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Restorative Yoga by Satya Greenstone

Integral Yoga Teachings   |   May 23, 2013  |   by  Yogaville

Samatvam yoga ucyate
Equanimity is Yoga.
Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 Sloka 48

The Bhagavad Gita defines Yoga as a condition of perfect balance. Restorative Yoga practices enable one to return to this natural state of balance physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Restorative Yoga is the practice of placing the body into a specific Yoga asana using the support of props such as: bolsters, pillows, blocks, blankets, or chairs. These gentle asanas literally hold and maintain the position of the body as one releases mental and physical tension. In this supported state, the asana can be held for a significantly longer period of time which facilitates a state of deeper relaxation. This extended duration allows the innate intelligence of the body to reintegrate the system to its natural state of balance and peace as the tension dissolves and melts away.

Oftentimes people think that Restorative Yoga is only for the elderly, infirmed or injured student. However, Restorative poses can benefit all Yoga practitioners regardless of one’s level of asana practice. Sri Gurudev, Swami Satchidananda, suggests that as one advances in asana practice, one should perform fewer poses, holding each pose for a longer time, and subsequently give more time for pranayama and meditation.

Swami Venkatesananda, of The Divine Life Society and brother monk to Sri Gurudev, elaborates this point in his book Yoga: “A posture is for being held: a posture repeated becomes more of a movement. This is unavoidable in the beginning; but the central principle should not be forgotten. When the posture is held, the yogi feels that certain parts of the body are squeezed, tensed and relaxed. The posture is obviously not the way the body is normally; hence sectors of the body which did not receive attention in one’s normal life, do so now. This attention (which is different from tension) draws the mysterious life force or prana to these sectors of the body. Such attention is effective only if the posture is held for a few minutes at least; if there is constant movement, the attention is disturbed and the benefit is lost.”

Accordingly, a comfortable Restorative pose is the perfect opportunity to hold a pose for a longer time without strain. An asana, when performed with a meditative attitude, brings about tranquility of the mind by reducing stress and anxiety. Without the interference of the mind, (i.e. the stress, anxiety and worries of day to day life), the functioning of the vital organs, endocrine glands, circulatory, nervous and other systems return to their naturally efficient condition of balance. This reversal of the stress reaction leads to the overall well- being of the body. The body wants to do its job and heal itself. Frequently the mind interferes. A meditative Hatha Yoga practice can remove this interference of the mind.

The Restorative practice creates a healing environment. While holding a pose for 10-15 minutes, tension is released, blockages are removed, and the prana flows freely, energizing the entire system. One comes out of the pose refreshed and rejuvenated both physically and mentally.

“An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory” – Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj

Getting Started: Try it for yourself.

Initially, some people might be resistant to trying Restorative Yoga because of the props. They may find the props cumbersome and bothersome. Trying to adjust one’s own body into a pose that is unfamiliar, moving pillows and bolsters here and there can sometimes be frustrating.

The best way to fully experience the effects and benefits of a Restorative Yoga practice is to take a full (hour and a half to 2 hour) Restorative Yoga class from a competent, gentle and loving teacher. Go to a Yoga center or studio where all the necessary props are provided and set up for the practice. The teacher should guide, instruct and adjust each student with ease and efficiency, providing a secure environment and the support which allows for one to go deep and experience the practice as a meditation. The props should be a comfort, eventually disappearing into the background.

If such a class is not available to you, the next best thing would be to have the necessary props at home and practice with a Restorative Yoga DVD such as Yoga for Relaxation with Patricia Walden. This way you can follow the instructions and demonstration for using the props, set yourself up, and then let go into the asana, as the sequencing and timing of each pose is guided by the DVD.

After experiencing a complete and balanced Restorative practice several times, you may be attracted to one or two poses that really feel wonderful for your body. Make these poses your own. Incorporate them into your daily life and practice. Try your favorite restorative pose when you are finished with your work day, a major project, or physical workout. Take time to transition from one activity to the next.For example, a part of my daily practice is taking a long walk around Yogaville. After every walk, I come home and immediately go into Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose for at least 10 minutes. It is both relaxing and refreshing. It relieves any heat or swelling that has built up in the feet, ankles and legs.

Gradually, as you try the poses yourself, you will feel more comfortable with the set-up, manipulation and adjustment of props. You may find opportunities to share poses with your students, friends, family and loved ones. You might find yourself using Restorative poses more in your teaching and even offering a full Restorative practice for your students. The Restorative Yoga poses may be suggested as an alternative to regular asanas when one is low in energy, during times of stress (either mental or physical), as well as during a time of physical illness, healing or crisis.

“Take it easy, but don’t be lazy.” —Sri Swami Satchidananda

Supported Savasana: Savasana is a very important pose in Integral Yoga Hatha. We use savasana for the extended guided relaxation or Yoga Nidra at the finish of every asana practice. This is the gem in each Integral Yoga class. For some students Savasana may not be a comfortable pose because of strain in the lower back or other area, when lying on the back for 15 minutes. The simple use of props can make a big difference in the level of comfort and the depth of release the student experiences in the pose. Savasana Variation with spinal pad and bolster

Basic Set Up: Fold a blanket into thirds and arrange it vertically on the mat. This will serve as a support for the entire spine. Sit with the legs over a bolster and the base of the spine at one end of the spinal pad. Gently lie back with spine supported by the folded blanket. Adjust a folded blanket or pillow under the head and/or neck. Let the arms lie comfortably out to the sides with palms face up. The arms and hands may also be supported with folded blankets, especially if there is any discomfort in the shoulder area. Relax in Supported Savasana for 10 – 15 minutes.

“Let go and let God. Complete Surrender means to give up totally and depend entirely on God.” —Swami Satchidananda

I like to think of Restorative Yoga as a combination of two limbs of Yoga practice: Asana and Ishwara Pranidhanam.

Sthira Sukham Asanam. “Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.” Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Book 2 Sutra 46

Samadhi Siddhir Isvarapranidhanat. “By total surrender to God, Samadhi is attained.” Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Book 2 Sutra 45

First, put the body in an asana. Next, stop doing! Let go of all expectation. Surrender to the Divine. While relaxing into the supported asana, one can observe the mind and begin to let go of the thoughts. Total surrender means letting go, releasing, giving up the effort to control. How to let go? Relax the grip.

“Your only responsibility is to surrender yourself into God’s hands and allow Him/Her to do everything. Literally speaking, none of us is doing anything here. There’s only one doer: the Cosmic Intelligence that does everything and works through everybody. If we can understand this…..we will always be in bliss.” —Swami Satchidananda

The Restorative Teacher Training Program at Yogaville offers you 10 days in the peace of Satchidananda Ashram to practice and experience the deep meditative and healing benefits of Restorative poses. You will practice with your fellow classmates: adjusting props and getting used to putting various different body types into the poses. Additionally, you have the great opportunity to be the student yourself. Let another Yoga teacher pamper you and adjust every detail of your comfort in the poses. Experience the Bliss!

Some of the topics covered in the Restorative T. T. include:

  • How to use props: what props to use & when to use them
  • Balanced sequences of supported poses
  • Poses for general relaxation and rejuvenation
  • Poses for special needs
  • How to incorporate restorative poses into a regular Hatha Yoga class or practice
  • Yoga Nidra: supported relaxation poses · Supported poses to enhance breathing
  • Other healing aspects of Yoga practice

What Yoga teachers who previously participated in Restorative T. T. have to say about their experience

“There are many Restorative poses and so many variations possible. In creating Restorative classes, one really needs the time to explore and practice. There is a bit of an art and perhaps even a bit (or a lot) of intuition needed here as well. The teacher needs to sense whether a student is fully relaxing or whether they need props adjusted to help them become completely comfortable, as opposed to merely comfortable. Since the poses are held longer it is crucial to help students settle into the most comfortable position possible, in order to experience the most profound peace. This is a very important component in the training. Teacher- trainers need the practical, personal experience before taking it to their studios.”—IY Teacher, MD.

“The Restorative T. T. seemed to bring out the mothering energy in everyone. As adults, we aren’t often supported, held or touched with gentleness and love. With Restorative Yoga we can allow ourselves permission to give and receive in this way. The results are magical. I have used some of the poses with friends and family and as variations in my regular classes. I get the same response every time…amazement at how good it feels.”—IY Teacher, PA.

“Restorative Yoga has become a part of my personal practice and my husband’s also. My husband was experiencing heart palpitations at a rate of several per hour, all day long. I read about a study being done in Nebraska about the effect of Yoga on arrhythmia and thought we (my husband and I) could give it a try. We have committed to twice a week sessions (aiming for thrice) and he now only has several events per week. For me, I find Restorative Yoga helps me gain perspective on the day. It is like a peaceful long walk. I use it in my classes as a “special treat” and it’s always a hit. Students tell me they feel so relaxed. I believe it’s a format to give permission to a person to “simply be” with no expectations.”—Yoga teacher, NC.

“Last fall I had the opportunity to share Restorative with my uncle who is a physician. From the beginning he was curious as he is in his late 70’s, a cancer survivor, has limited energy and wanted to know what Yoga had to offer with his limited range of motion. From the first pose he looked like he was at home, a look of satisfaction. For the next hour or so, he could not have looked more peaceful, comfortable and in a state of complete bliss. Assisting him through the transitions of poses, small adjustments and blanket tucks allowed me to give back to a family member I have always felt somewhat separated from. Looking back on this experience, I am not sure who benefited more. I am sure that this bonding experience provided an opportunity that no amount of words could ever equal.” —IY teacher, NH.

“I took the Restorative Yoga Teacher training because I live in a retirement community and knew I would be able to help my friends and students who have limited mobility or injuries. What I found beyond that was that there’s an entire population who are not necessarily old but are just worn out with stress and worry. I had the privilege of working with a friend’s mother who was undergoing chemo and radiation for lung cancer. She was on oxygen and hyperventilating as well as in terrible pain in her clenched hands. She left the oxygen behind for the session and I placed her in supported bound angle and encouraged relaxation and soft, smooth breathing. I breathed with her as she sank into the support of the props. I said some prayers. I then placed her in a gentle twist and then a final relaxation pose. At the end of the session, she felt so happy, relaxed and amazingly, free of pain (!) which lasted for another two days before returning. I’ve since worked with a student with Multiple Sclerosis who, prior to the session, was very anxious, and was able to surrender to the love and caring that this practice offers. She felt calm and peaceful and renewed after the session. Restorative Yoga is simply a gift of loving kindness. I’m grateful to Satya and Sadasiva for painstakingly and so thoroughly planning this brilliant training. Everyone can benefit from even one session. It’s an invaluable tool and practice.”—IY Teacher, FL.

Recommended Books on Restorative Yoga:

  • Relax and Renew by Judith Lasater
  • Therapeutic Yoga Kit by Cheri Clampett & Biff Mithoefer

(by Satya Greenstone, from the August, 2012 IYTA Newsletter)

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