Fiction and Facts About Restorative Yoga

by Adriana Buenaventura, Ananda Certified Yoga Therapist

Adriana Buenaventura, Certified Ananda Yoga Therapist

The interplay between the health of our bodies and the power and quality of our feelings has been abundantly documented by scientists who’ve investigated the chemical, physical, and electrical pathways by which our bodies and emotions continually intact.

Among the findings:

  • Positive emotional states exert a whole-body synchronizing effect by bringing brain waves, heart rhythms, breathing, and blood-pressure oscillations into a unified, harmonious rhythm. During positive feelings, “bodily systems function with a high degree of synchronization, efficiency and harmony.”
  • Deliberately focusing attention in the heart while cultivating feelings of love, compassion, etc., leads to clearer thinking, calmer emotions, and improved physical performance and health, as well as increased frequency of subjective reports of spiritual experiences.
  • Positive, expansive feelings such as love, appreciation, and compassion promote relaxation and synchronization of the nervous system. They quiet the “arousal” (sympathetic) branch of the nervous system and activate the “relaxation” (parasympathetic) side. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for speeding up heart rate and preparing the body for action, while the parasympathetic branch governs the “relaxation response,” slowing heart rate and calming body, emotions, and brain.
  • Additionally, researchers have found that negative emotions such as anger, fear, and hatred make the heartbeat change speeds erratically—the heart literally speeds up and slows down chaotically from one beat to the next, like the random, jerky motion of a car that’s running out of gas.

The conclusion is undeniable: how we feel has a tremendous effect on our physical health and our overall sense of well-being.

Of course, the yogis of ancient knew about these connections long ago. Moreover, they devised practical methods by which people can improve their physical health and emotional well-being. Let me share some simple examples of these powerful methods.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga, created by B. K. S. Iyengar, promotes relaxation by placing the body in postures for extended periods (3-15 minutes), using bolsters, blankets, belts, and pillows as aids.

Measured breathing and visualization are recommended to enhance the practice. Harmonious music and essential oils can deepen the relaxing experience.

Evidence shows that stress powerfully contributes to the etiology of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, as well as other chronic conditions and diseases.

Restorative yoga has been shown to be a powerfully effective way to neutralize the stresses in our lives by deep relaxation. With the tools of Restorative Yoga, stress seems to melt away.

Let’s dispel some common myths.

“I’m not flexible (young, healthy) enough to practice Restorative Yoga!”

Restorative Yoga can help anyone, even those undergoing treatment, as well as those who are healthy but feeling over-stressed and fatigued.

“Restorative Yoga is good for everyone.”

While Restorative Yoga can indeed help anyone, common sense suggests that just as with any other healing practice, it’s a good idea to seek the guidance of an experienced yoga therapist who knows how to work with your particular health condition.

“I would feel that I’m just wasting my time, investing so much energy in learning to relax – I think I’d fall asleep!”

Restorative Yoga gives the nervous system a deep rest, when we’ve been pushing forward in overdrive, allowing healing to take place and promoting a deep, all-encompassing sense of well-being.

“I don’t have all those props!”

No fear! – you can substitute any pillows, blankets, and books you have at home!

“Restorative Yoga isn’t stretching my body hard enough!”

Mild stretches, held for 10 minutes, have been shown to be more effective than holding intense stretches for 60-90 seconds.

“I just don’t have time!”

Think of what you’re saying! Making time for your health is literally a matter of life or death. As the pace of our lives gets ever more frantic, giving yourself time to slow down with Restorative Yoga becomes increasingly important, to give you and your body a chance to rest, recover, and restore.

“Will Restorative Yoga make me gain weight?”

Restorative Yoga has been shown to be effective for people who, due to being overweight, aren’t ready to start a vigorous exercise program. It lowers levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone” that rises whenever we’re feeling pressured and tense and that can shorten our lives. And, by the way, cortisol is associated with the accumulation of abdominal fat.

“But I don’t have any yoga experience!”

Restorative Yoga encourages you to start exactly where you are – it doesn’t require trying to force your body into difficult postures that it isn’t ready for. The beginning postures are easy to enter and deliver abundant rewards.

Further benefits of Restorative Yoga include improvement of digestive problems, arthritis, headaches, and insomnia.

A Simple Restorative Yoga Practice: “Savasana”

  • You’ll need two pillows.
  • Lie face up, with one pillow under your head and the other under your knees.
  • Take a few deep belly breaths and let your body relax.
  • Relax each body part separately, starting with the feet, ascending to calves, thighs, back, chest, arms, hands, neck, and head. Take your time and use your exhalation to help you let go of any tensions.
  • In your mind, bring up a mental image that elicits positive feelings, such as the ocean waves, or a sunny meadow.
  • Let yourself fall into the image, becoming immersed in the peaceful scene, and remain there for at least five minutes.

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Adriana Buenaventura offers private yoga therapy sessions at Pacific Naturopathic. Please phone to schedule an appointment, and for more information: 650-961-1660.