Updated: Apr 13
Transform Stress into Stillness through a Restorative Yoga Wisdom practice
Stress Response: Life can sometimes have a way of getting in the way - have we have lost our ability to relax? Has our bodies become so accustomed to being on auto pilot we are unable to shut off?
Being human in our modern world is no easy task. When we loose our natural ability to stay present our brains become wired to the constant stimulation of the senses, we become habitually attuned to being in a stress response and our Automated natural responses no longer work efficiently.
Before we know it we have reached out to find false ways to relax through excess; such as alcohol, drugs, sex, television, social media or addictions to anything else that gives us a "high". There is a false sense that the more you do, the more energy you have and the more you can achieve, not realising that the more there is "to Do" the more adrenalin is required and this keeps you reaching for more of the same.
Maybe you have realised this and opted to take a step toward to finding more calm in your life. With the many different "ways" there are to relax and find balance, one can easily become overwhelmed and consumed with what to do which adds to the stress. You may find that you are not recovering quick enough or when you go to relax there's such a resistance that you might even feel a little edgy or as soon as you feel that first top up of the relaxation response you stop with the practices, only to find you are right back where you started from.
Where do we start?
The good news is there is an excellent system where you can put aside the constant pressures of daily life and return to a state of balance and ease which is often lost when we are over stimulated and consumed with our external environments, our responsibilities and expectations and once you are all ready to close your eyes there's nothing to do, except just to be with yourself holding space, breathing and resting.
With the popularity of Yoga as a source of finding, physical health, mental and emotional stability, modern classes and training very rarely include the use of practices that actually bring a full spectrum of health benefits for the nervous system. What most people are unaware of is the System of Yoga and especially Restorative Yoga & Meditation as a tool for better health, is based on a good balance of the autonomic nervous system which has three branches: 1) the sympathetic nervous system, 2) the parasympathetic nervous system and 3) the enteric nervous system.
These systems interweave and work together constantly through the intelligence of the body, brain and chemical system. When we continue to activate the stress response through any immediate threat or fear the Sympathetic switches on and you either want to fight or run for your life or freeze. When the threat is over your Para Sympathetic automatically activates you calm down eventually back to a state of peace and relaxed awareness. Our current problem is that they ANS becomes so accustomed to the stress response the body and brain lose the natural ability to turn off and return to the bliss and calm the Relaxation response offers.
This becomes "accumulated stress", once this occurs it can become difficult to think clearly or respond appropriately and you can become confused and on constant overwhelm. Feelings of being irritated, tired, fatigued, a loss of interest in life, unable to make clear decisions. Symptoms then reflect back on the body via muscle pain, headaches, digestive issues, Auto Immune disorders.
What Really is a Restorative Yoga Practice?
How can we save ourselves, our family, our friends and our community from this ongoing downward spiral? As a P.T.S.D. survivor, Yoga / Meditation practitioner of 28 years and teacher of 25 years, I can tell you that I have approached healing of stress from all areas, through and array of various practitioners and health professionals, I can say with confidence that it is important to have the support of your chosen health practitioner, however even more important is to be able to learn how to consciously relax, breathe correctly, say NO, to stop, and to understand your stress responses and your sensory habitat.
There is no therapy or person that can bring you back to life, you are your life and you owe it to yourself to care for yourself like you would your family your work your environment. That's where a commitment to learning and practising the basic therapeutic foundations of a Restorative Practice will be of most benefit to you if you are ready to relax and commit to yourself ; you are important, life is a given gift that can change in an instant. Don't wait until you have an unbearable dis ease or in chronic pain. Change the way you "do" what you do and how you do it.
A Restorative Practice is not just lying around on the floor or over a bolster, block or blanket, hoping your fairy godmother will come along while your your eyes closed to make it better. It will require you to approach it with intention to detail and outcome, of good hearted intention - practising by building upon your innate awareness and knowledge of what it is you are doing and with the confidence that it will change, as you carry it through in the most efficient and effective way.
That Leads Us To The How to's Of A Restorative Practice:
For now we are just going to look at lying down... and how just by lying in a particular way we can drop deep into relax mode. The other practices that we can incorporate use the breath and mindful awareness, which I will cover in another blog...but for now lets settle for a lie down.
To begin position the body correctly by using the best of the basic foundations of support, so the body will easily and effortlessly relax without any added stimulation through the senses or brain patterns. The way to achieve this is through firstly finding a quiet space where the senses will not be stimulated, the body is comfortable and warm, and you are feeling sense of being safe and secure.
Most importantly, approaching it in a Therapeutic Way. Why is it important to learn and practice it Therapeutically? If it is approached this way it will ensure you will fall into the Relaxation Response effectively and efficiently. You will be responding from your body to your brain that you feel safe and the threat is over. In other words, it will happen faster. If you just lie down as you often do when you go off to bed you may find that you are distracted by your aches and pains, thoughts and feelings.
Shavasana/Supine position the first practice:
If you look at the picture, you will see that every part of the body is supported, nothing has been left out.
The key points to remember when you begin the process of Relaxation is:-
1) The lower back is resting back towards the floor. This can be achieved in several ways - here we have used a bolster and blanket roll (this may not always be necessary, you could pop your calves on two firm blankets.).
2) The shoulders, elbows and arms are all supported.
3) The neck is positioned so the forehead is slightly higher than the chin.
4) Not shown here, but a necessary benefit is the use of an eye cover or pillow and a blanket to keep the body warm and safe.
5) The entire body in covered with a blanket
The reason for the positioning shown is that when your forehead is slightly higher it relaxes and slows the brain activity. This has a domino effect on the mental thoughts and, physically, the back of the neck and shoulders and it is known to cool down the brain centres. Supporting the arms elbows and wrists communicates to the body to stop holding on and releases the chest and upper back, allowing for a more spontaneous breath to arise.
Supporting the lower back accesses the Para Sympathetic nerves located in the groin area, thus bringing a deeper breath into the lower lung and relaxing the abdomen. Once arrived, the spontaneous wisdom of the soul has space to come out and reveal itself... this is the source of Healing.
Practice this each day or as often as time allows, once you have settled spend 3 - 5 mins at least with the first breath enquiry - Centring breath, it is simply watching breath come into the nostrils, the sensation of the lungs filling, the movement it creates in your body and the most important the natural feeling of the body softening back and down as you exhale.....your body is amazing....your body knows.....just guide it.....nourish it.....treat if as your most loving friend.
Cathie Mani McGill
Contact me via, www.spiritofyoga.com.au to find out more about Restorative Yoga classes and workshops