|"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open."
- B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that gives us abundant benefits. It is these benefits that has made yoga one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world. Yoga nourishes the body and the soul. While practicing 'asanas' (poses), most of us may not be comfortable holding the pose for a long time. So, to enable and enhance the comfort and benefits of each pose, props are used. There are many yoga props like mats, bolsters, pillows, straps, etc., which are widely recommended for maximum benefits.
Restorative yoga helps you achieve these benefits, by using different props along with the poses. In the following, we will understand more about restorative yoga, and how exactly can it help your yoga experience.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga can be defined as yoga that is practiced with the help of props to achieve spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits of this form of exercise. The props provide comfort and helps maintain balance during a pose, while the body achieves maximum stimulus and relaxation. It is often referred to as the yoga of awakened relaxation—a yoga of 'being' than yoga of 'doing'.
Restorative yoga is a type of therapeutic yoga that can be practiced by all. It does not exclude people with any physical limitations or with a specific body type. Hence, it has a universal appeal. Restorative yoga does include poses that will target healing and relaxing specific areas of the body like the heart, lungs, etc., while some of its poses benefit the entire body. These poses support the body effectively. The longer the body is in a state of comfort, the deeper the sense of relaxation.
This type of yoga was inspired from the yoga style created by one of the most revered yoga masters in the world—B.K.S. Iyengar. He encouraged the use of props, to enable maximum relaxation and benefits. The restorative yoga that we know today, has slowly evolved around the principles of his yoga practices and teachings.
The Benefits of Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga focuses on total relaxation of the body and mind. It is specially beneficial for people who have a busy life and lifestyle. Restorative yoga gets rid of stress and fatigue in the body. It heals the body and mind, which is very beneficial for healing emotional disturbances, depression, and anxiety. It improves the digestive functioning of the body. Another significant benefit of restorative yoga is increased fertility.
It works towards activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for controlling body movements and reactions automatically. It brings back the response system of the body to equilibrium. So, with this, the nervous system gets relaxed, and leaves one rejuvenated.
This, in turn, reduces blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, lowers heart rate, and stimulates a healthy endocrine system. The relaxation achieved through restorative yoga also helps lower blood sugar levels and serum triglycerides. It increases the level of healthy or good cholesterol in the body.
Benefits of Props
Restorative yoga can be performed by one and all. A few minutes of warming up is advised before practicing poses. This will warm and stretch the muscles and prepare the body for the poses.
One can start restorative yoga practice at his own pace. It will take time for the body to adjust to the poses. It will also take time to get comfortable while using different props. These props are available in the market, or one can also use things that are available in the house as props, like bolsters, cushions, blankets, etc. Props help in supporting the body in a difficult pose, specially in poses that include back or forward bends. They lend a feeling of a lengthened spine and spacious ribcage.
A bolster can be used for supporting the back, shoulders, and neck. It helps expand the ribcage and open the stomach. This helps in better flow of oxygen and good blood circulation, which leads to deep relaxation.
By using a neck pillow during poses, the spinal cord and the neck gets good support. It cushions the cervical spine, enabling better relaxation, and relieves stiffness or pain in the neck. Using aromatic neck pillows gives added benefits. Along with support, the scent of herbs relaxes the mind, leaving one feeling refreshed.
A yoga block is very useful for modifying any pose that may need effective balance and alignment. This lessens muscle tension, helps hold the pose for a longer time, thus increasing the time of relaxation.
Using a yoga blanket as a prop in restorative yoga has many benefits. It can be used for support in many poses, for example, the supported back-bend pose. It can also be used for cushioning the bony parts of the body. It can be rolled and used as a mat for meditative poses. Most restorative yoga sessions also advise wrapping the blanket and using it to create a warm and soothing atmosphere, which helps in deeper relaxation.
A yoga strap is again a helpful prop to attain balance in many poses. It provides support to the body that enables one to stretch the body well, and also relax without worries of releasing the pose due to pressure and strain.
As the name is self-explanatory, we know that a yoga mat is a simple prop and the most basic one too. Good quality and cushioned mats give one the required firmness on the ground for practicing poses. They give enough cushioning for the hips, shoulders, knees, and ankles when practicing yoga. This provides total comfort, which leads to better relaxation.
Props can be used in a way that is comfortable. It will take time for beginners to relax the mind, even though the body is completely relaxed. Some of these poses may make one feel uncomfortable, and may also cause emotional discomfort in the beginning. However, one has to be patient and know that the body is going to take time to settle and enjoy the feeling of relaxation with peaceful thoughts. With regular practice, one can achieve deeper and more blissful levels of relaxation, through restorative yoga.
Poses for Restorative Yoga
These poses are no different than the regular yoga poses that we know of. The only difference is that these poses use props for support. Some effective poses, like legs up the wall (Viparita karani), child support pose (Balasana), corpse pose (Savasana), reclining hero pose (Supta Virasana), and reclining bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana), are popular restorative yoga poses. There are also many other poses that are practiced in restorative yoga.
We now know that restorative yoga is the key to physical, mental, and spiritual awareness through relaxation. Even though these poses are simple and may not cause harm, it is always advised to practice restorative yoga under the guidance of a yoga expert.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. Yoga is best done under the guidance of a yoga teacher or professional.