Restorative yoga is kinda like napping --but better! I mean, I've always been a lousy napper. I would never fall asleep which, being the point of a nap, used to bug the bejeezus out of me. I'd give up on the nap, now feeling tired and frustrated, and turn to a short-term energy spike provided by the nearest cookie. Enter the yoga nap, otherwise known as restorative yoga.
Whether my stress is caused by lack of sleep, mental anxiety, or physical ache, I almost always find relief through restorative yoga. Here's why: restorative yoga is a practice in which you set up your body in gentle reclining postures (supine, prone, or side-lying) using props to support all major joints. This support sends a signal to your nervous system that you're safe and can relax. Gentle touch, guided visualization, focusing on your breath, and listening to soothing music are just a few common way to encourage your mind to move into this relaxation as well (if it doesn't wanna go on its own). In just ten minutes (or more if you have it), you can find yourself sinking deep into a semi-conscious state of deep rest. Falling asleep isn't an objective of yoga naps (though it's delightful when it happens!), so if you've been thinking like me that you "don't do naps," I promise, restorative yoga can have its effect when you're fully conscious. For some, it can even be a deeper experience that way.
Restorative postures, like "regular" yoga postures, can move the spine in all directions and open different parts of the body. This gives your body a chance to rest in positions other than your usual sleep position. And while the positions are relatively gentle, the effect on your subtle body --your energetic body, your mood, etc-- can be significant. If you've ever slept in a funky position and woke up feeling "off" or sore, you have some idea of this effect (though hopefully it's always for the better in restorative yoga!).
Honestly, I feel like I've stumbled on to the fountain of youth. My yoga naps make that big a difference in how I feel. Before restorative yoga, I'm not sure I ever truly felt awake, energized, and calm. Maybe my memory exaggerates, but it's an honest thought. And while regular yoga nappers have something akin to a Pavlovian response to yoga bolsters (the big cushions), there are many for whom it takes some time with the practice before it's "easy". If that's the case, I suggest you don't do the practice entirely alone without some instructions to follow. Start with gentle movement on the breath to help calm your mind before coming into the still poses. During the stillness, have a teacher guide you through breath observation and sensory awareness. Give yourself time to observe how you feel after the practice. And of course, give it a try more than once. If it ends up not working for you, well, here's a whole catalog of stress relievers you can try! (The authors also provide a satisfyingly technical explanation of why stress needs to be used up and how stress relievers function.)
Ready to give yoga naps a try? You don't need lots of fancy yoga props, you can start by raiding your living room. Have a scan for 2-4 blankets (preferably not too fluffy), couch cushions, small, firm pillows, and possibly stacks of paperback books (they may need to be tied into bundles). When you're working with these props, remember that restorative yoga works on a very deep level. Setting up a pose may look a lot like playing with couch-cushion sized Lincoln Logs, but building the yummiest arrangement for your deepest rest requires a patient attention to detail. It may not seem essential to smooth out the wrinkles in the blanket under your butt, but after five or ten minutes resting on an uneven surface, your muscles if not also your mind will notice the imbalance and something will end up holding on, which we're trying to avoid in restorative yoga! Time changes everything and therein lies the secret of restorative yoga.
It was my plan to include here a video or play-by-play picture demo of setting up the above restorative pose, but I've run out time to sort out technical difficulties and will have to instead encourage you to come take class! Or schedule a video chat session.
In the meantime, you can at the very least absorb the idea of restorative yoga and practice balancing your stress time with down time!
hari om tat sat!