Restorative Yoga involves a lot of lying down. It can look as if you are doing nothing. And that is actually the point.
When I first started going to Restorative Yoga classes, my husband used to ask me what I had done at the class. Like most people, he associated Yoga with fancy handstands or learning to tie the body into knots. When I told him, “Mainly just lying around”, it sounded a bit worthless, even to me. I found it difficult to explain why I valued such a minimal-sounding experience.
We live in a society that values action, complexity and achievement. These things are useful, but they have to be balanced by rest and contemplation. Restorative Yoga taught me to take rest seriously. It taught me the power of quiet and slowing down. More than those fancy handstands, rest is a superpower.
The main aim of Restorative Yoga is to induce deep, effortless rest. Rest sounds easy, but many people find it difficult to slow down their minds and bodies. There is always something else that needs to get done. I tell myself I will sit down after I have cooked this meal or finished this piece of work, but by then another task is demanding my attention. Or I try to relax, but my mind is racing and I can’t get my body comfortable. For me, getting sufficient good quality rest takes real commitment. It is actually, surprisingly, a learned skill.
Taking Rest Seriously
Our bodies need enough sleep, rest and relaxation. Without all these on a regular basis, our health suffers. As well as night time sleep, we also need to be able to take meaningful and restful breaks during the day. This allows the nervous system to find balance and all the systems of the body to function effectively.
For a more detailed explanation, you might like to take a quick look at Day Two of this blog series where I talk about the nervous system and why we need calm and rest.
For the sake of our health, we need to take rest seriously.
Slowing Down Your Brainwaves
The electrical activity of our brains has different speeds or levels depending on what we are doing and thinking. This can be measured, and is described as brainwave frequencies. When we rest and relax, our brainwaves slow down. Activities like Restorative Yoga and Meditation teach us how to slow down our brainwaves at will. Yoga Nidra is another brilliant way to slow down your brainwaves – I will say more about that in a later blog.
When we are active and alert, our brainwaves will be in the high speed Gamma or Beta patterns, allowing us to process information quickly. Yoga or relaxation can ease us into the slower Alpha brainwave pattern. Meditation and Restorative Yoga can take us deeper into Theta waves. In this state we feel very calm indeed. It is a state close to dreaming.
The slower brainwaves are associated with enhanced creativity and insight. Often after a deep relaxation or a good night’s sleep we find we can effortlessly solve problems which have been bothering us. Rest really does help you get more done!
Feeling Completely Supported
To rest well, we need to feel completely comfortable and supported. Even a wrinkle in a blanket or a slightly misplaced wrist or ankle can be incredibly distracting when we are trying to relax. In Restorative Yoga I use lots of props and supports to help everyone get super comfortable. Bolsters, cushions and folded blankets in exactly the right places can make all the difference in allowing you to sink into blissful supported rest. Sometimes I also use weighted sandbags and heavy blankets. These help you feel incredibly grounded and calm.
We do move our bodies into different poses in a Restorative Yoga class. The whole point of each position is to relax the body and mind and induce rest. It can be surprisingly difficult to get the body to settle. We have all had the experience of tossing and turning in bed at night, unable to find a relaxing position. But less obvious positions, like lying on your belly, or with your legs extended up a wall, can be quite magical. These poses invoke the parasympathetic, restful aspect of the nervous system. In Restorative Yoga we stay in these poses for ten minutes or longer, slowing down our brainwaves and enjoying the healing power of rest.
Today’s Calming Activity
Today I am offering you a Restorative Yoga pose to try at home. You will need plenty of cushions, plus a blanket and an eye pillow if you have one. If you have a yoga bolster or some yoga blocks or big books, that’s even better. A really big cushion off your settee is great.
The pose is called reclined butterfly. Take a look at the pictures at the beginning and end of this blog to see what I mean. Arrange your cushions or bolster propped up on some blocks or books to make a gentle slope. Sit down on the floor with your bottom up against the cushions, and then carefully lie back so you are supported lying back at an angle. Re-arrange the cushions as you need to to make sure your lower back and neck are comfortable. You might like another small cushion under your head.
Now bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop outwards. Then you can put more cushions or blocks under your thighs to support them. If your knees hurt, keep your legs stretched out instead, or you could try bending just one knee at a time.
You might like to add some cushions or folded blankets under your upper arms, and an eye pillow on your eyes. Take plenty of time to make sure you are completely comfortable. Nothing should be painful or ache.
Once you are settled and feeling good, lie back and relax for ten minutes or as long as you can. Put on some restful music, or enjoy the silence.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk
You can read more about brainwaves here: