Restorative Yoga - a self care practice.
Updated: Apr 21
Our body, our brain our minds and feelings, our holy divine spirit, all hold the magnificence of healing. Given the right conditions, intentions and devotion, we can return back to the natural perfect source that we are.
When we are stressed or unwell, having a Restorative attitude in life is of utmost importance. We often put ourselves aside, making the needs of others more important. It may be the company we work for, our family, our daily tasks or duties, whatever takes us away from being with ourselves.
Sitting quietly and reflecting, taking an interest in what our needs are and how we can support ourselves in a loving and caring way is essential. It is your life and not one soul on this planet can live it for you, change it for you or heal you. It is all up to you to empower yourself towards the greatness that you are.
Yoga has had the most influence in helping me heal and make changes within my life since I went to my first class in 1992. I found my teacher through a co-student while training as a Myofascial Therapist. When she was describing her journey of Yoga to me I had this instant "aha" moment where I just knew this was for me. Sheila was my first teacher, she taught potent breath practices, strong and long holds and the most divine Guided Relaxation Journeys. Mantra Murti was my other teacher, a healer and spiritual guide who shared the most profound Breath, Kriya and healing Yoga Nidra journey's.
I feel very grateful that they came into my life at the perfect time . I cried at the end of the first half a dozen classes - they weren't emotional tears but a release of some kind. It was the beginning of healing the childhood trauma I had endured for the first 17 years of my life.
What began the healing process was the experience of the Relaxation Response, my body had held onto trauma for 30 years. This was a new experience for me feeling - being relaxed, it was like being on a high so soft, gentle and peaceful, I wanted more.
Since this time I have sought out various ways to sustain this feeling in a troubled world of high expectations, fast-paced Stressors that can often go unnoticed only rising to the surface when you feel completely physically, mentally and emotional exhausted. It can become more serious if you have faced any trauma other than the ongoing Stressors.
How Can The Practices Change Your Life?
Body: If you have experienced any Trauma whether a once-off or on-going, your body may have locked in a habitual reaction to protect yourself. When something creates a Stress Response the body with its intelligence will create a defence mechanism through the Sympathetic Nervous Portals to avoid harm. Your heart will begin to race, filling you with an adrenaline rush so you can either fight it out or run for your life.
When the experience is over and all returns to peace your body, when working at it's optimum, will turn on the Relaxation Response and you go about your day. Over a long period of time or when trauma of some kind has locked in, the Relaxation Response generated by the calming centre within your nervous system, known as Para Sympathetic, slows down and can become "inactive". It's like having your car engine on all of the time so the body doesn't recognise the stress response so much as it has adjusted it's timing to idle.
To change this, using Restorative Yoga we adapt a Classical Yoga Position (one that has a therapeutic effect) and place it with the most optimum support so as to change the timing. We stay there for an extended amount of time using awareness practices to trick the body/brain system into switching on the Relaxation Mode.
Breath: When you inhale your heart rate goes up, when you exhale your heart rate drops down. If your breath ratio is not equalised then this will effect your heart rate. Most of us are either taking a longer, faster in-breath and a shorter out-breath. This means your heart rate is rising more than falling. Learning how to adjust this in your daily life or after a period of stress, injury or trauma is, in my opinion, the most important of the practices. Learning Practices with the correct sequencing and with a breath diagnosis can restore your life quite effectively.
Mind / Thoughts: As Restorative Practices are "non-active" and held for extended periods we begin to notice the activity of our mind and thoughts. While we are busy at task our mind is living on 3 different planes: a semi conscious, subconscious and unconscious. Through stillness we have the prime conditions for being able to notice this activity and see it for what it is. When we give our mind space to run its course it slows down as it is no longer being stimulated by outside forces. Your senses are getting a break from distraction from the outside influences by turning inwards through self awareness and observation. "You are now the centre of your world not central to the world". We can also use our mind when relaxed to change its scripts and belief systems by feeding and affirming positive statements in the present tense so our brain feeds the "warm fuzzies" to our system from our happy and heartfelt thoughts.
Feelings / Sensations: Feelings and sensations are coming and going all of the time. What we class as negative feelings can be confused with an over-active Sympathetic (stress) response, once again we can become so familiar with this over time we loose the ability to discriminate between what is what so we just put up with it or become used to it. Our feelings are generated through our mind-energy. It may be subconscious or unconscious. Restorative Yoga allows us space to "feel" what is there consciously in the present moment, accept it as a feeling or sensation, allow it rise up and through giving it space, it can dissipate and re-new. (Healing trauma from my experience requires a similar but different approach).
Past / Present / Future: When we live the stress response or have suffered Trauma our immediate intelligence system becomes confused between what is real (happening now) what is past (gone and forgotten) and what we are creating for the future. When locked into a stress/trauma response our system (meaning the combination of mind/brain/body) day to day experiences can be mixed up with our past. This can then create a struggle when we are attempting to change our lives for the future.
This is why I know that using the Restorative Positions alone are not enough, although all have there individual healing attributes, using a combination of Restorative Practices in my opinion creates a fuller and much more expansive journey to healing. The ancient masters knew the future and gave us all we needed through the practices of Yoga & Meditation. We are so much more than all of this above. We have lost our way: it's time to come home to ourselves, back to our true nature, our soul and it's companions, for as a collective are longing to be held, to be loved, to be noticed.
Cathie Mani McGill