Restorative yoga – how does it work?

We humans are neurologically wired to respond to danger with the “fight-or-fight” response: increasing heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness and muscle tension, and at the same time slowing or shutting down systems of digestion, elimination, growth, repair and reproduction. This served our ancestors well in life-threatening situations, which would usually resolve quickly – if you survived, everything returned to normal.

We modern humans don’t resolve our challenges so quickly.

In our urban environment, we are constantly confronted by noise, lights, pollution, traffic…On top of these environmental stressors, the body has the same physiological response to internal, mental tension and worries as it would to physical danger.

We are all getting stressed, racing forward, with goals to reach and tasks to get done.

We are society of “doers,” and it often feels like a waste of time to stop and “just be.” Our self-worth is linked to our accomplishments. Some of us have even gotten hooked on being stressed – the “emergency” mode brings clear-mindedness and focus, like after a good coffee. We have a sense that we’re in control.

But we also have a “rest-and-digest” mode of being.

This is relaxed mode of being that should be “on” when we are not in danger…resting after a good meal, for example, or being in nature, opening ourselves up…The mind is receptive, perceiving the greater picture, and the sense of “self” being separate from the environment is dimmed, loosened. However, for many of us the entrance into “rest-and digest” mode is lost under the burden of chronic stress that slowly wears us out.

Restorative yoga works by un-doing.

We are using three magical tools: body, breath and mind. The body is fully supported, unmoving, the mind is resting in the body, aware and awake, and the breath is moving freely.

Unlike active yoga styles, in which we engage muscles and mental energy to hold a pose and flow from one pose to another, in restorative yoga the body is fully supported by props and there is no muscle tension, no movement, no activity. We are fully present in our bodies while being completely relaxed, still and receptive. After a minimum of 20 minutes the relaxation response switches on: the heart rate slows down, as well as metabolism, the rate of breathing, blood pressure and brain-wave patterns.

It’s different from collapsing in front of the TV or computer.

Taking in, without filtering, images, sounds and ideas someone else has created for us is not restorative in that sense. Restorative yoga is different from sleeping, too. If we are chronically tensed, the mind keeps creating tensions in dreams, too. When we learn how to relax while awake, we’ll sleep better, too. But in order to do that, we cannot sleep during the practice!

When our “being” mode is respected, we feel more connected with the bigger picture.

We can let go of habitual patterns that enclose us and make our breath small. We trust our intuition or the “gut feeling,” more. Inspiration arises “out of nowhere” and we are more creative.

Regeneration, renewal and healing begin.

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