What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga is an inward, receptive practice that creates expansion and/or grounding in a physically passive way with the use of props, such as bolsters, blocks, blankets, and straps. The goal of restorative practice is to create a safe, supportive space for the body so that tension will be released, a relaxation response will be initiated, and the mind has the opportunity to observe and eventually learn the body/mind’s process of relaxing.
One way to understand restorative yoga and it’s place in the yoga pantheon is as a bridge between active asana and meditation. Active asana creates spaciousness, stretching, and expanding in a very active way. The practitioner is the doer and the body responds as the receiver. In restorative yoga, there is opening and expansion but no active stretching. Restorative yoga poses do not increase range of motion or build strength. Props are utilized to create sensations of complete comfort so practitioners are only the receiver but not the doer.
The tension addressed in a restorative yoga practice is more than just muscular tightness which comes from the result of use, such as with weight-lifting or running, though that kind of physical tension is also released in the course of practice. Tension in the context of restorative practice is defined by Jillian Pransky as “the body’s way of forming resistance over places of vulnerability”, which means the practice addresses tension that includes both a physical and psycho-emotional component.
Consequently, restorative yoga is particularly effective for managing conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, as well as other stress-related disorders. Restorative yoga is also ideal for anyone recovering from illness or injury.
I find it remarkable that Tara, who practices and teaches highly athletic versions of yoga, is also an advocate and teacher of restorative yoga. Her classes have helped me realize that both activity and deep rest are necessary. Inspired by what I’ve learned from Tara, I now begin my yoga practice with restorative poses. This really settles me into my body and helps me notice what areas are tight, etc. I find that after just 10 minutes of restorative yoga, my entire practice feels much more real and authentic.