Sculptor by Carole A. Feuerman- Image by Olgu

You might be doing stretching exercises to get more flexible and weight training to strengthen your bones and muscles. The ancient yoga practice offers various options for both flexibility and strength. Our days can be filled with activities both mental and physical which may cause stress related issues. To rest, recharge and balance restorative yoga might be your perfect calling.

Unlike other types of yoga practices, restorative yoga is designed to help relaxation and reducing stress through supported poses and focused breathing. During a restorative yoga practice you use pillows, blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets to support the body while in a pose where you are reclined or seated for 3-10 minutes. While in a pose you are focused on a breathing technique to help you ease into the pose and experience deep relaxation.

You may not be familiar with any type of exercise routine, or you might be intimidated by commonly recommended exercises such as running, weight lifting, taking a flow yoga class because they seem too much effort to begin with. In this case restorative yoga can help you start increasing body awareness and to get you into a regular exercise routine as well as helping you to lose excess weight. Research shows that with a regular restorative yoga practice the female participants who are obese lost more weight and continued to lose weight during a maintenance period compared to the control group who only practiced stretching. How does lying down and breathing help this? The answer partly lies on the stress management and its effects on the body.

Stress raises cortisol levels which raise blood pressure to pump more blood into the muscles so you can escape or fight the perceived danger. This “perceived danger” can be anything from getting negative feedback from your supervisor to dealing with the issues related to your child’s future. As long as stress is not chronic it can be beneficial to protect us but the concern here is not being able to switch off the fight and flight response-a sympathetic nervous system function (SNS).

When you practice mindful breathing during a relaxing restorative pose you turn on the para-sympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is associated with rest and recovery. Think about someone screaming “NO!, NO!, NOOO!”, and notice the feelings and reactions this cause in you. Then imagine someone with a soft and calm voice saying “YES, YES, WONDERFUL” and notice how this resonates in you. This is simply the difference between the functions of PSN and SNS.

Restorative yoga is an effective self-care practice in that it offers you space to listen and observe your body. If you are sitting on a desk for more than three hours a day or running around carrying stuff all day you might be dealing with a postural issue that is related to repetitive stress. When you are in a side lying pose over a pillow for instance, you may be instructed to completely release your weight and begin to notice if you are holding any unnecessary tension. Simply lying down and listening to your body may be difficult for you at first if you have a competitive, work driven personality and do not know how to switch your “rest and recover” button on.

By observing the body consciously, you are beginning to notice your tendencies that might contribute into prolonged musculoskeletal issues such as neck or lower back pain which can be alleviated by releasing this gripping action (so that you stop blaming your bed for it). The key is to be aware of where and how you hold this tension in your body and de-activating it consciously. In the case of a chronic or acute pain that is not relieved by resting you can collect helpful information to share with your doctor. The better you inform them the better they can help you.

Triggers that stimulate and activate your survival mode might cause you to make unhealthy choices like excess eating which then contribute to disturbances during sleep, digestive issues and weight gain. Many people adopt the level of stress that caused by work and relationships. How you are affected by these factors also depends on your relationship with them. By allowing your body to release tension through restorative yoga you begin to eliminate the time that you are exposed to stress and refresh your body and mind. As you continue to show up for practice, breathe in and breathe out in the poses with child-like curiosity your practice will get stronger and become more effective. You will save yourself more energy for your activities and be more likely to act mindfully throughout the day. Our whole world can benefit from this.

(Originally posted at by Olgu)