Self-Care Series, Benefits of Restorative Yoga
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it is so necessary for everyone, especially yoga teachers, to relax and renew their bodies during this time. That’s why we need to slow down from the daily yoga grind and practice restorative yoga! When practiced even for 5 minutes, you can reap the benefits of restorative yoga. To learn more about those benefits, and ways to start practicing today, we teamed up with veteran yoga teacher Elika Aird.
Contributor: Elika Aird, Yoga Teacher/Postpartum Doula
Recently, after one of my classes, my students and I were discussing ways to deal with a stressful schedule. I suggested restorative yoga and one student said, “Oh yeah I tried that before. After I left I wanted to ask for my money back.” His response blew my mind, but confirmed something that Western culture teaches us from a young age, more is always better. However, feeding into this belief can eventually affect our overall well-being, which is why it is important to take time to listen to your body – and restorative yoga can help!
Restorative yoga is a practice that relieves the effects of chronic stress. In this 60-90 minute class, practitioners use props to completely support their body in order to create a nurturing environment for deep (and I mean DEEP) relaxation. There are typically 5-8 poses in a sequence, and each is held for about 10-20 minutes. It's a time to dive into stillness and feel held and supported while your body and emotions heal.
After 12 years of teaching, I have found that restorative yoga is something yoga teachers need more of, but many of us discount it as insignificant and maybe boring if we aren’t pushed to our mental and physical edge by doing countless chaturangas in a sweaty class. But, there are so many benefits of restorative yoga, and there are several reasons why you should start practicing today.
1. To Replenish Your Energy from Giving as a Teacher
When you are teaching, you are not only giving instructions, you are thinking about the sequence, making modifications, giving adjustments, and possibly adding in some inspirational nuggets of wisdom for your students to chew on while practicing. But what you may not know is that you can sometimes absorb the emotions and neuroses of your students. We can activate, plan, do, and create all day, but when it comes to slowing down, being served, getting rest, and embracing stillness, we often avoid it. Many of us are in favor of staying productive by marketing our classes, doing more trainings, taking extra classes, or by doing whatever else fills the void of extra time. John Kabat-Zinn says: “ Most of us need to be given permission to switch from the doing to the being mode, mostly because we have been conditioned since we were little to value doing over being.” It can be overwhelming if you teach full-time and are not replenishing the energy you are giving away.
2. Your Self-Care Matters, More so Than Your Students’
There is an assumption that yoga teachers and healers are always practicing the highest amount of self-care for themselves; getting reiki, acupuncture, massages, and perhaps going to saunas every week. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Due to finances, busy schedules, or assuming that teaching class is a substitute for a balanced yoga practice, many of us forget to heal and fortify ourselves after we give soooo much love, attention, and guidance to our students and clients. We must regularly give all of this back to ourselves. Teachers need to remember to practice self-care before student-care, and to ensure that we are teaching from a pranamaya kosha (energetic body) that is full, bright, and beaming with light and vibrancy. Taking time out for yourself can help make you a better teacher in the long run!
3. To Receive the Amazing Health Benefits of Restorative Yoga
In my 30s I did a lot. I taught yoga part-time, worked for Cartoon Network full-time, and had a very full social life. I didn't take much time to relax and renew unless I was binge watching movies after a late night out, or taking the periodic restorative yoga class. At the beginning of fall, for three consecutive years, I realized that I had been sick every year at the same time. And thankfully, I discovered in one of my favorite resources called, Path of Practice, by Maya Tiwari, that sickness or disease can only inhabit the body in between the seasons. I was aghast when I read this and it completely changed my life. It gave me more insight about why cleansing/detoxing and more rest is so important before the seasons change. In Judith Lasater's book Relax & Renew, she says “Taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well.” In this book she presents evidence from experts who support this claim that restorative yoga benefits every function in our body: improves sleep, reduces high blood pressure, strengthens immune and digestive function, and decreases stress hormones and anxiety. Now, after practicing yoga for almost 20 years, I truly believe a mantra I have been sharing with my 3rd trimester prenatal students for 10 years: Do less and BE more.
4. To Prevent Yourself from from Falling into the Belief that More is More
Since so much of what we do to ourselves is done in excess, we often make ourselves sick as a result of overdoing. Whether from over-consumption of news, food, pharmaceuticals, mind-altering substances, and/or social media consumption, it all takes its toll on our vital organs, nervous system, and of course, our mind. Like a lot of yoga teachers, I too have struggled with the highly addictive use of technology and social media – which I’ve found so many of us are seduced by. It’s easy to believe we need to buy this brand of clothing, take this training, do this yoga challenge, or attain a certain goal in our practice when we see it constantly. This allure of the online world only adds to the chronic stress many of us are experiencing, which increases the body's need for restoration. So, do yourself a favor. The next time you have free time and you want to fill it with an activity, embrace stillness. Take your props out and do a restorative yoga pose and reap the benefits!
5. To Practice True Hatha Yoga
If we are all truly practicing the essence of Hatha Yoga, and its various forms, then we must experience not only the Ha ( sun/solar/activating energy), but also enjoy the Tha ( moon/lunar/receptive energy). Practicing only heated and vinyasa practices without adding in some cooling restorative or yin practices will eventually result in mind-body imbalance. So even if you have five minutes in the day to practice a quick restorative pose, it will provide lasting benefits!
How to Practice Restorative Yoga
If you’re ready to get on the train for self-care, here is a pose that can help you get started on your journey. Practicing Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) is one of the most effective poses for overall well-being. It can be invaluable for respiratory health, circulation, reducing back pain, reducing stress, and promoting more restful sleep. The following is adapted from Relax and Renew.
- Place the long side of the bolster parallel to the wall, with 6-10 inches between the wall and the bolster.
- Optional: single fold a blanket and place it under the spine for support.
- Sit on one edge of the bolster with one shoulder near the wall. The length of the bolster will be behind you.
- Roll back and simultaneously swing your legs to the wall. If the hamstrings are overstretched, move the props away from the wall a few inches.
- Your legs should be almost vertical and your hips should be elevated above the heart.
- For longer torsos and/or those with more flexibility, add an extra blanket on the bolster for more height and opening through the heart.
- Keep chin lifted from chest. A rolled up towel might be helpful behind the base of the neck to keep it long and to preserve the natural curve.
- Let arms rest on the ground or overhead in a cactus shape.
- Allow yourself to relax and renew in this pose, breathing slowly and rhythmically.
- Stay in the pose for 5 – 15 minutes.
CONSIDERATIONS: This pose is not recommended for those with hiatal hernia, eye pressure, retinal problems, neck problem, and/or menstruating women (after the heaviest days is usually okay, but this depends on how you feel and how the pose affects you.) If you are in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, only practice this pose if you are comfortable.
Elika Aird is a Certified Yoga Teacher/Postpartum Doula with almost 20 years of experience sharing her passion for health & wellness. She teaches various styles of yoga and meditation in studios and corporate offices throughout the Bay Area, including Google, Salesforce, and Linkedin. Elika's classes infuse yoga, dance, pilates, barre, meditation, and ancient wisdom to inspire and uplift all bodies. For more information, visit her website.