By Adam Brady
With the explosion of yoga in the West, there’s been an influx of yoga styles, each expressing their own blend of breathing, poses, meditation, chanting, relaxation, and philosophy. Restorative yoga, a practice that leads the yogi toward a more healing and recuperative experience, ushers in a host of wonderful benefits that are often overshadowed by the popularity and visibility of more dynamic yoga styles.
A restorative practice frequently relies on the use of props and the prolonged holding of a few simple poses to achieve a deep level of relaxation. “Restorative yoga” can also be an umbrella term that encompasses several sub-styles of relaxation and healing-based Hatha yoga practices, such as the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga.
But what exactly makes this style of yoga unique? Here are some of the benefits a restorative yoga practice has to offer.
Slows Down the Pace of Life
Restorative yoga is an excellent opportunity to disconnect from the frenetic activity of daily life and let your speedometer return to 0 mph. It offers a welcome respite among all the turbulence of life and helps to prepare the mind and body for the inward stroke of meditation and deepened awareness. Moving slowly through the poses allows you to explore your mind and body at a steady and natural tempo.
Soothing to the Nervous System
The slower pace and deep breathing that you get in a restorative yoga class triggers the parasympathetic nervous system from the very first pose. This activation helps to mitigate the effects of the regular fight-or-flight stress response that can be damaging to your physiology and well-being. The overall calming effect on the nervous system sets a deeply relaxing tone for the class that comforts your mind and body down to the cellular level.
Restorative yoga could just as easily be called “mindful yoga” due to the expanded awareness of self and body that comes through the practice. Slower movements cultivate space for a deeper experience of the poses and the breath. Awareness of the physical sensations, the thoughts or emotions that arise, or sounds in the environment, can all take on a much more profound significance in the depth of the restorative practice. Simply put, you’re able to notice and feel more of the world through your yoga experience.
On the whole, many forms of Hatha yoga are considered a precursor to extended periods of meditation. Through the practice, muscles, joints, and subtle energy centers are enlivened to help facilitate a deeper and more comfortable experience of meditation. However, the practice of restorative yoga in and of itself often leads to a transcendent experience of deep oneness with the universal level of consciousness. Each pose and each breath serves to lead you further up the ladder of expanded awareness. As the practice expands, the vehicle of yoga carries you from the waking state of consciousness into the silent space between your thoughts—the space from where you’re able to glimpse the soul and awaken the divinity within.
Cultivates Heightened Body Awareness
The comfortable pace of restorative yoga opens the doorway to a deeper understanding of your own body, letting you actually feel what it means to be a spiritual being having a human experience. Sadly, many people aren’t intimate with their own bodies. Through a restorative yoga practice, however, such intimacy can be explored and embraced. Deeper levels of bodily strengths can be integrated and owned and a more profound sense of self-love and acceptance can emerge.
Deepens Self-Awareness and Introspection
The subdued quality of a restorative yoga class often helps you draw attention inward and away from external events and situations of the world. With your awareness directed within, the practice becomes a sanctuary for the mind and spirit from which you can take a deeper look at who you are, what you want, and how you can serve the world. Restorative yoga opens us up to new levels of self-exploration and contemplation, allowing your inner being to shine forth.
Creates Deliberateness of Action
Through the mindfulness of the practice, you become increasingly aware of your actions or karmas, and how they influence your level of comfort or discomfort. You can see the direct cause and effect relationship between your poses, breathing, and overall level of well-being. As this experience continues to deepen, you begin to make more deliberate and attentive choices, both on and off the mat.
Strengthens Acceptance and Detachment
By its very nature, the restorative yoga practice is the antithesis of the “no-pain-no-gain” mentality. You receive the greatest benefits from your practice not through forcing yourself into a pose, but by releasing and surrendering to it. This mentality helps to cultivate acceptance of your body and its inherent limitations. Further, it strengthens your ability to let go of preconceived notions of your body and how you think it should look or feel, both in and out of a pose. When increased ease and comfort are the theme of your yoga practice, acceptance and detachment naturally emerge as a result.
Helps You Feel Safe and Nurtured
In daily life it’s easy to get pulled into the insecurity that is a byproduct of the modern world. Many people move through their days haunted by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Restorative yoga provides you with a safe harbor wherein you can reconnect with your true nature, which is immortal, invincible, pure, and nourishing. Making that connection through your poses, breathing, and deep relaxation restores the memory of who you are and helps you to reclaim the fearless nature of your soul. From this refuge, you emerge feeling secure in the inherent goodness within your heart and in the world.
Connects You to the Divine and Establishes You in Pure Being
The ultimate goal of yoga is union with the divine. Therefore, your practice should be a means to that end. Luckily, restorative yoga is the perfect vehicle to help you reconnect with the divinity within. Through the techniques of the practice, you awaken grace, poise, flexibility, balance, strength, and present moment awareness. This combination creates a mind and body ideally suited for seamlessly merging into the non-local field of awareness, or pure being.
As a tool for self-transformation, restorative yoga facilitates the integration of all the layers of life—environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual—culminating in the goal of all goals, awakening to your own divine nature.
The benefits listed here may not be isolated solely to restorative yoga, but they are some of the most defining benefits to this type of practice. If you’ve never explored this style of yoga, this is your open invitation.