What Are the Health Benefits of Restorative Yoga?
Do you often feel run down and overwhelmed by the seemingly nonstop treadmill of life? Do you find yourself overcome by a relentless desire to reach for another cup of coffee or another stimulant to help get you through the day, all the while knowing that this will only make you feel worse in the end?
Restorative yoga, a yin-based practice touted for its calming and relaxing effects, may constitute a healthy outlet for adrenaline seekers looking for a way to slow down and recharge. And, there are other restorative yoga benefits that would serve us as well. A restorative practice is an ideal segue into traditional meditation practice for both the novice and expert meditator alike and provides balance to the more yang-oriented practices such as vinyasa or power yoga.
The physical health benefits of restorative yoga: weight and stress management
The physical health benefits of restorative yoga have recently taken the stage within the scientific community, giving us even more of a reason to bask in this slower-paced practice.
Research is now backing what the yoga community has known anecdotally about the benefits of restorative yoga poses and the science behind restorative yoga. A recent study from the University of California, San Diego showed that overweight women who practiced restorative yoga had a notable reduction in subcutaneous fat around the midsection, relative to a group of women who engaged in regular stretching. Increased abdominal fat is often a byproduct of chronic stress. When experiencing high levels of stress over time, cortisol (a stress hormone) levels will increase, affecting our metabolism and storage of abdominal fat. Restorative yoga functions to dial down the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response, the place we react from when feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the many demands of our lives. Using props to maintain the longer held poses creates a suitable environment for the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the relaxation response, to respond and counteract the increased levels of cortisol. Forward bends in a restorative sequence can involve placing the forehead on a block for head support. This action naturally puts pressure on the spot between the eyebrows, which helps to stimulate the vagus nerve. This nerve connects to the PNS, ultimately functioning to promote relaxation, digestion, and sleep--all of which are fundamental to overall health and well-being.
A segue into a traditional meditation practice
Benefits of restorative yoga: A restorative practice can support the process of becoming intimate with our internal landscape, allowing us to more fully connect with our true nature and intuition.
The place we dwell the most is in our minds, and according to scientists, our nervous system is rigged to fixate on the idea that something may go wrong. This is otherwise referred to as the negativity bias; our minds are like velcro for difficult or negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences. A restorative practice with its long-held poses offers us the opportunity to sit with these negative experiences and notice the arising and falling of associated thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Further, the practice allows us to stay connected with breath during these emotionally turbulent times, versus reacting to the negative thought patterns. A byproduct of this process is that we can begin to utilize the breath as a vehicle by which to meet and work through the discomfort with a curious, open, and nonjudgmental mind. The opportunity to step into this experiential laboratory can be mind-blowing and is not always possible in a fast-paced flow class. And, these skills are directly translatable to a sitting meditation practice.
A great complement to your yang-oriented practice
Whether you practice restorative yoga online with videos or at your local yoga studio, this slower-paced yin practice can be a great complement to the rigorous, fast-paced yang practices.
On the face of it, a restorative practice may appear less strenuous and perhaps even boring. A 60-minute class is generally constructed around 5 to 7 poses that are held anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes. Your body is held in particular shapes with the support of props, including bolsters, blocks, and blankets. Indeed, a restorative practice is in fact physically less rigorous. Nonetheless, the mental aspects are far more challenging and rewarding! When we step into a slower, less movement-oriented practice, we have the tendency to want to do more physically and to engage our minds to fight against the experience unfolding in the moment. In restorative, you are forced to confront the habits of your mind for longer periods of time without the physical distraction of moving from one asana to the next. The reward though is that, over time, you become intimate with these habits and with this newfound knowledge can make informed decisions about where you choose to let your mind rest from moment to moment.
So, whether you are in search of a respite from the fast-paced treadmill of life, looking for a way to begin or bolster your sitting meditation practice, or want to find a balance with your yang-driven practice, a restorative yoga sequence is the gift that keeps on giving.