodies, prevent aches and pains and keep us in optimal health.
Although you may think immediately of Ashtanga yoga to increase flexibility, Restorative yoga focuses on the ‘letting go’ and just ‘being’ so when you are supported by the props, the body and the mind can release and allow the muscles to lengthen.
Asanas make the body supple bringing alertness to the brain while soothing nerves and glands and maintaining physical, emotional and psychological balance.
Practicing yoga lubricates the joints, improves flexibility and brings about a sense of serenity, contentment and self-confidence.
Energy from the brain is diffused to various parts of the body in the form of healing energy and this manifests in both physical, emotional and spiritual well being.
#4 – It brings you into the present moment
A restorative class can be challenging as it may take a time for the body to settle and for the mind to become calm. All sorts of thoughts may come into the mind. Notice them, observe them and just let them flow away along an imaginary stream.
Don’t fight these thoughts. There may also be fidgeting and a (pleasant) discomfort as you bring your focus to your breath – to stillness and to the present moment. As the saying goes ‘the essence of yoga lays in the breath’ and by focusing on the breath you're not focusing on the mind.
#5 – It can be a precursor to meditation
Meditation is often ‘prescribed’ if you are looking for ways to release stress and eliminate fatigue from our busy everyday fast-paced lives. However if meditation isn’t right for you at this time, then Restorative yoga is an ideal way to start and may be a little ‘easier’ than a full-on meditation practice.
And whatever your exercise regime is, you mind and body will benefit if you incorporate one or two restorative poses into your daily routine to relieve stress and tension.
#6 – It eases stress and anxiety
Stress, known as the ‘silent killer’ and responsible for 85% of all illnesses and disease in the US can totally disrupt life, lead to addictions, cancer, diabetes etc. and on a more superficial level, make you look and feel older along with possible weight gain!
Stress suppresses melatonin and growth hormone secretions and produces cortisol in the body. Cortisol affects the adrenal glands and the immune system and our sympathetic nervous system goes in the fast lane speeding up the heartbeat and leading us to store fat around the organs and the belly.
A state of deep relaxation can help the parasympathetic nervous system do its job – to slow the heart and increase the tone and contractility of the muscles and help the body maintain a healthy weight.
#7 – It eliminates toxins
Whether you are on a detox regime for a few days or not, Restorative yoga enables the body to naturally detox more efficiently.
As this style of yoga enables the body and mind to rest deeply, blockages, toxins and rubbish can be removed from the systems allowing vital energy and nourishment to flow freely to all the cells of the body.
It literally takes stress off the physical body and weight off the mind, restoring, rejuvenating and rebalancing the body’s systems.
#8 – It diffuses wrinkles
Ok, so this may be considered a little shallow by some – but many students have said that after a restorative class, their faces look fresher, wrinkles are diffused and eyebags are reduced.
When in deep relaxation, we consciously allow the muscles across the forehead and around the cheeks to release and soften. It’s similar to having a good night’s sleep and a facial combined all in just 90 minutes, so you leave class looking radiant and refreshed.
#9 – Boosts the immune system
Any physical exercise boosts the immune system and Restorative yoga in particular deeply heals and soothes the body, counteracting any negative responses by focusing on easy breathing in order to nurture a glorious sense of relaxation.
Forward bends, chest openings, inversions and twists all strengthen a poor immune system. When tight and shortened muscles are released and gently and gradually lengthened, the lymphatic system can do a better job of flushing out blockages and toxins.
#10 – It brings about a deep sense of love and peace
Restorative yoga enhances a beautiful sense of serenity so you connect with yourself at a much deeper level. Be gentle and kind with yourself in class (always) and cultivate the awareness of not pushing yourself past your edge.
Ease off and ‘work’ with effortless effort in each pose so you just ‘be’ rather than constantly 'do'. Yoga promotes increased levels of self-esteem and self-empowerment and by allowing your body to soak in the stillness you are able to see you truly are ‘a spark of divinity’, your heart full of love and compassion, for yourself and others.
The list of benefits of Restorative yoga doesn’t just stop at these ten – try a class and see how it feels for yourself and explore and discover how revitalised you feel with renewed concentration, clarity and focus and I look forward to hearing how you get on.
Aim to do at least one Restorative class per week or just pick a couple of relaxing poses to do at home at the end of a busy day. Enjoy.