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Discovering the Healing Power of Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is a style of yoga that’s intended to relax you mentally, physically, and emotionally. During your practice, you will hold poses for a minimum of five (and often as long as 20 minutes or more), versus more active styles of yoga where you frequently change positions. It can take up to 20 minutes in a restorative pose to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the state you are able to heal and restore balance within your body, supporting healing and integration.

Restorative yoga involves the use of props (blankets, straps, bolsters, weights and blocks) to provide a nesting sensation to your body. With the support of these props, you are able to comfortably relax and release into the poses, allowing your body to transition to an easeful state of rest. With restorative poses, you will create an opportunity for your breathing and heart rate to slow down and allow for improved blood flow to your essential organs.

Why I Love It

Several years ago, my sister-in-law invited me to a two hour restorative yoga practice at the Bellingham Yoga Collective with the restorative yoga master and delight, Kelly, and this began my love affair with the practice. I remember walking into the class excited, energized, with a busy mind and body processing all the experiences of my week. I left feeling deeply at peace, my thoughts clear, my body at ease, with a sense of hope and wonder for the world.

Since that first class, I’ve become a huge fan of the practice and look forward to the blissful state I experience after every class, despite whatever state I was in when I arrived. I am a highly sensitive person with a very active mind, so finding a practice that meets me right where I am at, and ushers me into a calm, peaceful state, layer-by-layer, is a profound win in my experience!

I began to wonder how I might integrate restorative yoga into my practice and offerings, so when I had the opportunity to take a teacher training course in March, I jumped at the opportunity. During this course, I was immersed in a 20 hour restorative yoga training program that taught me the benefits, how to practice, and ways it can contribute to your healing.

Benefits of Restorative Yoga

The benefits of restorative yoga are significant, which is why I highly recommend it to many of my clients’ as a form of support throughout their EMDR therapy journey and to integrate into an ongoing practice of self-care. Taking some time to prepare for a therapy session with a restorative yoga pose can increase your window of tolerance to process painful feelings or experiences during treatment. Moving into a restorative pose after a session can support your ability to metabolize the work you just did, digest the new learning you gained in session, and return you to a sense of ease so you can return to your daily activities.

Practicing restorative yoga promotes relaxation of your mind and body, quality sleep, reduction of chronic pain, and improvement in your overall mood.

Some people confuse yin yoga with restorative yoga, but they are not the same. Yin yoga can also feel restorative, but the poses are shorter, more active and engaged. Restorative yoga is specifically designed for rest and moving into a parasympathetic response.

How to Integrate Restorative Yoga Into Your Healing Journey and Psychotherapy

When searching for a class near you, I recommend opting for a longer format class that’s 90 minutes or longer, if available. Restorative yoga poses are about deep rest and it can take 15-20 minutes to move into a parasympathetic state, which makes a longer class option far more beneficial.

If classes are not available in your area or if you would like to set up a practice in your home, here are some props my teacher recommend to support your restorative practice:

  • 2 bolsters (ideally firm with 6” thickness)

  • 5+ blankets (my yoga instructor, Kelly V, recommends the Mexican-style yoga blankets)

  • 2 blocks

  • 1-3 sandbags

  • 1 yoga strap

  • 1 eye covering (a weighted one is lovely)

(Bonus: I love to use my weighted blanket at home for restorative poses)

If purchasing props is not in the budget at this time, you can get creative with blankets, pillows, or other items in your home that can support you in your restorative poses. Doing restorative yoga reminds me of playing blanket forts as a kid. You just keep adding and adjusting with anything you can find until you create the perfect cozy environment.

Restorative yoga can be a challenge for many people on the first try. When you are accustomed to living in an activated state, with so much vying for your attention, moving into a space to cultivate rest can feel difficult, annoying, even anxiety producing. It can take time to build up your tolerance to rest, all while finding pleasure in it. Many of us need to relearn and rebuild our natural connection to the state of rest. It’s worth it!

If you find it too much to do a full class at first, it’s okay. Start small and build up to it.

Good luck on your healing journey through restorative yoga.

In solidarity,

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