For a culture that is all about exercise, progress, and feeling the burn, restorative yoga may seem like a waste of time. However, if you have ever attended a yoga class, you know how healing some well-timed stretching can be for your sore and aching muscles. Restorative yoga goes even a step further to create a relaxing and nourishing practice for both your body and mind.
The benefits of doing nothing
Whether you are a seasoned yogi or a marathon runner who just finished their 20th race, restorative yoga has something to offer you. As a practice, this type of yoga involves doing nothing. That’s right, we said nothing. You are guided into a pose, supported by props, and you allow your body to do the rest. No reaching for your toes, no twisting like a pretzel, no work at all.
You may wonder what this type of yoga can accomplish. You could also do “nothing” sitting on your couch and watching Netflix, right? When you get into a restorative yoga pose, you may feel barely a stretch, but your joints, muscles, ligaments, and skeleton are aligned to allow a deep release. This means that, although it is the gentlest form of yoga asana, restorative yoga has significant benefits to offer your physical body. In addition, you also hold poses longer and remain still for a larger amount of time. This allows plenty of time for you to work on your mental focus and concentration which is cultivated during meditative moments such as these.
A word about the nervous system
Our autonomic nervous system has two branches: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The PNS enacts what is called the rest and digest response in the body. When you leave a yoga class feeling really calm, it is because you have activated this part of your nervous system.
The SNS, on the other hand, is responsible for the fight-flight-freeze response. This response tells the body to increase the heart rate, shut down digestion and more. Most Americans walk around with an activated SNS a lot of the time. When walking through the door into a restorative yoga class, however, we are essentially helping our bodies to enter the rest and digest phase. This slows breathing, lowers blood pressure and produces an increased feeling of well-being. Who doesn’t want that? Other benefits include (but are not limited to):
- Reduced chronic pain
- Improved sleep
- Enhanced mood
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- Getting you in tune with your body
- Easy to modify and safe for pregnancy
The dos and don’ts of restorative yoga
While restorative yoga is gentle on the body, there are some precautions to take. First, and especially if you are a beginner to yoga, take at least a few in-person classes before trying anything at home. Ideally, a skilled instructor can help you get comfortable with the many props that are available. In this modern and busy world, however, restorative yoga from home is better than nothing, but be cautious, especially if you are prone to injury.
If you have an injury—or you are recovering from an injury—let your teacher know ASAP. There are plenty of modifications available so that you can perform poses with your own safety and comfort in mind.
When you head to a restorative class, do plan to wear layers in case you become chilled while laying down and have a water bottle at the ready. Even though you aren’t sweating, your body will still be releasing built-up toxins, and staying hydrated helps to flush your system. Follow your teacher’s cues so that you can cultivate a meditative state, but don’t be hard on yourself if your mind wanders. People heading to a restorative class, especially for the first time, are often surprised at the quiet, still time they get, and we aren’t used to that in our culture.
Restorative yoga is a great way to decrease your stress and help your body to relax. By activating your PNS and enhancing the mind-body connection, you can also become more attuned to your overall mental and physical state. All good reasons to head to a class and do nothing!