The Eight Essentials of Restorative Yoga

Supported Reclined Bound Angale Pose - Salamba Supta Baddha KonasanaA few years ago I enrolled on my second Yoga Teacher Training course for a year at the Yoga Academy Auckland – I was on a mission to learn more about this practice and to equip myself with as much knowledge as I could. If I was going to teach Yoga, then I wanted to be good at it.

About half way through the year, course tutor Jude Hynes gave us a new practice, brought out some Yoga bolsters from the cupboard and introduced us to the wonderful world of Restorative Yoga.

In the first pose Jude gave us – Supported Bridge Pose, I was lying back over the length of the bolster so that most of my body was on the bolster, but my head and shoulders on the floor. An effortless bridge pose. I can still remember this experience: the exact moment when I felt a true relaxation response* deep within me. Tension melting, my body softening, a delicious sort of resting – along with an insight that something very important for me had just occurred.

It was clear right then that Restorative Yoga was most definitely a practice I wanted to explore further. Luckily at the Yoga Academy there was already a teacher specialising in Restorative Yoga – Karla Brodie, and I spent many sessions learning from her, studying with her and we became wonderful friends. We now work together regularly on teacher training programs and retreats. Karla, like our teacher and mentor Donna Farhi, is always developing her approach, enquiring and learning.

In Restorative Yoga we use props such as blankets, bolsters, chairs, sandbags, eye bags and more to support us in our practice. We spend time and care setting up these props so that when we practice they support us fully and we may profoundly relax. Restorative Yoga has it’s background in the work of BKS Iyengar who has pioneered the use of props to help support the body in Yoga postures. Other Iyengar style teachers such as Judith Lasater have evolved the practice and written extensively on Restorative Yoga. Judith Lasater’s Relax and Renew is an indispensable resource for anyone wishing to know more (see resources below).

Whilst our culture promotes a never ending amount of doing, Restorative Yoga is the radical, counter-cultural experience of simply being.

Legs Up The Wall - Viparita KaraniIt’s no surprise then that my Restorative Yoga sessions are my most popular classes. I regularly run “The Big Relax”, 2½ hours of Restorative bliss – it always books out and the only reason I don’t take more people is because floor space is limited. In regular classes, a Restorative posture or two as an ease down towards Savasana is always greeted with wonderful enthusiasm by students. And in my daily life I have found that practicing just one Restorative pose each day, even if it’s just for ten minutes, brings a valuable balance to my busy life (Legs Up The Wall, Viparita Karani, is a favourite).

Restorative Yoga is Counter Cultural

Our culture is built on how productive we can be, how much we can achieve and keep achieving. It can feel as if nothing is ever enough. We can even observe this within the Yoga community itself. As a teacher I often witness the striving for a bigger practice, a more “advanced” practice, the strain to push the body towards extreme positions, and students ignoring the pain that comes with such a practice. I’ve been there myself – in the first few years of my Yoga I pushed my body into postures I saw in books (which had titles such as ‘Learn Yoga In A Weekend’), demonstrated by yogis with an alarming degree of flexibility.

Whilst our culture promotes a never ending amount of doing, Restorative Yoga is the radical, counter-cultural experience of simply being. Yes – there is the effort required to turn up for the practice, to engage in practice, but essentially it is a process of surrendering, an active letting go, of yielding. Which leads us to our first essential point:

1. Yielding

To yield is to surrender. In Restorative Yoga we actively (i.e. consciously) surrender our tension to the force of gravity. We keep relaxing and softening throughout the practice. It is, in fact, a delightful process because for most of us letting go of tension brings great relief to our body and mind. Due to this yielding being an active process, Restorative Yoga is not about collapsing into each posture, as we might slump into an old armchair. Instead, yielding allows us to be in a clear and dynamic relationship with our environment, so that we are very present to this softening of stress and tension, present to what may be revealed from letting go. Indeed, Yoga may be seen as a practice of revelation – by practicing Yoga we reveal what is obscured by our stress – a lighter, softer, more energised, clearer, heart-centered Self. [Read more…]

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