If you asked me what my favourite yoga to teach is I'll most likely reply "Restorative because it is so deeply transformational" (or I might say creative, crazy flow if you've caught me on a day with a bucket of energy 😂)
It is one of the classes and practices that has to be experienced to be truly understood; so in this blog I'm going to share my take on what it is and why I think it is so so powerful.
What is Restorative Yoga?
On the outside, Restorative Yoga looks very much like its cousin; Yin Yoga and nothing like its opposite Yang active practices (like my Yoga 101 or Flowing Yoga 101 classes).
In Restorative Yoga, the vast majority of the poses are on the floor or at a low level and the common factor is a significant number of props like chairs, cushions, blankets, eye pillows, straps and even sandbags.
In Yin Yoga you'll also find props but fewer of them and floor level poses.
The main difference here is the approach and sensation you're looking for as a practitioner.
In Yin Yoga, we're holding poses for 3-5 minutes and looking for a sensation - a stretch, or an "edge" of pressure or mild discomfort. Therefore, we can think of Yin as the yoga of our deeper body - our deep layer musculature and connective tissues and a practice that really aids mobility.
In Restorative Yoga the holds are significantly longer, 7-20+ minutes and we are only looking to be comfortable in the asana, fully supported, warm and finding stillness both in our bodies and our minds. And this is where the magic happens (as they say on MTV Cribs - showing my age there a bit!) and why you can think of Restorative as the Yoga of your inner self and your nervous system.
The benefits & why restorative yoga is so powerful
In these longer holds, a few things happen - we drop off an edge or a Rest Cliff, if you prefer. We hit a point after a few minutes where our body and mind says "ahh" and you really settle and actually relax. This is where we're working with our nervous system instead of against it constantly.
In neuroanatomy and neurophysiology we talk about the Polyvagal Theory quite often, and you might have heard me talking about this in a class as well.
Essentially - our nervous system is governed by the tone of a nerve called our Vagus. This controls our Autonomous Nervous System; split into Sympathetic (Fight or Flight) and Parasympathetic (Rest or Digest).
We live in a world with a constant state of Sympathetic arousal A.K.A. Stress. Stressful jobs, sitting in traffic, the pressures of productivity literally put us into this threat state of alert i.e. Fight or Flight. This response is there from the times when we had to run fast from a Lion or another threat - and we are constantly triggering this state by simply *existing* in the world we live in now, especially post-pandemic where we're all more sensitive and living with the largest trauma in a couple of generations.
So, when we actively participate in a practice like Restorative Yoga that works with our physiology to down regulate our vagal nerve tone from fight or flight into a more normal state i.e. rest or digest, powerful things happen;
We sleep better because we're stressing less.
We have an improved sense of wellbeing.
I've also seen clients with chronic pain report increased mobility, feeling better able to cope psychologically too.
I genuinely think it is one of the most transformative practices out there for any yoga student.
Curious to give it a go? Check out my upcoming Restorative Yoga Workshop.