INTRO TO RESTORATIVE YOGA
Robin Faye, Yoga Teacher CYA-E-500
The basic principles of restorative yoga are simple. However, the variations are almost endless and the effects are multiple and complex. Therefore, training and experience are valuable in understanding safety and individual modifications. Basically, the body is positioned in comfortable, although sometimes pleasantly challenging, postures that are held for a length of time. Postures are fully supported in alignment and ease by props such as bolsters, blankets, straps, and blocks. The work is done on the floor (or a platform), although seated variations are helpful and necessary in certain circumstances, for example in a wheelchair or while traveling.
The focus is on body awareness and breath awareness, always coordinating movement with breath and gently reminding the mind to return its attention to the breath whenever it is noticed that the mind has wandered. If breathing is held or labored, it means that too much effort is being spent and the body cannot relax: work less, and adapt the pose to provide more ease. As in other forms of hatha yoga, an understanding of anatomically correct alignment is important.
Choice and sequencing of poses depends on the needs of the practitioner and intention of the practice. Generally, a practice session includes a forward fold, a backbend, a twist, an inversion, and savasana. Savasana (corpse pose) is the last posture and is essential as it provides the body an opportunity to absorb the results of the postures done before it. The other postures can be arranged in order of preference except that wherever it is placed in the sequence, a backbend must be followed by either a forward fold or a twist.
It’s worth taking time to get set up in a posture so that alignment is correct and there is as much comfort as possible. There are specific approaches to getting into and out of postures that maximize safety, comfort, and efficiency of the pose. Tips can be found in some of the many yoga books available in the library, or online at one of the websites below. It can be helpful to have an experienced person help with this by passing props, folding and covering you with blankets, experimenting with different modifications, etc.
Once settled in the pose, notice the parts of your body that are touching the floor or the props. Begin to rest into the support that gravity offers, and use the breath to gradually encourage more and more of the body to sink into that support. This maximizes the surface contact with the supports. This allows provides a more secure base for the body, which allows greater relaxation.
How to use the breath to do this? Focus the mind’s attention on the simple sensations of air coming in the nose and out the nose (if unable to breathe freely through the nose, breathe through the mouth as well). The mind tends to wander, so very gently remind it to come back to focusing on the breath when you notice that it’s wandering. Keep doing this. People who have been practicing for many years still have to do this. That’s what the practice is.
It may be challenging at first to keep the mind on the breath. Avoid being judgmental about it. Just invite the breath to come back gently. Even one or two minutes of practice is a good start!
Each posture is held for a long time, from three to fifteen minutes, depending on comfort and intent. Start with short holds, and adjust the length of hold as feels appropriate for you. (A timer may help.) Falling asleep may happen, and that is fine. With practice, the focus on the breath allows the practitioner to stay alert while also becoming deeply relaxed.
Savasana (corpse pose) is the final posture. Savasana is considered to be the most difficult yoga posture for many people, because it requires relaxation and stillness. Lie is this pose for ten minutes if possible, focusing on your breath. Then turn slowly onto either side, draw the knees up towards the body, and rest on the side for at least three full, delicious breaths. Then push up sideways to a seated position and enjoy the sensations of the breath for a few moments in a comfortably seated position. Move slowly back into the day or evening. There’s no rush.
Restorative postures can be helpful in preparation for sleep, or as a rejuvenating break (even instead of a nap) during the day. During stressful life challenges, daily practice or even more often can be helpful. Restorative postures are useful for everyone, including people with a very active lifestyle and people who are recovering from illness, injury, or surgery. Certain safety precautions may exist (for example, in areas where there are stitches), so seek advice if you need to.
These images of basic postures, one each of a forward fold, a backbend, a twist, and savasana, are just examples. There are many additional postures, variations and modification. For safety, efficiency, and ease, professional guidance is recommended to start. (There is a lot more to this!)
FROG (FORWARD FOLD)
BACKBEND OVER BOLSTER FORWARD FACING RECLINING TWIST