Yoga Styles 101: An Introduction to Restorative Yoga
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Over-worked and over-stressed, living our fast-paced and stressful lives wears us down.
It comes as no surprise that we are looking for ways to find our center and reconnect with ourselves.
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.
And it quickly became one of the most popular among practitioners.
If you are interested in trying Restorative Yoga or deepening your knowledge about it, here, we’ll take a closer look at this style, find out what makes it different from other styles, what are its benefits, and what happens during a class.
But First, What Is Restorative Yoga?
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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.
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.
» Read more: Yoga Styles 101 - An Introduction to Iyengar Yoga
What to Expect from a Restorative Yoga Class
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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. The studio/room is usually kept warm. As you relax, you’ll get cold, so you are likely to also use the blanket.
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
Because Restorative Yoga combines deep stretching with breathing exercises, this style offers many benefits for the practitioners.
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.
»Read more: Yoga for Flexibility: Poses for Tight Hips
Reduced stress & anxiety
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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 promotes a sense of calm and lowers 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: 5 Stress-Relieving Yoga Poses
Increased body awareness
After regular Restorative Yoga 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?
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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.
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 muscle tension.
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.
How Is Restorative Yoga Different from Yin Yoga?
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Both Yin and Restorative Yoga are slow-paced, require you to hold the asanas for minutes, quiet the mind, focus inward, and relax your body.
The main difference, however, is that Restorative Yoga uses props to support the body, enabling you to release the tension.
Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the deep connecting tissues in your body by using floor-based postures that are held for minutes. Physical discomfort that sets in after holding a pose for 1-2 minutes, although unpleasant, is necessary and contributes to the transformative effects of this style. The stretch is active.
By contrast, in Restorative Yoga, you should not feel any discomfort and that’s why the correct alignment of the props is needed. You melt into the asanas as you hold them for a long time. The stretch is passive.
That said, the styles can complement each other. Heal your body with Restorative Yoga and activate change in an already healed body with Yin Yoga.
Hero photo credit: Yoga Bliss
Interested in practicing a quick-paced style featuring challenging poses? Join an Ashtanga Yoga Retreat and discover the mix of traditional yoga and quick-paced asanas.