June 19, 2023
Restorative Yoga Is Preventative Medicine
There’s a quote I love from Robert Frost, “how many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?” The human nervous system has not evolved in thousands of years yet, you receive more information in a single day than someone several hundred years ago received in the entirety of their life. The impacts of modern stress have led more Americans to seek treatment for anxiety than back pain. Today, anxiety is the most common health issue impacting more than one third of adults. But the effects of stress can be even more devastating leading to depression, sleep disorders, and digestive disruptions.
At its foundation Restorative Yoga is a practice of cultivating a healthy, balanced autonomic nervous system by supporting a shift from a sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) to a parasympathetic response (rest, digest, and regeneration). Restorative Yoga is a form of preventative medicine so that these things do not have to happen to you before something occurs to you.
Restorative Yoga is an antidote to stressful, modern-day living. It is a passive practice meant to activate the body’s relaxation response. In a Restorative Yoga practice, postures are held between 5 and 30 minutes. The postures are supported by a variety of props – including blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps, eye pillow, yoga sandbags, walls and chairs – to eliminate any unnecessary strain and encourage full relaxation.
In Restorative Yoga, the intention is to achieve the deepest relaxation possible, not the deepest stretch possible. You should be fully supported in every pose so that your body can comfortably take the shape of the pose and release completely. Practicing these postures without proper support could activate the body’s “fight, flight or freeze” response in the forms of tension, overthinking, resistance, or strain (a.k.a. stress).
Best of all, Restorative Yoga can be done at any time by anyone – while recovering from illness or injury, when pregnant or during a woman’s monthly cycle, or while overcoming challenging life events such as the loss of a loved one, a change in job or a move – and it can be an especially important practice for people feeling fatigued or whose energy level is low, which is all of us at least once a week.
While restorative yoga can seem like a recent development within the modern yoga tradition, restorative postures have always been a part of the practice as demonstrated through the final posture of each class, Savasana or Corpse Pose. This final posture is place of completion where the efforts of the practice are surrendered and has an opportunity to integrate. Imagine for a moment what it’s like to end a class without Savasana. Inevitably, something feels as if it’s missing and a part of your yoga process is left incomplete. Restorative Yoga is foundational to all of yoga because it is the place where the practice assimilates.
Today, we see Restorative Yoga being taught in hospitals, cancer treatment programs, prisons, schools and more. Restorative Yoga classes can now be found at many local studios, streaming online and in books and trainings across the world. A handful of clinical studies are being done on Restorative Yoga and two cancer treatment-related studies demonstrated reductions in stress and anxiety, improvements in mood, sleep, overall energy, emotional well-being and ability to manage adverse effects of their treatment.
While Restorative Yoga may not, and probably should not, be your primary daily practice, it holds an important place in the full spectrum of your practice. I would suggest integrating a weekly Restorative Yoga practice into your schedule as a form of learning to accept the far-reaching benefits of rest, regeneration, rejuvenation, and healing in your life. At its core, Restorative Yoga is a subversive in which you reclaim your primordial and divine right to rest.
Make sure to check out our newest Yin & Restorative Training streaming exclusively now on Inner Dimension Academy!