What is Restorative Yoga?

This photo of BKS Iyengar in a weighted Savasana is one of the production stills from a movie  - Sadhaka: The Yoga of BKS Iyengar

Many Iyengar yoga schools run classes based on what is known as the ‘Pune Cycle’, which is a four-week program that has a different focus each week. The first week of the month is usually focused on standing poses, the second on forward bends and/or twists. The third week is on backbends and the fourth week is restorative. 

In a restorative yoga class, only a handful of poses may be performed with each one held for longer periods of time ranging between 3 to 10 minutes. This will depend on the total duration of the class and also the level of students that are being taught. 

Ample props are used – blankets, bolsters, straps, blocks, chairs, wall ropes and more – in order to allow comfort in the pose without pain or strain.  The idea is to set yourself up in the pose, with the use of whatever props you need, and then remain there quietly. 

What are the benefits of restorative yoga?

If practiced regularly a restorative yoga practice can provide significant and profound effects on the body and mind. These benefits can include:

·      Decreased stress and cortisol levels

·      Deeply relaxes the mind and body

·      Recovery of muscles and the body

·      Helps fight depression and chronic fatigue

·      Improves sleep and mood

·      Boosts the immune system

·      Allows time for self-reflection and awareness

 

Initially Restorative yoga was developed for people suffering from injuries, stress, anxiety or illness, as well as people with limited flexibility and strength. But it is beneficial for anyone who is looking to release tension and relax. 

 

Students either instantly love or learn to love restorative….

There is no denying the benefits are both nourishing and revitalizing, but not everyone loves a restorative class. It requires the ability to be physically still as well as mentally and emotionally steady and quiet. Our busy lives and over stimulated world keeps us moving and doing and our ability to stop the busyness becomes more and more difficult. 

I have students that absolutely love restorative classes and students who never show up. Just like an active practice, restorative practice is a practice. While it may not come easily at first, with dedication and consistency, the mind can be trained to focus and the body can be trained to surrender.  

Restorative practice does not have to be an isolated practice. You may learn some pose or poses in a restorative class that become your ‘go to’ poses when you are anxious or need to calm yourself. 

Whether you struggle with a practice or are delighted with a practice it always proves beneficial to explore the why.  There may be important lessons to be learned through ups and downs of any practice, whether active or restorative.