The magic of restorative yoga is hard to explain. It’s such a simple practice but its effects can be truly profound and far-reaching.
With such gentle postures and long-held positions, it’s hard to imagine how deeply restorative yoga affects your nervous system. But the euphoria that you feel after practice is impossible to mistake.
Just as the name implies, restorative yoga is a deeply restorative and relaxing style of yoga. As a gentle and soothing practice, restorative yoga is accessible to all as it can easily be adapted to suit any practitioner.
The practice works with very simple physical postures that are highly supported by props. It also incorporates relaxing practices like pranayama and meditation to help soothe the nervous system and move your body and mind into more relaxed, meditative states.
Restorative yoga is also a deeply introspective practice, often practiced almost entirely in silence. Students are typically invited to close their eyes and draw their awareness inward as they surrender into deep states of relaxation.
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Restorative yoga is a fairly modern lineage that originated from the work of B.K.S. Iyengar. As this guru taught a very strict and physically demanding style of yoga, he recognized that his students needed time to rest between classes.
A huge fan of using props, Iyengar quickly discovered how props could support the body in certain postures to offer practitioners moments of deeper and deeper relaxation. So Iyengar began offering restorative yoga practices to his students regularly.
As the practice evolved through various teachers and styles, it has become a staple of modern yoga studios. Now restorative yoga doesn’t necessarily follow one lineage strictly but varies from studio to studio and teacher to teacher.
However, its principles still remain the same. Restorative yoga works exclusively with soothing and relaxing physical postures and pranayama and meditation techniques to calm and soften the body and mind.
It works even deeper to affect the body on a physical and physiological level as well.
Intended to target and soothe the nervous system, restorative yoga initiates what is called the relaxation response.
The relaxation response is the catalyst for what stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system in the body. This branch of the nervous system is often referred to as the “rest-and-digest” response.
This branch helps to downregulate your nervous system and works as the “brakes” of your body to counter your stress response.
The parasympathetic branch works to slow your heart rate, ease respiration, stimulate digestion, relax skeletal muscles, and so much more.
Through restorative practices like systematic relaxation, guided meditation, soothing breathwork, and simply relaxing body postures, restorative yoga effectively and efficiently targets the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system to affect physical and physiological changes in the body.
Restorative yoga is truly a practice that is accessible to everyone. Because of its slow, gentle pace, its soothing nature, and its extensive use of props in simple positions, restorative practices can be adapted for any body type, physical limitations, injuries, etc.
Restorative is one of the best practices for beginners and its also great for anyone that needs to de-stress and unwind. It is really a practice available to any and all practitioners.
Just like so many other styles of yoga, no two restorative yoga classes are exactly alike. But there are some key features that are typical of this relaxing style of practice.
A typical restorative yoga practice begins with soothing meditation or breathwork practice to create a calming atmosphere and prepare the body and mind for a relaxing and introspective practice.
The breathwork practiced in restorative yoga is often uncomplicated. Typically, students are simply instructed to relax and deepen their natural breath.
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Next, students are typically guided through a few very basic postures that are highly supported by props like bolsters, blankets, blocks, and straps.
Most postures are very low to the ground—many are practiced completely lying down—and are extremely simplistic in nature.
Props are often used to support your body weight so that you can completely surrender to the force of gravity and release muscular control.
Then, the shapes are typically held for an extended period of time so that your body and mind feel safe enough to truly let go.
For example, you may lay over a bolster in a supported savasana for 15 to 20 minutes.
These extremely relaxing postures may invite you to move into states of deep rest (i.e. sleep), but this is not the real intention.
If you fall asleep in restorative yoga, of course, no harm is done. But, ideally, you’re able to remain awake and consciously aware while in these deep states of restful relaxation.
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Since restorative yoga is so incredibly soothing to the nervous system, it is beneficial to your body as a whole.
If practiced continuously with intention, restorative yoga has the potential to ease stress and anxiety, regulate heart rate and blood pressure, soothe digestion, and so much more—all via its ability to downregulate your nervous system.
Restorative yoga is undoubtedly a powerful practice with far-reaching benefits. All you have to do is take the time to practice it and you’ll soon reap all of its many benefits.
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