It took me years of struggling, comparing myself to others and getting relatively nowhere in my yoga practice before I considered restorative yoga. Actually, I think it was more curiosity than a desire to try “Restorative”. I just hadn’t tried it before. I tried it and I didn’t like it. It hurt.
Now I teach restorative, so what changed? Well, for a start, me! I changed! My years of struggling with stretching, of pushing into the pose, of trying to look like I thought the pose was supposed to look like…well, they didn’t get me very far. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Vinyasa Flow classes I took back then. They were a great workout, great for building muscular strength and wonderful for de-stressing and taking time out from a full-on university programme, but yoga? No, I don’t think I had any idea what ‘yoga’ meant.
Now I love slower yoga practices. I’ve taken up Astanga in recent times, so this seems a little contradictory, but no… I prefer slower yoga practices. What I’ve always known is that my muscles are tense (understatement), but what I’ve found is that so too is my mind and my heart has been clogged (emotionally speaking). In slowing my practice and being mindful of my movements, every bit of each of my movements, this releases the muscles and also softens my mind. My mind has to allow my muscles to release and with one letting go, comes another, and another.
When I first took up yoga it was for restorative purposes and, as I had never heard of restorative yoga, I took up the form that was at a time and place convenient for me. The class moved too fast for me and I was self-conscious of physical issues in front of a group who moved so gracefully, but at home I would slow every move down and work at a really basic level – my own personal version of restorative yoga. My body-awareness was so poor at the time that my self-analysis of movement and the connection to mind and heart was at a fairly superficial level, so looking back I can see all the errors of judgement that I made, but we all have to start somewhere.
Nowadays, I’m still physically tense, although nowhere near to the extreme that I once was, and my mind still races at times, but I’ve found some compassion for myself, some acceptance of where I’m at. I’ve stopped pretending to be able to do things that are just beyond my reach and started respecting my limits. And lo and behold, my limits are moving, expanding, releasing, not just of body, but mind and heart as well. My compassion for myself has extended to those around me, which has improved relationships with friends, family and those I work with. I feel so lucky that physical issues and pain brought me to yoga, which in turn has helped restore my sanity and serenity (I’m sure there are many who would debate this, but that’s alright too).
Restorative yoga is about learning to relax. It no longer surprises me to find students in yoga classes who simply don’t know how to, when a few short years ago I thought I was the only one! Imagine my surprise when I finally realised that I was stretching wrong. That physical effort isn’t required to effect a stretch and in fact stopping effort is the best (only) way to stretch effectively. Even now that I know this I still catch myself pushing on occasion, or tensing my shoulders or jaw. Did I say on occasion? I mean on the occasion that I’m alive! What can I say…it’s a journey, a process, a gradual learning curve. But every step in the right direction is one I’m happy to make.
I love Astanga, but where before I would have pushed and probably injured myself, now I practice it with a restorative sense in body and mind and the result is bliss. Bliss and better health 🙂
So I’ll leave you with a non-me example to give you a reason to bother with restorative yoga. A few months ago I taught the Restorative Yoga class in an Intro to Yoga course at Bristol City Yoga. This course gives yoga students an overview of several types of yoga so they can choose which they prefer at a beginner level. After the class one of the students came up to me to say how much he had enjoyed it, and that he was surprised that he had. He told me he had been suffering with pain in his elbow for several days. When he had arrived for class his elbow was sore, but when he was leaving he had no pain. How many of us cause pain to ourselves simply by not relaxing? Neck pain, lower back pain, Repetitive Strain Injuries from computer use or sporting injuries. I was thrilled that this man chose to share with me that he had relieved his pain during the class. While I know the benefit yoga has been to me, I’m never sure I can share it well enough with others. I admit it gives my ego a tiny, little boost… still a way to go on the yoga path, eh? 😉
Looking forward to teaching a new class starting in Bristol City Yoga on Tuesday mornings called Yoga for Healing. This will combine Hatha, Restorative, Mindfulness and Breathwork, to help both body and mind relax. It is ideal for beginners, those who want a slower practice, those recovering from illness or injury, or those going through a stressful or difficult period in their lives who may need some down-time. Book Online Here, or contact me for details on firstname.lastname@example.org.