When I think of stillness, my body tends to soften, just at the simple thought of it. I consider the art and science of deliberate stillness to have many forms, but one I am most drawn to is the practice of restorative yoga. It’s a time when we can quiet the gross outer body, giving rise to rich inner landscapes, and an opportunity to rest (but not sleep!) deeply; a true medicine for our modern, active lives.
Why practice it? Why lay around snuggled in heaps of props, conversing with the breath, keeping the eyes dimmed and resting? And how does that really contribute to one’s health and wellness?
The nervous system is the greatest beneficiary of restorative yoga. As the body relieves the muscles and bones of their roles of support and action, the nervous system sends and receives fewer messages and begins to quiet down. Layers of tension melt away as presence moves in with thoughtful, wise lessons. To pay attention is to discover clarity and through clarity and attention one can come into a greater state of harmony with the body’s natural rhythms. Living by these rhythms is the key to balanced, vibrant health.
In addition to cultivating a deeper sense of attunement and alignment, restorative yoga has significant health benefits as well. For example, when the body experiences the deep rest of this practice and finds an external softening, the whole internal chemistry begins to change. As the nervous system feels the deep well of quiet ease and support, the alchemical shift begins.
This process lays the groundwork for some pretty important transformation, especially when practiced with consistency and regularity.
These can include:
Strengthening the muscular system by allowing for rest, rejuvenation and circulation.
Improving flexibility. When the body and mind work in support of each other, there is a strong, harmonious rhythm that is created. Within this harmony, the body finds a greater sense of ease and clarity, and is able to bend and shift in a very different way, especially when done with awareness and intention.
Quieting our tendency toward anxiety. When anxiety is present, it is often difficult to be still and/or practice concentrating on the breath. But, when possible, restorative yoga and guided breathing can be very helpful. It can aid in helping to calm the body and work with the breath to help calm the nervous system. When the breath is stable, we are stable. Working with the breath is a doorway into working with the nervous system. The props and supports make it easier for the body to rest and soften so that awareness and presence can be on the breath.
Restoring our vital life force/energy. Often in our busy, modern world we find ourselves pulled in many directions, our sense body (eyes, ears, mouth, nose and skin) is in a constant state of output. Restorative yoga offers a chance to rub up against our fast paced life and slow down, connect inward, nourish the senses as well as the mind and body. This is a powerful way to feel an increased awareness of total body wellness and connection and to rebuild our life force.
Improving our connection to ourselves. Many ancient wisdom traditions believe in the value of time for self-connection. It can be a powerful chance to check in and see what is really in there. Giving yourself the gift of time and space is one of the most incredible boons towards a stronger sense of health and wellness imaginable.
So much more could be said, and all of my classical teachers say that education and theory are important, but the real work comes when you actually practice. When you practice regularly and with consistency and you will begin to see the change you seek. I hope to see you at restorative yoga soon!