Developing a ‘at home’ Restorative Yoga practice can save your life. I know this sounds a bit dramatic but there is a lot of truth to this statement. Creating an environment where the body can drop into deep rest will allow the parasympathetic nervous system to activate, shifting the body into a state of repair and reset.
Restorative yoga is a form of yoga that seeks to achieve physical, mental and emotional relaxation with the aid of props. It involves slowing down and opening the body through passive stretching. During these long holds, your muscles relax deeply. It is a completely different feeling from other types of yoga since props are used to support your body instead of your muscles.
Props are used in order to minimize straining. Restorative poses will be held for a while – often 10-20 minutes – in order to give your muscles time to let go. It is very important to be completely comfortable to facilitate this release. These poses are usually low to the ground, to take advantage of gravity’s ability to pull towards the earth, as opposed to more active yoga postures in which we are challenging ourselves by standing up to gravity’s nature.
The Relaxation Response (parasympathetic nervous system) is, in simple terms the opposite of the Stress Response. The parasympathetic nervous system works to unravel the work of the sympathetic system after a stressful situation is over.
What is happening in your body when you activate your parasympathetic nervous system is dominate:
• Respiration, heart rate and blood pressure are lowered.
• Increased digestion; we can better extract nutrients from the food we eat and eliminate waste more efficiently.
• Our reproductive system operates at functional levels, fertility levels increase.
• Circulation is enhanced; therefore, our bodies more effectively eliminate toxins. Everything from environmental toxins to cancer cells.
• Boosts immune function by reducing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can immobilize certain white blood cells which protect us from infectious disease and foreign invaders.
• Sleep quality is improved.
• Fascial muscles are turned on, you are more expressive.
• Middle ear muscles are turned on so we can better hear human voices.
• Increase in decision making functions of the brain.
If you are experiencing an isolated stressful situation in your life, you may not be spending enough time in your Relaxation Response to maintain optional health. On a short-term basis this will probably leave you feeling terrible but once things return to ‘normal’ so will you.
Chronic stress is the real culprit and is exceedingly dangerous for the health of the physical body as well as our emotional and mental wellbeing. A stressful job, family situation, financial concerns or a global pandemic are some examples of common chronic stressors.
If you are living in a state of chronic stress and not accessing the Rest and Repair mode, your body is not getting a chance to repair damage cells, remove toxins and reset systematic functions in the body to operate at optional levels. This is a breeding ground for disease and ill health.
Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Restorative Yoga could be the life line you need. It is an easy and accessible way to switch the nervous system form the Stress Response into the Relaxation Response. You will need at least 20 minutes, a quiet space where you will not be distrusted and some comfortable things to set up yourself up.
This is Queen’s Pose and is one of my favourites. It’s easy to set up and assessable to most bodies.
I have used yoga props here but you can use items from around your house. You can use the cushions from the couch or bed. Rolled up towels work instead of blankets. I have used a fairly extensive set up here int eh photo but it can be simplified too as shown below.
The Queen’s Pose Set Up:
- I have used 2 yoga blocks to support under the bolster that is under my back. The blacks could be replaced with another cushion.
- Place a firm cushion or bolster at about a 45 degree angle to support your torso.
- Place a rolled up blanket or cushion under the knees to lift the knees roughly twice as high as the feet.
- It is nice to have a bit of extra comfort under the head so that the neck doesn’t roll to the side.
The above is a basic set up, you can also add the following extras.
- Use a blanket roll under the arch of the heel to support the feet just off of the ground to avoid any feeling pressure in the heels.
- I have used support under the hands but they can also be laid off to the sides or rested on the belly.
If you wish to learn more about this powerful pracitce, I offer a Restorative Yoga Teacher Training for yoga teachers. Full details here.