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Restorative Yoga? Why?

The yoga world often seems to be divided in two parts-those who flow or do heated yoga like the classic 26 postures and those who lean into yin, restorative and meditation. I hear people confuse Restorative and Yin yoga all the time, and it's one of the questions I answer the most. What's the difference between restorative and yin? Isn't yin a restorative practice?

Not really. Yin is deep stretches held for minutes to influence the connective tissues of the body-fascia, ligaments, tendons. Restorative Yoga also offers long held postures, but without the deep stretch. In restorative practice, you are much more focused on allowing the mind to rest and body to be calm. Often the head and heart are at the same level or the head is lower than the heart.
Yin yoga's focus is increased flexibility, range of motion, and fascial release. Restorative yoga's aim is relaxation of the body and mind by using the body and breath as tools for rewiring thought patterns.

While restorative yoga incorporates postures, shapes the body is held in with the support of props like bolsters and blankets, the postures are mainly there to facilitate healthy blood circulation to the brain and feelings of safety and comfort.

Here are a few things restorative yoga can do, in sequential order since each builds on the one before it. If you start a practice, you begin truly with number one.

1.) Nervous system balance. The nervous system is part of your body and it's made up of two parts: sympathetic and parasympathetic. In restorative you turn down the sympathetic system which activates in the face of fear, panic, judgement, and pain (for examples). The parasympathetic system which soothes and helps you bounce back after stressful situations, is engaged. Practice with the parasympathetic nervous system results in more consistent ability to respond and react as necessary in life, while returning to a healthy baseline more quickly.

2.) Learning to breathe effectively. Certain types of breathing help regulate the nervous system. In restorative postures you have the opportunity to tune into breath, breathe more consciously, and ideally, with a skillful teacher, you will explore different breaths to find out which type best suits your physical and mental/emotional state or tendencies.

3.) Connection to your physical body. Here you are, in this posture, well aware of your body, not trying to escape or change it. This direct experience of presence is very powerful. Many people go through time avoiding their bodies and direct experiences of the present moment. Restorative Yoga is not an escape, but rather as way to meet yourself as you are, in a safe space perhaps with guided meditation. Losing pre-occupation with the past or future, you ground fully in the immediateness of here and now.

4.) Calm mind. All of the above create the pathway to a calmer mind. Extraneous thoughts, anxieties or frustrations are normal and to be expected even during restorative yoga. With practice, these patterns become lesser and begin to change. Outside you yoga practice, you become more able to quiet the mind and return to your baseline more quickly when pain or stress arise in everyday life.

5.) Eventually you can change your personal stories and beliefs about yourself. The word RESTORE becomes real. You can shed layers of judgment from yourself and others and get up close and personal with a more authentic You. Your ability to stop the what ifs and the negative thinking grows and as a result, you feel better and accept yourself more. You stop practicing pain by reliving painful stories and experiences and by replacing them with breath and the present moment experience. Restorative yoga helps you recognize the temporary nature of sadness or rejection. With your body relaxed, you learn to safely reflect and sit with emotions or feelings while engaged in breath. This isn't necessarily an overnight process, but even one restorative session may change your perception or encourage a breakthrough of any sort.  Restorative yoga encourages you to remember who you are underneath the layers of stories, expectations and learned behaviors that bury you (sometimes holding you in destructive, depressive, anxious, hopeless or fearful states.)

Finally, restorative yoga puts the physical body under good conditions for healing. Being less reactive, more safe, more present and noticing your breath all create an environment from which the body can heal, through rest.

Astrologically, Full Moon is prime time for Restorative practices since emotionally and physically we are more likely to experience extremes then. From 2 days before to 2 days after Full Moon, do more restorative practices and feel more balanced

Sunday, March 19th Restorative Yoga with Reiki Healing happens at Scarborough Yoga (Maine). I know it's short notice, but we have a few spaces left. Pre-registration only. We cannot take walk ins as we need an exact count and space is limited.

This is the registration link and more information. 

On Sunday nights at 5:30-6:45 pm Deep Stretch at Greener Postures in South Portland, I usually incorporate one or two restorative postures to our practice. Walk in and join us! No registration is required and we have all the props you need. (mat rentals are $1 and first class ever at GP is only $5. After that you can buy a package or drop in for $15. This is like a combination of yin and restorative in a 75 minute session).

Restorative workshops finish for the season, but stay tuned for one wonderful summer restorative practice during July's Full Moon.

Peace and ease to you!

*much of this information can be found in Bo Forbes' book Yoga for Emotional Balance. It's a great book that explains in much more detail why Restorative Yoga works.


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