Go Deep with Restorative Yoga: 3 Postures to Nurture your Spirit
When I first started doing yoga back in 1998, I never even knew restorative yoga existed. I was an aspiring actress, therefore my mission in life was to impress everyone I saw, feel important, and become a size zero (last being most important). I was indeed doing a ton of yoga, but it was all about how much I could sweat in a class or how sore my muscles felt the next day. I never stopped to realize there was so much more to the world of yoga than this small town girl from Pennsylvania even knew. Then one day I had a teacher who showed us a few “relaxing poses’” toward the end of class. I remember thinking as I left, Wow I seriously feel amazing. I didn’t leave sweating, or sore, or counting calories in my mind, I just felt alive in a different way than I ever had. The feeling was difficult to describe but it was somewhere around the place where a calm mind and invigoration meet. Where peanut butter and jelly come swirling together in between two warm beautiful pieces of bread. The peanut butter all sticky and grounding and the jelly all whimsical and refreshing. My thoughts had disappeared and I was left with the moment. During shavasana, I felt like I was looking down at myself on my mat with my eyes closed, smiling because I was completely at peace. I didn’t care about looking amazing, or impressing anyone. I didn’t even care that one of my eye-lash extensions got stuck in my eye and that I left my “good jeans” at home in the drier too long. Whatever this relaxation stuff was, I wanted more of it.
This task, however, was a bit tricky because back in the early 2000's in Los Angeles, it was all about power yoga, spinning classes, and splenda-filled carbo-lite. There was no talk of silly things like relaxation, at least not in my circles. I don’t even think my husband and I were drinking green smoothies yet so I know I wasn’t particularly concerned with well-being. Naturally, after a while, I fell back to my old routine, experiencing some gentle poses here and there as teachers at my studio came and went, and it always felt nice, though peace and comfort were never feelings I thought I’d need on a daily basis.
Until more of life happened.
A few years later I was faced with problems in my personal life that lead me down a scary path. Being an aspiring actress living 3000 miles away from home can definitely take its toll. This is in no way an excuse or even an explanation for the events that followed, it’s just what was happening at the time. Then at some point, I started taking the "acting thing" a bit too seriously. I’d have some bit parts on tv and soaps, but my favorite was acting in the short films because they were such an escape for me. I got to be someone else for awhile. Was that such a bad thing? The Hollywood world swallowed me up pretty fast. So fast that I was starting to forget who I was. In my mind, I totally understood what an addict felt like. A complete yearning to be outside myself; a sudden need to escape. No concern for consequences or life-changing aftermath. As months went my, it became my survival.
I was losing myself...or more accurately, the ability to trust myself. I started lying, and drinking too much. I lost the ability to communicate with my husband because I didn’t know how to truly state my needs. I turned my back on my friends and family in hopes of “finding myself”. Chasing some sort of high I thought someone or something new can bring me, but it was always temporary.
So my thought was to flee. Surely if I leave my life behind here in California I will find it.
I moved across the country trying to find it.
I am reminded of a quote that says, “Wherever you go there you are.” I built myself a brand new life that was genuine and spectacular in its own right, but still something was missing. I was dealing with tremendous guilt and remorse for what I left behind, and though talk therapy was insanely helpful, I needed more.
What I was missing was a sense of who I really was, and what I needed from the universe, and because I was so concerned with the wrong things for so long, (ie what I looked like, how smart I was, how quickly I can impress people), I slowly lost touch with my true self-worth and the inner wisdom that was buried deep. Way too deep to even access.
Then there was the month that spun me back around. I attended an intensive yoga teacher training in my new city of Boston. I can literally do a whole post on this experience alone but let’s just say 200 hours, a few pulled muscles, and buckets (literally) of tears later, I was reminded again of my restorative practice. Simplicity in its most astounding form. The act of taking a breath, surrendering to the earth, and letting it take on my weight was the feeling I had been chasing all along. I then started practicing this type of yoga more at home with some pillows and blocks, or sometimes just some old blankets I had lying around. A newly found connection to the present moment had finally come.
The funny thing is, it was the restorative yoga that actually propelled my vinyasa and advanced classes to “crazy spiritual”. Because the obstacles were taken away, I had the ability to recharge and find a rhythm of breath that worked for me. There was enough time for me to accept my thoughts as they came, and release them when I was ready. It helped me get in touch with my deeper needs and desires and not feel apologetic about them. Funny how yoga can fill such a longing you never even knew you had.
From a physical standpoint, restorative poses are all about letting the props doing the work. It’s about making yourself as comfortable as possible so you can truly take in the benefits of the pose. Faster paced classes are great, but you know when they’re even better? ......When you know what the hell is going on in your heart. Deep at your core. (and I’m not talking about your six pack)......;)
Here are 3 of my favorite restorative yoga poses to try at home. If you don’t have a bolster, a few pillows will do. Give yourself the time to go in and create some space for yourself, on all levels. It really can be a life-saver.
I give my body to the earth. I am deeply rested.
This pose provides the same deep relaxation as shavasana but nice and easy on the back body. There’s a reason so many people sleep on their side; its a comforting and beautiful place to be. It’s also a popular option in many trauma-sensitive yoga classes since it provides a feeling of control and groundedness contributing to a state of safe surrender and calm.
Come to your right side and lie down with 2 pillows or bolsters. One rests comfortably underneath your head, the other lengthwise in between your legs (between the knee and the foot, or wherever it feels most comfortable). Let your arms extend out in front of you resting on a blanket for extra elevation.
Stay in this pose for 8-10 minutes, then switch sides.
For Pregnancy- always lie on your left side to avoid compression on the vena cava vein.
Salamba Balasana (supported child’s pose)
I feel supported by all those around me.
This is one delicious pose. I did this during my pregnancy and just kept adjusting the amount of pillows as I got bigger. A great release for the lower back, and a nice stretch for the hip flexors.
Using 2 bolsters, (or pillows) set up a T-shaped incline with the vertical bolster on top. Lie on your belly with the navel centered over the top bolster and let the knees float to either side.. Turn your head to the right and relax from your neck muscles all the way down to your hips. Close your eyes and allow the support of your props to carry the weight of both your physical and emotional body.
Stay in this pose about 5 minutes, turning your head half way through.
Legs over chair pose: or as I call it Half Viparita Karani
Mantra: I feel cleansed by the universe
Taking pressure off of the lower half of your body is so cleansing, especially when you’re running around on your feet all day. This has all the benefits of an inversion with the blood flowing in the opposite direction, relaxed back body, and nervous system completely at ease.
Set up 2 bolsters (or pillows) in a T shape with the vertical bolster once again on top. Sit down at the base of the vertical bolster and slowly roll your back down so you’re completely supported by your props. Next, gently float your legs up onto a chair or large cushion. Let the chair hug comfortably against your knees. Relax your arms to your sides with the palms facing upwards. Allow gravity to hold the space for you, giving you more and more time to be quiet with your breath. Think of each breath as a gentle ocean wave cleansing your entire body.
Stay in this pose about 10 minutes
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