The growing awareness by Westerners of the interconnectedness of our mind and body is behind the growing popularity of restorative yoga. Diseases caused by stress and unhealthy lifestyles are now the leading cause of death in the Western world, including cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes. By making behavioural changes you can vastly improve your health. Restorative yoga is a gentle form of hatha yoga that serves as a healing nexus by connecting and rejuvenating the mind, body and spirit through a series of restful poses.
Reducing Stress Through Restorative Yoga
The yang, or sunny side of stress, is relaxation. When you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in, releasing adrenal hormones that raise your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. Commonly known as the fight-or-flight response, adrenaline fills your system providing you with more energy to fight or run. Vital functions such as the digestive system shut down and your body’s capacity to heal itself weakens. Dragging yourself into yoga class at the end of a stressful day, you may feel some of the symptoms, such as tension and fatigue.
Restorative yoga reverses these symptoms by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). By going deeper into poses, breathing and meditation, the body’s hyper-aroused state begins to reverse bringing your vital symptoms back into equilibrium. This process also stimulates the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin that regulates your mood while exercise releases endorphins, producing the opiate-like effect that alleviates stress and creates a feeling of overall wellbeing.
Restorative Yoga Positions and Props
At the heart of restorative yoga is the yin and yang of hatha yoga. By alternately exerting and relaxing your body, your system will begin to move into balance. Instead of using muscle tension to achieve proper alignment, the body and mind move into a position of deep relaxation, with props used to support the body, such as balls, blankets, chairs, pillows, sandbags and towels. The following are examples of the use of props in three basic restorative yoga poses:
- Legs-up-the-wall Pose: Self-explanatory. Lying on your back, using a prop for support, rest your legs vertically on the wall for five to 15 minutes.
- Reclining Hero’s Pose: Sitting on your heels, move your legs outwards with your shins facing away from the body and your feet resting beside your hips. Stretch your arms up over your head while moving your torso back to the floor. The back and neck can be supported with props.
- Supported Child’s Pose: Ah, rest time. Sit on your shins, spreading your knees wide around a pile of pillows, or other support. Lay the body forward on the prop and let the arms drop forward or behind.
Anytime, Anywhere Restorative Yoga Poses
Restorative yoga employs simple poses that do not require great feats of flexibility, and they can be incorporated into any part of your day. If you feel stressed or fatigued, take a few minutes to unwind and release tension with a seated forward bend. A passive backbend will open the chest and relax the spine and neck. Then, sneak in a quick child’s pose and greet the rest of the day relaxed and revitalized.