As the number of people looking for healthy, natural ways to relax, to combat and manage stress, increases, so too, we witness a global rise in various forms of restorative yoga. The immediate focus tends towards stress relief and maintaining ongoing access to relaxation tools with a rise in technological agencies.
To ground our understanding I feel Restorative yoga can be grouped into three main forms; These forms have been devised based on the experiential outcomes. Deciphering the function and scope of each type becomes a useful way to explore points of difference between them, educate on the ancient and modern landscape of these practices and ultimately to continue to practice and benefit from them.
Forms of Restorative Yoga:
1. Body focused – Physical release and relaxation
Holding postures for a few minutes each to work deeply with the connective tissue, waiting in the tension of the stretch to release or deepen into it, such as Yin yoga styles. Some forms of Yin use music to enhance the relaxation experience and a lot of variety exists. Yin yoga is also considered as a counter practice to the more active and dynamic or Yang styles of yoga, balancing out the heating/activating effects and working with the more softer, feminine, quieter, yin side of our personality.
2. Physical release through props.
Holding postures while fully supported by props. This requires minimal if no effort at all from the practitioner and is more about getting the props to fully support the body so it can drop easily into the relaxation response allowing for the recovery of certain muscle groups or areas of the body. B.K.S Iyengar, a well known yoga figure in the modern 20th Century used props for a therapeutic and accessible way to approach yoga poses. Postures can be held up to several minutes at a time.
3. Body/Energy focused.
Internalization of practice through linkage with movement, sensation, breath and an awareness of the pranic or energetic level. This requires guidance and entrainment. Synchronization and utilizing the medium of the breath enhances the release of tension, bringing online the relaxation response.
This is further enhanced by the way in which the practice is approached. The practitioner develops the ability to move into form of relaxed concentration characteristic of a meditative state of awareness. This special state of meditative awareness activates the quality of the ‘witness’ also known in yoga as the drashta. This quality is a neutral objective, observing of one’s inner world. It is a pivotal stage of practice to master in order to get to the underlying causes of tension which lie in mental and pranic bodies and eventually express or become tangible at the grossest level, the physical body. Each attribute of meditative awareness can be separated out and honed through regular practice.
Traditional forms of yoga such as classical hatha come into this approach and when skilfully taught move the practitioner into deeper states where they can access more subtle levels of tension getting to the root cause or source. This takes diligence, commitment to the yogic process. In order to facilitate this kind of depth of awareness the teacher needs to be highly attuned to the practice themselves and to those they are instructing.
4. Yoga Nidra – Psychic sleep.
Often thought of as a deeper relaxation technique. Devised by Swami Satyananda in the 1970s as a way to make meditation accessible and to ground the practitioner in the foundational aspects of meditation such as relaxation and pratyahara – a core component in classical meditation practice. The systematized approach devised through Yoga Nidra, leads the practitioner progressively to the highest meditative states attainable, like that of samadhi. In fact, relaxation is really only the by-product of this practice, but an essential stepping stone along the path towards meditation.
Yoga nidra develops in the practitioner the important stage of meditation known as pratyahara where one is able to witness and release their deeper held tensions and in doing so free up vital energy. Drawing on a classical approach of meditative awareness, this practice is gaining a lot of traction as an effective medium to cover a broad spectrum of needs from healing and recovery to self development to transforming one’s life.
Coming from a traditional yogic training which has set me up as a life- long learner I now appreciate how living each day with some form of relaxation is essential. Essential for release of stress, to defrag from the enormous amount of inputs we receive not only at the level of the senses, but of the mind and emotions.
Relaxation is essential for building inner resilience and equanimity. It has helped me enormously to increase vital energy levels, return to centre at will and hone the skills of meditation easily. The ability to hold our centre amidst the challenges of life is one of the great benefits of a regular yoga practice.
Yoga nidra is my ‘go to’ tool to restore and optimize energy being equivalent to 3 – 4 hours of deep sleep. The quality of rest the nervous pathways between the brain and body receive go beyond the feeling of relaxation. One of the positive effects is that the practitioner entrains in their system the tissue memory of the practice, building up the ability to consciously relax at will until this quality forms part of our habitual responses.
Each of the approaches mentioned has merit working from the gross to subtle dimensions with Yoga Nidra offering one of the deepest forms and therefore transformative potential. Yoga nidra as imparted by the Satyananda Yoga system is by far distinguished amongst them.
Global Wellness Trends Report, 2019 author of Meditation goes Plural, Beth McGroarty outlines the contemporary landscape of technological solutions aimed at inducing relaxation and meditation states. The report contains some interesting findings for example the spawning of digital platforms such as yoga-apps like Calm and Headspace.
Headspace alone has 35 million users in 190 countries while Calm has driven 26 million downloads with 50,000 new sign-ups each day.
The Umay REST’s Thermal Meditation device was engineered to counteract the toll taken on our eyes and brains from being glued to digital devices 10 hours a day: It sits on your eyes, and its thermal therapy is aimed at restoring eye health while its “Thermal Meditation” (gentle vibration patterns for guided breath meditation) is designed to calm and clear the mind. Its ironic that apps are designed to help us disconnect with technology.
The student & teacher relationship:
As the demand via technology increases, with less face to face instruction are we missing an important point in this equation that is real connections with real people? The need that arises for expert guidance as tensions unravel at a deeper level. Someone from whom the student can feel support and connection as they journey through the yogic process.
Pure Yoga offerings:
Yoga nidra features as a core practice in my restorative and meditation courses and workshops. The depth of its classical origins sets it apart it from other forms of restorative yoga. Its utility and scope is far reaching and scientific studies continue to capture its validity as a preventative, curative and promotive technology.
Want to know more?
The upcoming Yoga Teacher Training in Yoga Nidra and Restorative Yoga will ground practitioners in a meditative approach to yoga including how to instruct breathing methods and a dynamic series of energy release asanas. Close mentorship of four months to support your personal evolution and embodiment and ability to support and empower others.
Join us in the upcoming 5 day retreat or up-skill your skill and deepen your practice on our advanced teachers training module.
Whichever tool you resonate with you can rest assured that you are on the right track when it comes to finding healthy, balanced ways to bring ease and calm into your life.
Aum shanti & enjoy some time for life in the slow lane.