Why go to restorative yoga?
Many of us come to a restorative yoga class hoping to eliminate tension in the body, let go of a stressful day, or maybe even an excuse to sneak a nap into our day. But sometimes the poses just aren’t doing it for you.
There can be a number of reasons for this and taking the time to look at how restorative postures land in our body is just as important as feeling our body in a standing half split.
The body and mind are constantly communicating using afferent and efferent signals, in other words from the brain to the body and from the body to the brain.
When one of these is missing it can create a disconnection within our mind-body. Taking a quick look at which of these signals is stronger or less noticeable is a great way to begin unifying the mind and body.
TOO MUCH IN THE BODY
When the body is highly energetic from your day, it can be good to shift the balance more towards the mind. When entering a restorative class you might try some of these techniques to allow the body to start receiving more information from the mind.
Focus on the breath
The breath is our body’s emotional barometer. By reading your own breath (or someone else’s) you can tell for instance whether they are calm or anxious.
Just start by observing one inhale and one exhale as you sit down to prepare for class. Then extend your next exhale by one second. Notice the effects this has on calming down the body.
If during a restorative shape you notice shallow breathing, take this quick observing practice with you through the class and your day.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Before you start resting and lying, you might try doing exactly the opposite. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves individually tensing and then releasing muscle groups.
Start with the feet and toes, condensing them as much as you need to feel some sort of muscle activation. After 3 seconds, release them and notice the difference in sensation that is created as you do. Repeat this with your legs, your core, your chest, your arms, your hands, your neck, and your face.
Invite the air element
The body is essentially a very very dense form of energy. To bring a little bit of lightness to the body, consider inviting air into it. Focus on visualizing the whole body.
Invite air inside your body by imagining that within your skin you were hollow and weighed only a few pounds. As you imagine your body becoming light, notice what happens to any knots or tense areas.
TOO MUCH IN THE MIND
On the other hand, sometimes the mind is highly active and it can feel like the body is numb. You might find yourself fantasizing about the future, or replaying significant events that happened during your day or in your past.
Thoughts tend to travel in groups, and interrupting that habit for a restorative yoga class is a great practice of mindfulness.
Add movement to your restorative yoga practice
Adding physical sensation to the body can help to connect the mind with what it is feeling in the body. Going through a few simple movements, especially allowing the spine to move, can help to connect the two-way flow of neural signals.
Try syncing your breath with your movement in a seated cat/cow before settling into your first shape.
Another great way to send signal to the body is by making contact. Simply using your hands, you can touch each part of your body with your fingertips. This can help your mind get a sense of where the body is in space. Once you’ve contacted each body part, you can use the resulting energetic tingle to settle into the skin.
Keep your eyes open
When the mind is overactive, there tends to be a lot more thought coming from within than from the environment. Instead of closing the eyes and allowing the mind to continue its own stories, you can use conscious observation to be present. With the eyes open, you can look at the ceiling or a wall and simply observe what it is that you see.
The practice of non-judgmental observation can be simple when looking at a light fixture or a wall mural. This trains the mind to look at a person we love without judgment, and eventually look into our own minds without judgment of what we see.
Ground yourself with the earth element
The mind’s thoughts move through the body with the element of ether. Thoughts are very light and tend to permeate through even the smallest openings, like a pinhole in a balloon. By invoking the element of earth, you can ground your thoughts.
From whatever shape the body is in, you can ground yourself by noticing which parts of the body are supported by the ground beneath you. Feel the weight of the body pressing against this support as fully as you can.