Restorative Yoga 101

Before this blog post please read my previous ones about actually setting time aside in your day for a rest (Starting a Mindfulness Practice) & also some techniques to focus the mind (Mindfulness Techniques).

After this post, please reference a list of my “go to” reclined positions (Restorative Yoga Poses). They are comfortable shapes to try out in order to facilitate a more restful practice.

Based on previous blog posts, you have committed to (or at least realize the importance of) stopping and resting during your day. It is not a luxury and never a waste of time. It is an absolutely necessary part of life. Our days naturally do not lead us into a balanced state concerning our nervous systems. In the history of human beings we used to fight/flight against real threats for survival like running away from a bear. But the normal daily “bears” now are a never-ending to do list, an overflowing inbox of emails and other family/career demands.

Anatomy side note, our nervous system is not as simple as parasympathetic (rest/digest/recover) vs. sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze). There are at least 8 major nerve systems that activate you vs. around 3 major systems that quiet you down. Which means it is much easier for us to stay in a constant active revved up state than to be quiet and calm.

Just because it is not easy to do doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Resting is the most beneficial thing you can do. I call it a daily vitamin. Your muscles release, blood pressure and stress-hormone levels drop, heart rate and breathing rate decrease and even brain waves slow down. This leads to a benefit for your circulatory system, immune system, digestion and other functions of the body.

There are many ways to have a mindful practice. One of them is restorative yoga. The key here is that the shape you create with your body aids in the relaxation response. Note that the shape you hold is not magic. Your brain does need a focal point to get the full benefits. In the previously related blog posts I outlined some suggestions. Below is an example of a daily practice I have been doing. Note it does vary each day. Some days it is “easier” to let go and others I struggle and get frustrated because I am human! But the point is, it is a practice. You are training yourself to release just like you would go the the gym to train for running a marathon. The point here is that you are training to live your best, most balanced, life.

Restorative Yoga is the use of props to support the body in positions of comfort and ease to facilitate relaxation and health”

— Judith Hanson Lasater

For more info please reference the book Restore and Rebalance by Judith Hanson Lasater

My Daily Vitamin (aka mini 20 minute Restorative Practice)

  1. I put my pajamas on! Or at least change out of my tight yoga pants. Just to make sure I am fully comfortable.
  2. I let my husband know I am taking some quiet time for me. I also silence my cell phone.
  3. I close the door to my yoga room, lower the shade and get my props in place. If a cold day I turn on my personal room heater by Taotronics.
  4. I set a timer for 20 minutes. I recommend checking out a couple of cell phone apps that create pleasant tones after a set time = “Insight Timer” and “Meditation Timer & Log”. Note these apps still work even with your phone on silent mode for texts/calls.
  5. I get comfortable in my reclined restorative pose (aka my nest). Being mindful to scan the body for any prop/clothing distractions or discomfort. The body enjoys symmetry when resting. The pose I usually use is called the Basic Relaxation Pose.
  6. Then I go through a series of steps to focus my mind (note this changes daily, this is just an example)
    • Focus my attention on the literal center of my brain.
    • Starting from my head I work my way noticing sensations in parts of my body. Traveling down one arm at a time, even noting each finger. Reminding myself to release.
    • Next I go through a breath count starting at 27. Inhale 27, Exhale 27, Inhale 26, Exhale 26, etc. If I lose count (which I normally do), I use this as a sign it is working.
    • After I feel more at ease, I use the remaining time to focus on the sensations of me breathing. Normally centered around the low rib cage movement.
    • When distracted I turn to one of the two mindfulness techniques. Inhale I think “So”; Exhale I silently say “Hum”. Otherwise I notice my thoughts and acknowledge them without trying to figure them out. That is a positive thought, there is a neutral one, that one is negative. Just labeling and then letting myself go back to my breath focus.
  7. I come out of the practice moving slowly. Landing in a fetal position on my side for a minute and then upright seated position.
  8. Sometimes I will journal for a couple minutes or at least write down what came into my mind during the practice.
  9. Most important of all is that when it did seem “impossible” for me to rest fully, I remind myself that it is a journey and a practice. Being gentle and kind to myself and knowing that I will try again tomorrow.