"Blankie Yoga," "Yoga Dessert," and "Naptime:" These are some of the descriptions of Restorative Yoga I've heard over the course of my yoga teaching career. And while blankets are a major part of the practice and it does have a quality of sweetness, there is a bit more nuance to the practice that bares defining. As of this moment, my working definition of Restorative yoga is that this is a dynamic, intentional and constructive practice that uses props to allow a profound sense of ease that is felt at a physical, emotional and energetic level.
It is dynamic in the sense, that there is a felt experience as the body shifts from a state of doing to a state of being. A yielding occurs as the body releases tension and the mind softens its need to be in control. A quality of receptivity, rather than passivity is the result of this yielding. As the person rests in a state of being, the constructive quality of the rest and digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and healing can begin.
To further broaden my definition of Restorative yoga, I use the following 3 guiding concepts when teaching a class. They are: embodiment, support (physical & emotional) and empowerment.
Yoga at its core is a practice of embodiment and the wisdom of the teachings lies within the boundaries of the body. Our bodies are the container that holds our attention as we explore Consciousness at all layers of being. As Restorative yoga teachers, we attempt to anchor students’ awareness to the myriad of sensation presented in the body as breath, heart rate, pulsation of energy, thoughts, images, memories, and other somatic experience.
It’s quite obvious that support should be a guiding principle of any Restorative yoga practice. Support of props are used as a way to manipulate the nervous system into the relaxation response - a separate physiological response that holds the quality of a “relaxed alertness.”
I always joke that the most challenging aspect of Restorative yoga is learning how to fold some blankets. We create ease with proper prop placement and precise folds so that the body almost appears to be flowing over the props in a symmetrical way.
Restorative yoga often instigates an emotional release due to the inherent therapeutic quality of this type of contemplative practice. To feel a sense of fullness in one’s being can lead to increased feelings of self-compassion and often a release of tears in the process. As Restorative yoga teachers, we meet this release with tenderness and compassion.
Empowerment in a Restorative yoga class is the encouragement one might need to remember that it isn’t less than to do less. Quite frankly, taking time to be still could be seen as an act of rebellion in this day and age. I also see empowerment as a way to remind students that they have choices in a Restorative yoga class: the choice to stay longer in a pose or the choice to move out of a pose sooner than the rest of the class.
Most importantly I remind students of their capacity to self-soothe. Our bodies have an inherent intelligence and is always attempting to bring us back to a sattvic or harmonious state. Biologists describe this as homeostasis. The ability of a body or cell to seek and maintain equilibrium or stability within its internal environment when dealing with external changes. In short, if we are alive, then we can heal. That’s empowering!