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What is Restorative Yoga?

by Cris Puscas

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The world we live in is full of sensory overload. We are over-worked and over-stressed. Slowly and surely, living our fast-paced and stressful lives wears us down.

While all yoga styles can help lessen the impact of these lifestyle problems, Restorative Yoga is centered around reestablishing the balance in your mind, body, and soul.

It’s no surprise that this style is one of the most popular among practitioners.

If you are interested in deepening your knowledge about this yoga style or want to start teaching it, here, we’ll take a closer look at Restorative Yoga, find out what makes it different from other styles, what are its benefits, and why you should be teaching it.

But First, What Is Restorative Yoga?

corps pose restorative yoga

Photo credit: Shree Hari Yoga

Completely different than most contemporary yoga styles, Restorative Yoga is gentle, focusing on slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching. It is a style that uses the asanas to place your body into a deep state of relaxation.

The purpose of Restorative Yoga is to achieve physical, emotional, and spiritual relaxation, as well as bring your body back to its natural balance.

You’ll make use of various props - blankets, bolsters, blocks, sandbags, eye pillows, and straps - to completely relax and rest. Guidance is also given about the length of the breath.

Minimal light, silence, warmth, and calming breathing are used to reduce stimuli and to keep your body and mind tranquil.

It’s safe to say that you shouldn’t expect a fast-paced environment. The classes are very mellow. They are a great antidote to stress and an excellent complement to more active practices.

 

History of Restorative Yoga

 

Restorative Yoga originated in the teachings of B.K.S Iyengar. His focus was on helping every practitioner achieve the benefits of yoga without experiencing pain or strain.

He was also the one to bring this form of asana and meditation to the West.

But it was Judith Lasater - one of Iyengar’s early disciples - who popularized Restorative Yoga in the US in the 1970s, calling it “an active relaxation”.

Restorative Yoga, as a style, is relatively new and is continuously evolving, as teachers discover new ways to support the body.

 

What to Expect from a Restorative Yoga Class

restorative yoga pose

Photo credit: Yoga Bliss

Most Restorative Yoga classes include a combination of therapeutic elements (such as essential oils), guided meditation, touch assistance, and soothing music.

The stimuli in the studio should be reduced to help you relax and rest. The light may be dimmed, there may be soft music playing – or even complete silence. As you relax, you’ll likely get cold, so you are given a blanket to use and the place will be warm.

You may notice that each Restorative Yoga class is different from the other.

While there is no set structure for the class, typically, a Restorative Yoga sequence involves five or six poses. The poses are held for 3 to 20 minutes or more and they include light twists, gentle backbends, and seated forward folds.

Common Restorative Yoga poses include Child’s Pose, Legs Up The Wall, Supported Reclining Bound Angle, Supported Seated Forward Fold, and Supported Bridge Pose.

To be able to stay for so long in a pose, you will use various props. The goal is not to feel the stretch but rather, to melt into the asana, allowing your body to consciously relax.

Breathing exercises are sometimes used to act as a bridge into the functions of the body we don’t have control over.

 

Benefits of Restorative Yoga

restorative yoga pose

Photo credit: SanaYouYOGA

Because it combines deep stretching with breathing exercises, Restorative Yoga offers many benefits for the practitioners.

Improved flexibility

In Restorative Yoga, poses are held for up to 20 minutes. As your body is supported by props, you can achieve both 100% relaxation and deep stretching.

You will notice where the body holds more tension, so you can release it as you breathe to deepen your pose. You will work with gravity instead of against it.

Reduced stress & anxiety

Restorative Yoga has the most positive effect on your mind and emotional state.

During the classes, you teach the body to respond positively to stress. Restorative Yoga triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as rest & digest) and thus promoting a sense of calm and lowering stress levels.

After constant practice, you may notice that your perception of stress has changed. Your ‘short-fuse’ is not as short anymore, and that nagging person isn’t that nagging after all. You may even find that your deadlines don’t feel as dreading.

This is because the effects of Restorative Yoga on your mindfulness abilities are quick and long-lasting.

»Read more: Yoga Poses - 6 Asanas to Lower Your Stress Levels

Increased body awareness

After regular practice, you’ll soon notice that your body limitations are slowly going away. You’ll be able to tune in with that your body is telling you. And those “mysterious” aches and pains will no longer be so…mysterious as you’ll soon recognize their source and take action.

Help you start a meditation practice

This style strips the physical aspect of contemporary yoga. Instead, it focuses on calming your mind.

As gravity helps you fall into the deep stretch, all you need to do is quiet the mind. In other words, you are practicing meditation. You’ll learn how to simply let your thoughts go.

For someone who struggles with meditation, a Restorative Yoga class may just have a profound impact on their practice. Or Restorative Yoga may be the first time a student tries to meditate.

Learn to heal yourself

Especially if you suffer from anxiety or lack self-care, you reduce your body’s natural ability to heal itself. This leads to minor and major health issues.

Through Restorative Yoga and the relaxation techniques practiced during classes, you restore your body to a state of equilibrium. This, in turn, means your blood pressure will stabilize, your immune system will work better, and your metabolism will work at a better level. 

Soon enough, you should notice that even if you do get sick, you’ll bounce back faster than before.

The beauty of Restorative Yoga is that it’s very personal. Some people may alleviate insomnia or improve their joint mobility. Should your digestive system be unwell, you may be able to restore its health.

 

Who Should Practice Restorative Yoga?

restorative yoga

Photo credit: Peak Beings

Restorative Yoga can and should be practiced by everyone. It gives time and space for yourself, allowing you to just be.

The classes are accessible to new and experienced yoga practitioners. But don’t think it would be easy. When you are stressed or not used to stillness, Restorative Yoga can be challenging.

However, if you struggle with stress-related physical and emotional issues, Restorative Yoga can be a great tool to bring balance back in your life.

Should you be one of those persons who always need to stay “busy”, give Restorative Yoga a try and let your body and mind relax. You might be surprised by how enjoyable the class can be.

If, on the other hand, you always relieve stress by exercising vigorously, Restorative Yoga may feel like torture at first. Challenge yourself to quiet the mind and cultivate focus and awareness.

People dealing with injury, stress, sleep issues, or chronic pain can especially benefit from Restorative Yoga. 

Also, if you are a caregiver or your work is centered around helping others, Restorative Yoga can help (re)connect to yourself.

Although Restorative Yoga is an individual practice, it is very useful for couples dealing with problems. It can help you deepen the relationship with yourself and those around you. Or it can help you make peace with the end of a relationship.

Restorative Yoga is also beneficial for anyone who practices sports, including professional athletes, as it enables them to strengthen their concentration ability, fosters a relaxed mind, and enhances the mind & body connection. And of course, it is a great tool to relieve the muscle tension.

 

Why Should You Teach Restorative Yoga?

helping students settle into a restorative yoga pose

Photo: Shree Hari Yoga

When you learn to teach Restorative Yoga, you’ll get a deep understanding of the practice of yoga that regulates the nervous system and restores the whole being into a state of wellness.

If you are comfortable with being quiet and are interested in helping each student find the optimal posture for total relaxation, teaching Restorative Yoga is for you.

As a Restorative Yoga teacher, you are caring, compassionate, and observant. Your students’ comfort and safety are of utmost importance.

Restorative Yoga goes beyond learning the basic movements and making sure the studio is dark, quiet, still, and warm.

You need to create a container for your students to have an incredible experience. This can be achieved by optimally using props and paying attention to their setup before settling into a pose.

Care is the most important thing you can offer as a teacher. It can come in many different ways, including helping your students with the setup or giving them a prop.

Witnessing the amazing effects of Restorative Yoga on your students is the most rewarding part of teaching this style.

 

Hero photo credit: Yoga Bliss


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