Over the last year, the only formal exercise I've done is restorative yoga. (I also informally walk my pup.) I share this with you because it's one of two reasons I think I've felt better this year than ever before. Basically, I've fallen in love with restorative yoga as a natural healing approach and have seen firsthand the power of the practice.
But I promise you it wasn't always this way!
I grew up a competitive swimmer who learned more is supposed to always be better. I thought two-a-day practices were the gold standard, that exercise only counted when I worked up a sweat, and that I had to make a point of always beating the yesterday version of myself. (As in: a longer run, a heavier bar, or a quicker sprint.)
To be someone who is not only okay with slowing down but who actually craves it? To be able to still my body for long enough to also quiet my mind? To have the opportunity to reap all possible rewards from a practice this, well, restorative?
It's been a journey to get here but I can honestly say that without restorative yoga I wouldn't have the health I have today. I took up this type of yoga right after a cross country move when my stress levels were at an all-time high.
If your stress levels are at an all time high...
If you want to heal and feel better from autoimmune disease or chronic illness...
If your body craves a gentle, nourishing recovery practice...
If your body flares at any sign of movement right now...
Let me ask you this: Have you tried restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is, simply put, restorative. It's different from traditional yoga in that we take on more of a BE-ing role and less of a DO-ing role. Meaning, we hold poses for a longer period of time, practice fewer poses in a class, and find ourselves in stillness more often than movement.
According to the book Restorative Yoga for Life by Gail Boorstein Grossman, restorative yoga as a practice first began from a need to find therapeutic poses to help the body heal and restore physically. That’s the main reason I was drawn to restorative yoga -- it's a healing practice at heart and I was in a season of healing.
If you’ve never done restorative yoga before, the practice will likely be challenging in all the ways you wouldn’t expect. As in, it won’t necessarily tax your body (though it might and that's okay) but it will likely tax your tolerance for stillness. And that too can be incredibly uncomfortable, right? Restorative yoga is not designed to increase your heart rate, push your muscles to the brink, or help you find your physical edge. On the other hand, it probably will help you find your mental limit and any places for growth.
That's because we hold poses for anywhere from a couple of minutes all the way up to twenty and beyond. We are on a mission to help the body feel deeply and completely supported so that we can release tension and let go.
Restorative yoga is a practice generally great for someone who...
(I list this last one because it's incredibly helpful to untangle exercise from weight, moral obligation, or unhealthy beliefs so that we can start moving the body for health and to feel as good as possible!)
Of course, you always want to speak with your doctor before trying any new exercise practice or making new lifestyle changes. However, generally speaking, restorative yoga is an accessible practice that helps the body restore and repair and ultimately helps us feel better.
As mentioned, I started practicing restorative yoga when my stress levels were at an all-time high. I was hoping to heal from an autoimmune disease (and attempt to get off medication for the first time in 9 years) and so I wanted to be more intentional about the amount of stress on my body and in my life.
More specifically, I was trying to spend less time hanging out towards the "stress" end of the nervous system spectrum and more time towards the "rest" end of the spectrum. Not because stress is bad -- we need the sympathetic nervous system to DO a lot of the things we want to do -- but because healing only happens in the parasympathetic nervous system and I wanted to maximize my chances of healing.
I chose restorative yoga over other types of yoga because it is designed to elicit that parasympathetic nervous system (and NOT all types of yoga are designed to do this).
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider restorative yoga:
As in, props are used to help you feel more comfortable in a pose, not to keep you from doing the pose in the first place. Props are not required (and, in fact, a wall makes a great first prop) nor are special yogic props required.
You can use couch cushions, belts, neck ties, bags of rice, foam rollers, textbooks, small packages... just to name a few! The goal of a prop is to support your body by filling in the space between your body and the floor so that you can let go and rest. As soon as you realize the point of props is to fill that space (or bring the floor up to meet your body), you can get creative with items around your house!
Because the more you focus on your breath and stay engaged while in a pose, the more deeply your body can elicit the parasympathetic nervous system and restore.
Restorative yoga will probably feel hard because it will seem like you are not doing anything. (And, frankly, you aren't. You're BEING!) When you feel restless those first few sessions, remind yourself that this is normal and that your challenge is to stay on the mat. That's it. Instead of deciding whether or not to practice based on how you feel during your session, focus instead on how you feel immediately afterwards, later that night, and the days or weeks following.
The challenge is knowing that by showing up on the mat you're doing something incredibly important for your body and THAT is enough. You are exactly where you need to be.
I'm so excited for you to try restorative yoga as this practice is SO needed in the world today. As things speed up, as information is everywhere, as we could do 1000 things at any given time, as our attention is pulled in so many directions... taking a moment to slow down, turn inward, and really let the body HEAL... is the most important thing we can do.
So, ready to begin? Join me inside The Wellness Boulevard to start practicing restorative yoga today!