Yoga for stress reduction

When talking to my former yoga teacher, who not only taught me but trained me to be a yoga teacher, last week, I told her I’d like to get more people attending my restorative yoga classes.

She gave me a tip on marketing: don’t call it Restorative Yoga, call it Yoga for Stress Reduction.

I have a lot to learn.

Yes, restorative yoga is yoga for stress reduction. That is completely the point of doing it.

Yoga in general and especially restorative yoga do something that many of us have a hard time doing for ourselves otherwise: moving out of fight-or-flight mode. We all need activity, rest, and sleep (and sleep doesn’t substitute for rest). In our busy lives, rest is usually the first thing to be discarded, followed by a full night’s sleep. We’re goin’ and blowin’ from the time we get up until we hit the pillow at night, reacting to crises large and small, and maybe, if we’re lucky or plan for it, slowing down a little at lunch or after we get home from work.

Years of this will take a toll. A two-week-per-year vacation is not enough. We need to rest every single day.

The human body has an autonomic (meaning automatic) nervous system with two branches, sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). Yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us, aids in digestion, stimulates sexual arousal, broadens our perspective, and restores energy.  

These branches of the nervous system allow us to survive (sympathetic) and thrive (parasympathetic).

The problem is that the sympathetic nervous system is activated a whole lot more now than it was back when the occasional saber-toothed tiger came our way. Survival has gotten complex. Slamming on the brakes in rush-hour traffic, working at and keeping a high-pressure job,  and juggling family responsibilities with work can leave us depleted.

Restorative yoga slows you way down. Way down. For 90 minutes. You do very little, except change poses every once in a while. Oh, and chant OM and maybe do some breathing exercises at the start.

It’s a way to commit to getting some rest into your life.

In a restorative class, I bring props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks. Maybe eye pillows, depending on the class size. We set the props up for each pose and then lie on them passively, holding the poses for anywhere from a minute to 15 minutes.

Time and gravity do the work of relaxing the muscles. If you want to quiet your mind as well, bring your attention to the sensations of breathing. Notice the rhythm, evenness, length, temperature, sound, movement, location, and so on.

Even though it is called restorative yoga, no yoga experience is required. The only requirement is the desire to relax deeply.

How long has it been since you relaxed deeply while awake? What do you remember about that state? Could you use more of that?


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