There are plenty of reasons to be tense these days. My husband and I recently discovered a balm for modern ills: restorative yoga. It is offered at the YWCA and at yoga centers all around Minneapolis.
I am amazed, when I go to class, that people aren’t coming in by the hundreds, given the flush of health I feel afterward, similar to what I feel after I’ve had a massage. I walk out with rubbery legs, and everything I lay my eyes on—a parked car, a storefront, a hazy city sky—looks beautiful.
Then again, we are all so busy. We don’t want to add one more thing to our schedules. And relaxing the body right now feels almost like a countercultural act.
But all the more reason to do it. You don’t have to be young, flexible, or experienced to do restorative. It can be easily adapted to any body. Most poses are done lying down. But it doesn’t feel the same as reclining on the couch at home. You get something different from this. Believe me.
If you were to walk into a restorative class after it had gotten underway, it would look like Kindergarten at naptime. (Remember how safe and at ease you felt then?) There would be yoga mats laid out on the floor with people stretched out on them. They might be covered with blankets. The lights may be dimmed, the candles lit, and there may be soft, hypnotic music playing. Perhaps Gregorian chants.
The sessions begin with a bit of gentle stretching, or perhaps a breathing exercise. Then you go into your first pose. We use what are called “props”: bolsters, blankets and blocks. Their purpose is to support you and enhance your comfort.
The teacher demonstrates each pose, and then comes around to help you adapt it so it works for your body, and to cover you with a blanket, or offer you an eye pillow. Some teachers even rub your back a little. This tending you get from the teacher is not unlike having your mother tuck you into bed at night.
You stay in the pose for an extended period, say five to fifteen minutes. Then you gently uncurl yourself, roll over on your side, lie there for a moment or two, sit up, notice any effects, and then prepare for the next pose. You can see how the slow pacing of this, alone, is soothing.
At a recent class the teacher asked for requests before we began, and someone said she wanted to open up her shoulders, which had been hunched forward all day as she worked at the computer. So we lay on our backs on a bolster and let our arms gently drape over the sides. We put the soles of our feet together and pulled them toward us, and we used a blanket around our ankles to help us hold the pose comfortably.
I, too, had a lot of tension in my shoulders, and as I settled into this pose I felt a tingly release in my upper body, as if a flock of birds had been roosting there, and they’d all flown up and away.
During each session there is a pose that involves a gentle twist of the spine, which massages the inner organs. In this recent class we lay on our backs, bent one leg, and dropped it over the straight leg. Got comfortable. Felt the muscles in the bent hip work a little.
There are two standard restorative poses, “supported child’s pose,” and “legs up the wall.” I like both of them. In supported child’s pose you kneel, sit back on your heels, and then bend forward and rest your upper body on the bolster between your legs. You look like a bird’s egg. Then you just rest there, reveling in your eggness. If you need reassurance, this pose is a good place to get it.
To do “legs up the wall,” you sit sideways with your hip against the wall, and then turn so your legs go up as you lay back on the floor. Your blood flow is reversed. And, again, you relax, breathe consciously, and observe the sensations.
When my husband and I started doing restorative a few months ago, we thought, “That’s nice,” but went only occasionally. In January, though, when our work lives got hectic, we decided to put it on our calendars. We now try to go once a week. After this recent class, I realized that when I do restorative yoga regularly, the poses feel better, and time itself falls away. When I talked to my teacher about it, she said, “Your body is learning how to relax.” How cool is that.