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Restorative Yoga – What is it & What are the Benefits?

Yoga – so many different styles, it’s hard to know what’s good for you sometimes, but there is one popular style that proves it’s worth time and time again.

Our never ending life cycle of work-hard, play-hard generates STRESS in abundance.

Our response to stress is the same as our response to danger. Our fight or flight mode kicks in, sending messages from brain to nervous system to body.  Our adrenal glands produces a strong hormone; Adrenaline.  Capable of making us run faster than we ever thought possible, or lift heavy things out of the way, or fight with intensity beyond anything we knew before, adrenaline is fantastic if we are actually confronted with life or death situations, which is actually what it’s intended for. However, mostly, it’s just an email, or an upcoming meeting, or watching a disturbing television programme or maybe a fight with a family member. The body doesn’t know the difference between these situations and so reacts the same for our own safekeeping.

This rush of adrenaline impacts the autonomic sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure, heart rate, mental alertness and muscle tension.  Metabolic changes takes place to preserve energy for escape. Certain functions which are not immediately required, such as repair, reproduction, digestion, growth and elimination are shut down.

Keeping the body in a continual state of high alertness is ultimately detrimental to health. Chronic stress compromises the body’s ability to heal.  Disturbed sleep, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, ulcers, immune deficiencies, depression and back pain are also side effects of stress.

Cue Restorative Yoga.

Restorative yoga can genuinely help to tackle issues resulting from stress. This is a deeply nurturing and relaxing style of yoga, the physical postures are floor based, fully supported by props, and held for at least five minutes.  The practice is accessible to everyone and when practised regularly, restorative yoga has many health benefits that can enhance your physical and mental wellbeing.

So How Can Lying on a Bolster Make a Difference to My Overall Health?

Students can achieve the maximum benefit from a pose with minimal input with no strain on the body at all. Both body and mind can sink into deep relaxation and begin to heal, restore and renew.

As the body and mind calm down, the Parasympathetic Nervous System kicks in and changes begin to happen in the body:

  • The heart, metabolic and respiratory rates lower
  • Blood pressure is reduced
  • Muscles ease
  • Blood vessels relax and dilate
  • Blood flow around the body is boosted and aches and pains lessen

Restorative yoga is known to prevent heart disease and diabetes by lowering levels of cortisol, glucose and blood pressure.  Restorative yoga can be therapeutic for menopause, menstruation and pregnancy.  It can provide relief for a range of other conditions like cold and flu symptoms, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, spinal cord injuries and help to reduce obesity.

Another benefit of restorative yoga is to passively bring the body back into correct alignment.

Hunching over a computer, slumping on the sofa, too much time at the wheel of a car, lunging heavy bags around, lifting up small wriggling children, etc. all push the body into misalignment and imbalance. Specific restorative poses can help with certain health issues.  For example, Vipariti Karani (Legs up the wall) can help with insomnia, depression, jetlag, and generally calms the nervous system.  Remember, no strain is created because all restorative asanas are fully supported by props and so the body can be gently held in the desired shape.

The Practice of Yoga Promotes Mindfulness and Brings with it many Psychological Benefits.

With restorative yoga, there is more time to connect mind and body and breath as poses are held for longer periods of time. This is therapeutic.  It can significantly reduce stress and with it a range of anxiety and nervous disorders which may result in weight loss or gain, ulcers and other conditions.

Patience is required to fully embrace this still, quiet practice and some of the challenge in this practice is to master the mind and stop it from racing from one topic to the next, and be calm, like the body. Like with all things worth having, practice makes perfect and regular restorative yoga is a wonderful compliment to a busy life and a busy exercise regime, bringing back balance.

Why Don’t You Give Restorative Yoga a Try?

Take the time to relax and restore and invest in your long-term physical and mental well being. Any of these workshops or classes at  Mary Ann Weeks Aveda Studio on Guildford High Street include restorative yoga:

Your bolster and heavenly relaxation awaits….

By Christine Noel

Mary Ann Weeks Aveda yoga teacher, Guildford


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