No man is an island.
Our energy is affected by many external factors and life pulls and pushes us in many ways. The relationships that bring us love and joy can also cause us pain and worry, the work responsibilities that offer pride and satisfaction can also lead to stress and burn out. With so many amazing ways to spend our leisure time in this city that never sleeps, even our ‘free’ time can be laced with pressure, the pressure that we should always be ‘doing’ something to be fully alive.
Restorative yoga is a liberating practice as it is not a practice of ‘doing’, but a practice of ‘being’. Through finding inner stillness and quiet we see that the essence of being fully alive is most potent with an absence of doing, when we start to peel away the layers of stimulation and distraction. This is a practice of ‘un doing’ and, in my opinion, it is an essential practice to maintain balance.
If you follow the 8 limbs of yoga you will know the term brahmacharya, one of the yamas, (social restraints) which can be translated as wise use of energy. Learning how to contain, to replenish and when and where to expel our energy is vital to a life well lived. In the stillness of a restorative yoga practice we can heighten our awareness of our own energy levels and, give ourselves time to replenish our store. I believe when we dedicate time to nurturing our own energy we become more careful about the ways in which we spend this precious resource. This can lead us to making healthier and more sustainable decisions about the way we live our life.
Restore, restore, restore.
This is my mantra. It reminds me that before I can look after my family, my friends, my students, before I can function in any meaningful way, I must maintain my charge, I must look after my Self. There are many short term pick me ups which have their place in my life – an active yoga practice, a run outside, a chat with a close friend, even a coffee can all make me feel more energised and improve my mood, but I would argue none of these can truly address stress and exhaustion rooted deeply in my body.
Restorative yoga lives in a space between activity and sleep, this deep relaxation that is often neglected, that feels so wonderfully luxurious yet is also so fundamentally essential.
So what is Restorative Yoga?
Poses are ‘held’ for several minutes – often between 5 and 20. The poses are passive, meaning there is no muscle engagement. The body is totally supported in the postures by props – blankets, blocks and bolsters. With this support we can let go of physical tension, of mental tension, and of emotional tension. The body is gently invited to open in areas we may keep habitually closed. This is a gentle opening and not a stretch (stretching is mildly stimulating to the nervous system). Significantly, over the course of a restorative yoga class we move the spine in all directions, gently folding forwards, backwards and twisting. A healthy spine enhances well-being.
And why should I practice Restorative Yoga?
In restorative yoga you are momentarily stepping away from the outside world and from all the demands it makes on your, body, mind and energy. You are invited into a still and silent space where the body’s own resources (it’s tool kit) is given the opportunity to awaken, to heal and to restore. Relaxation takes us out of stress mode and activates the sympathetic nervous system – this switches our body over to ‘maintenance mode’. Simply put, when we allow ourselves to stop and relax, the inner healing processes can take place, homeostasis can be restored.
Restorative yoga is for everyone, not just those with injuries or physical limitations (though wonderful in those instances too!) This practice is for anyone who ever feels stressed or short of time. It is for people who would like to sleep better, for those who get run down easily, who want to give their body a chance to heal, who suffer from a reactive nature, or who simply want to maintain optimum well-being.
Restorative yoga isn’t being lazy. In fact finding a place to ‘do’ nothing in your life can be extremely constructive. I urge you to try the practice and see what extra space and energy it frees up for you.
I teach restorative yoga at Nilaya House in Al Quoz, Dubai on Tuesdays 8-9.15pm