Today, as demonstrated by the number of people heading to the yoga studio for hot yoga and Pilates classes, the trend in yoga is ‘gym yoga’ or ‘fitness yoga’.
Fitness yoga strange name; isn’t one of the greatest benefits of yoga fitness?
Nevertheless, how yoga is ‘packaged’ is half of the draw for those newly-curious about yoga; a brightly-lit gym, lots of smiling participants and bright colours help to sell the idea that yoga is a vibrant practice that everyone should engage in.
Even online yoga classes tend to show those practicing yoga in a brightly-lit yoga studio, on a colourful mat, wearing wildly colourful yoga clothing…
Is yoga even supposed to be that bright?
Some yoga devotees would argue not but the truth is, it really doesn’t matter what colour your yoga mat is or how intensely the lights burn.
What does matter is that the fundamental yoga philosophy is at the root of everything that happens in class.
Many popular styles of yoga – Iyengar yoga, Vinyasa yoga and others reflect that tenet through many poses, breathwork and meditation.
All of this is great information but, so far, we’ve not said anything about yoga’s restorative powers.
Let’s say you have already embraced the lifestyle of a yogi; you may even be a yoga teacher (or want to become one).
But then, something terrible happens: you sustain an injury. You are devastated that it will take you months to recuperate, let alone get back to the vigorous yoga classes you used to lead.
Or maybe one of your loved ones has sustained an injury; maybe due to repetitive motion, as is so common these days. As a yoga instructor, what would you recommend?
Naturally, restorative yoga comes to mind but you wonder: which asanas would be most beneficial? How many asanas should be considered for an hour’s session?
Should restorative yoga sessions be conducted one on one or can it be done in a group?
Superprof now takes a closer look at restorative yoga to answer those questions and more.
What is Restorative Yoga?
In our intro, we mentioned having an injury; recovering from such trauma is only one reason to take a restorative yoga class. Other reasons have nothing to do with the physical state.
You may feel completely stressed out at work, burnt out from your gym routine or your power yoga sessions, undone by family affairs or a love affair that ended badly.
Many believe that one must push through tough situations and that everything will be better on the other side. The other side of what, one might wonder?
Such advice, often sincerely given, seems to imply that we are lone voyagers on a path beset by obstacles on every side, with the possibility of never overcoming them – in other words, of failing. And, in today’s narrative, failure is never acceptable.
What if we stop seeing these very common human experiences as adversarial situations to confront and triumph over and, instead, perceive them as an opportunity to deepen our mind-body connection?
In these situations and more, restorative yoga could be the answer you are looking for.
Why Take Restorative Yoga Classes?
You might argue that, if one is fed up with their workout, they could just change it up.
Likewise, if repetitive motion, say carpal tunnel syndrome is what plagues them, they could visit a chiropractor and even have an operation, if their doctor recommends it.
All of that is true but those solutions leave the person in question with the same kettle of fish.
The point of restorative yoga is to restore oneself, not to alleviate a symptom of a much greater condition demanding your attention.
Our bodies have an amazing way of communicating with us and, all too often, we simply don’t know what they’re saying.
It would be nice if a text bubble would manifest itself over whichever part of our anatomy that needs relief that said: “I’m under a lot of stress here, could you maybe unplug for a bit so I can get back to normal?”
Restorative yoga is not beneficial only to physical stress; it does wonders for the psyche – as does Hatha yoga, flow yoga and many other types of yoga.
What if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety? Restorative yoga can help with those conditions, too.
Studies show that restorative yoga has proven benefits for people battling cancer. It helps them combat depression and anxiety while helping them manage their pain and the toxic effects of the chemical cocktails they must ingest to beat their disease.
If restorative yoga works for cancer survivors, it stands to reason that it would benefit people who are not in a fight for their lives, doesn’t it?
Other conditions alleviated with restorative yoga include:
- hypertension and heart disease
- headaches and migraines
- joint pain including carpal tunnel
- women’s issues – bloating, cramps and moodiness
- cold and flu symptoms
Another amazing benefit of restorative yoga is weight loss.
Our bodies produce cortisol as a matter of normal function but, when we are under stress, cortisol production increases, meaning the amount of sugar in your blood also increases. If/when that excess sugar is not worked off, it converts into fat.
Ergo, by reducing cortisol production, you are also reducing the fat in your body.
Now that you are completely sold on the idea of restorative yoga, let’s peek in on a class.
What Does a Restorative Yoga Session Entail?
Like yin yoga, restorative yoga makes ample use of bolsters, blocks and blankets, and every asana is done at floor level.
However, unlike yin yoga and virtually every other type of yoga, a restorative yoga session employs only a handful of asanas that are held for an extended period; up to 20 minutes.
When you enter the yoga studio, don’t be surprised to find dim lighting and soft music playing. You may also find many props set up by each yoga mat. If you bring your own mat, your yoga teacher may place several blocks, pillows and blankets near you.
Your yoga instructor may also help you get into position. For example, for the Reclined Goddess pose, your instructor might help place the block under your back or help you recline.
The studio environment is so relaxing and the postures are held for so long that many people actually doze off. Nobody will disparage you for it; if you feel yourself nodding off, go for it! Surely, when your instructor calls out the next asana, you’ll wake back up.
Don’t let the tranquillity of these sessions fool you; your muscles and joints will still get a workout.
For instance, the Supported Bridge pose that is often used in restorative yoga will work your abs, hamstring muscles, quads and hip flexors.
Have you got your blankets, pillows, bolsters and blocks ready? Let us now go through restorative yoga poses together.
Restorative Yoga Lessons
You are now in a softly lit yoga studio. Your mat is surrounded with blankets, pillows and props. Sliding into the stress of the Holiday Season, you are so ready for this yoga practice!
At the urging of the yoga instructors, you seat yourself on your mat, ready for the first posture.
Modified Child’s Pose
Sitting on your ankles with your knees apart, place your pillows or folded blankets in front of you. Lean forward at the hips, resting your head and torso on the pillows.
Make sure that your entire torso is supported as well as your head. You do not want your head dangling down off the edge of the blanket. If needed, arrange your yoga blocks in front of your blankets so that your head can rest on them.
Your arms should drape down on either side of your torso support. Hold the pose for 10-20 minutes.
If you feel any discomfort – in your knees, shoulders or ankles, ease out of the position.
Supported Bridge Pose
Lying on your back with your knees raised, place your feet shoulder-width apart. Place a yoga block under your sacrum so that your hips are elevated.
You may lace your hands over your stomach or lay them out at 45 degrees from your body, what is called ‘cactusing’. If you cactus your arms, make sure your palms are face-up.
For an extra challenge, you may position the block under your sacrum on its narrow side to raise your hips higher. You might also place your feet at the edges of your mat and bring your knees together so that you don’t strain to hold your legs in position.
Hold the pose for 10-20 minutes.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Lying supine on your mat, pull your feet toward your pelvis. With the soles of your feet together, place blocks under each knee so that the stretch to your inner thigh muscles won’t be so great.
Cactus your arms or place your fingers on your abdomen. Hold the pose for between 10 and 20 minutes.
Supported Forward Fold Pose
Seated on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you, place a bolster under your thighs, close to your knees. On your legs, stack your pillows or blanket.
Bend forward at the waist until your torso and head are resting on the pillows. Your arms hang along the pillows; your palms should face upward.
Hold for 10-20 minutes.
Legs Up The Wall Pose
For this pose, you will obviously need a wall; your mat should be perpendicular to it.
Sitting with the wall on your left side, ease sideways until you are laying on your mat. Bring your legs up until you are lying on your back; your body should mould to the angle formed by the floor and the wall.
Hold the pose for 10-20 minutes and then flow into savasana, or Corpse pose.
If you are familiar with yoga breathing techniques, these asanas are a prime opportunity to focus on breathing but if not, no worries; you will find yourself deep-breathing as your body relaxes.
If you are currently in yoga teacher training, learning how to sequence a restorative yoga class is particularly valuable because you can gain experience teaching by helping out in other classes.
And, if you are experienced in many different yoga styles, it might not hurt for you to take a restorative yoga class every once in a while, to take a break from the more advanced yoga that you might normally practise.
This gentle yoga has something for everyone but are there guidelines for sequencing any yoga class?