My first guest post is by Paula Hines, a London-based yoga teacher, writer and long-time friend. Paula is a Relax and Renew Trainer for the practice of Restorative Yoga.
Paula introduced me to Restorative Yoga when our adopted kids first arrived. I was completely frazzled, running on empty and in a state of permanent exhaustion – welcome to motherhood I hear you say!
But I will let Paula explain what restorative yoga is, and why you might want to give it a go…over to you Paula.
Are you feeling stressed? Fatigued? Anxious? If you have even just five minutes to spare, then give restorative yoga a try.
What is Restorative Yoga?
I often joke that it could be described as nap time for adults, as on the surface it just looks like a lot of lying down, but in fact, restorative yoga is a style of yoga that quiets the nervous system in a way that a regular yoga practice doesn’t quite reach.
As an experienced restorative yoga teacher and devoted student, one of the things I love most about this practice is that it gives us permission to do less for our own benefit. Among many things, restorative yoga is known to:
- Tame tension
- Relieve stress
- Ease anxiety
- Help insomnia
- Ease digestive issues
This is because restorative yoga helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the autonomic nervous system in charge of the body’s rest and digest activities), moving away from the ‘fight flight’ response.
Why stress reduction is so important
In our modern existence we are often in living in a state of chronic stress. In other words, we are often in a ‘sympathetic nervous system state’. (The sympathetic nervous system activates our ‘fight flight’ response.) For our cave-dwelling ancestors this would have been brought about by an immediate threat – say, running away from a woolly mammoth. Our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension increase as we prepare to flee, while the systems that are non-essential in that moment (such as digestion, growth and repair) are shut down.
Nowadays, we are more likely to be contending with issues such as doing all we can to take care of our families, health concerns, job losses or money worries, but for our nervous system these things are still perceived as threats. On top of this, add near constant overstimulation from our surroundings (never mind our smartphones) and is it any wonder many of us feel frazzled?
Why and how Restorative Yoga can help
One of the joys of this practice is that you don’t have to have special props. You can use pillows, blankets, cushions, even the throw from your sofa – whatever you have to hand. While the body is supported by the aid of various props, there is no need to ‘hold’ a posture, so you are able to completely let go, giving the body the opportunity to truly rest. And this is a very important aspect of this practice. With our never-ending to-do lists we can sometimes think of resting as being lazy. But for our health and wellbeing, rest is a necessity rather than a luxury.
When we are stressed, overworked or fatigued we may think the answer is to simply to slouch in front of the TV and zone out, reach for that glass of wine or to get more sleep. However, it is rest that facilitates sleep, not the other way round. This is why we can find ourselves getting a full night’s sleep, yet still wake up the next morning feeling exhausted. And while you are so tired it’s very hard to be at your best for yourself and your loved ones.
Here are a few moves you can do in the comfort of your own home, either individually or all together to make a complete sequence if you have the time.
Grab as many pillows, cushions or blankets as you need to be comfortable and have a timer to hand so that you can relax into the poses without worrying about checking the clock. Something to cover your eyes is a good idea (in these photos I am using an eye pillow but a soft scarf is a good alternative). You might also want a blanket or throw to cover yourself up during the poses if you get chilly.
Let’s get started!
Supported Reclining Cobbler’s Pose
Benefits: reduces fatigue, enhances breathing, aids digestion, relieves cramps
- Stack your pillows/cushions/blankets to create an incline.
- Sit with your tailbone at the lower end of your props.
- Lie back on your support using your arms to ease yourself down. Your head should also be supported here so adjust as necessary (you may wish to place a cushion or folded blanket under your head)
- Place the soles of your feet together with your knees out to each side. Place extra support under each knee so that your legs are supported. Allow your arms to relax by your sides or rest your hands on your lower abdomen.
- You may wish to cover your eyes.
Rest in this pose for up to 10 minutes
Benefits: aids digestion, relieves stress on the back muscles
- Sit with your right hip at the lower end of your pillows/cushions/stacked blankets with your knees bent
- Turn your torso to the right, placing your hands on either side of your pillows/blankets
- Take an inhale, lengthening the front of your body; on the exhale ease your torso onto your pillows/blankets
- Allow your arms to rest comfortably on the floor
Rest in this position for up to 4 minutes, then repeat on the left side for the same duration
Supported Corpse Pose – Savasana
Benefits: Reduces fatigue and physiological stress
- Before you lie down, place a cushion or folded blanket for your head to rest on.
- Lie down on your back and place your pillows/cushions/blankets under your knees. Allow your legs to relax and roll outwards
- If you find your heels to not touch the floor, take a rolled up blanket or bath towel and place it underneath your ankles for support
- Place arms by your sides, palms facing up. Relax your hands – you will notice that your fingers will curl towards your palms.
Cover your eyes and allow yourself to rest here for 20 minutes. If this feels too long to begin with then stay for as long as you can and gradually work your way up each time you practise.
Paula Hines is a London-based yoga teacher and writer and an experienced Relax and Renew Trainer (restorative yoga teacher). Find out more at Paula’s website www.ucanyoga.co.uk