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Restorative Yoga: The Gentle Flow

Yoga is a eight-limbed life practice of self-care, and only one of those arms focuses on the physical movement most of us know as yoga, or our #asana practice on the mat. Even there, when we come to our mats, how we show up and how we move through our flows can different significantly based on the class you attend. When I recommend yoga to my clients, I know that they could have any number of images of what yoga may mean to them in their heads, and aren't likely seeing the connection to their health that I am seeing which is challenging for me, because yoga is so incredibly healing and I want them to trust and lean into the experience. However, you kinda do wanna get that right class, more specific to your own needs, not unlike finding just the right talk therapist. Sometimes you have to try on a few before you find the one that really resonates with you, and allows space for incredibly growth, but if you meet the wrong one initially, it can really turn you off from the practice entirely.

Restorative yoga was where I initially became familiar with yoga. My first teacher's program was taught by the owner of a small studio in small town, Indiana. She had a history of #fibromyalgia so while seemingly healthy and limber, the other aspects of yoga is what really drew her to practice. The movement itself caused her more trepidation, that is until she really began to spend time on her mat. She then found a great deal of healing, but her sweet spot really was restorative and even though my preference for teaching yoga is more the vinyasa classes, it was restorative yoga that I so desperately needed at that time in my life, and it is most often what I am imaging when I recommend yoga to my clients.

When Resting Doesn't Feel Relaxing

As a functional and integrative practitioner, my clients are often those navigating a plethora of health issues. They are often in a sympathetic, more fight-or-flight state, and have a real challenge slowing down. Their body might feel a great deal of fatigue, even pain, but they can't often get their mind to settle. Maybe you feel completely overwhelmed, your mind is racing, even spiraling, and you can't even wrap your brain around rolling out a mat and beginning a yoga practice. If so, restorative yoga is absolutely perfect for you.

In comparison, #vinyasa yoga is more a heated yoga practice. It matches movement with breath, so we are moving from one asana to another, with each inhale and exhale, building strength and flexibility, even a bit of cardio exercise. It helps us practice our pranayama, which is excellent for anxiety, and it helps us really step into Self and notice. It's a very embodied practice, which I find helps me maintain my awareness, my self-check-in, while also investing in my physical health.

Yin is the opposite, where poses are held, often with props, for ten-to-fifteen minutes each, and maybe only five or so poses are done in each class. This can help work out tighter restrictions in the body and release some deep emotions, but it can also be a bit disorienting. We sometimes need movement to know where our bodies are in space, particularly when stressed, and sometimes it can be a real mental challenge to stay in a deep pose for so long, which is part of the intentional mental challenge or work, with yin yoga. Not everyone is quite ready for this challenge.

There are also combination classes, which I've written about, where we build heat in their earlier portion of the class with some vinyasa and then end the class with more about poses that work a bit deeper with poses held longer and more intentional, a VinYin, but they are complementary in that they both create tension in the body. Restorative yoga is gentle.

If you need help relaxing and desperately need rejuvenation, then restorative yoga may really be your element. We typically use blankets, bolsters, and blocks, even straps, to help you release tension and let go of stress while you hold poses and while we stay there a bit, we don't often for more than a few minutes. This practice really is excellent for anyone who is suffering any sort of health issue and just isn't in their prime. Personally, I had been in overdrive for a long, long time and was very disembodied, but really had no awareness of that. Taking time for a yoga class was already exceedingly hard for me because I had so much to do for everyone else, but on the mat, I had to just follow the direction of the instructor and I soon felt so safe, which started my healing journey. I started to pay attention to my body, to my breath, and eventually my thoughts. I was really learning myself again, how I could move, even how I felt. It was transformative for me.

Restorative yoga is also great for those who have some physical dis-ease whether that is a recent injury or maybe just auto-immunity and chronic pain. We can be more gentle in these restorative classes with our shapes and energy. We still get a great physical exercise, but the goal is more to create a peaceful and supportive practice space. This is really the yoga where I have the sense of being loved, because I am showing up for myself.

What Might I Expect in a Restorative Yoga Class?

These classes are created to pacify, revive, and re-energize the physique, psyche, and essence of yourself. This is part of #Hatha yoga, the style of yoga that I was initially trained, a primeval form of yoga that originated in India, designed to extend and reinforce the physical body in anticipation of seated meditation. During a restorative yoga session, you will encounter mild actions, elongated postures frequently sustained with bolstering objects such as blankets and blocks, and a collective ambiance of tranquility and serenity.

Restorative yoga can release stress and tension, improve sleep and flexibility, and reduce pain and tightness in your muscles. Mood may improve and just overall well-being. The props help you relax so that you can really fall in, finding that safe space so even your nervous system enters a state of rest. When your nervous system is calm, you can start to refresh and restore which is how we enable the best of ourselves to manifest.

Ambient music and dim lights are common in restorative classes, as are guided meditations and breathing exercises. This is yoga for slowing ourselves down and it's great for people of all ages, all levels, all backgrounds, all abilities.

Who Do I Recommend Restorative Yoga For?

Everyone. No joke. We all need a little relaxation, but restorative yoga is especially helpful for those who need to address their stress and anxiety. It is also great for those who could benefit from improving their flexibility, reducing their pain, and even improving their mood. If you have auto-immune disease, thyroid or adrenal dysfunction, even an ailment in your body that limits your movement, restorative yoga is a gentle way to begin moving again. Chair yoga may also be an excellent approach. Those who have ADHD or even autism, who can be a bit disembodied or even too embodied may really enjoy restorative yoga because it is a great place to reconnect again, to check-in and learn how to listen and honor our bodies. This is such a gentle and passive practice with so many positive effects on the physical body and mental health that truly, everyone should make time to get into a restorative yoga class.

If you are seeking a way to slow down and take a break from our fast-paced world, join our Sunday restorative classes. If you are an active client, you can join free, but you'll need to reserve your spot on our homepage under events. These are virtual so if you choose, no one will even see you! They are great opportunities for connection though, so join us a few minutes early and say hello if you'd like! I sure love to see your faces and catch up. Yoga is transformative.

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