There is more than one way to practice Yoga asana. One need only look to see the panoply of the methods/styles that are on offer in the modern world. Many die-hard traditionalists (which I used to be) hold the idea that everything useful in Yoga was discovered and settled on, hundreds, if not even thousands of years ago, and any divergence from it will be to the detriment of the individual. A closer reading of the fundamental tenets of Yoga will however reveal that it is not only compatible with the evolution of its techniques, but quite actually necessary. As the natural world, human society, knowledge undergo a continuous evolution, Yoga also incurs changes and refinements along its timeline.
The concept of a Restorative Yoga practice is not unfamiliar to most enthusiasts. However, more often than not, it has the reputation of being more on the gentle end of the continuum, as contrasted to the more popular dynamic style of a vinyasa practice. The late BKS Iyengar was the originator of this type of practice, and is solely responsible for the ingenious and innovative approach to the use of props within it. As he defined it, the main distinction between a restorative practice, and any other kind, can be summed up by the complete absence of effort necessary to sustain a restorative pose. The use of props supports the architecture of a posture, and thereby relieves the student of the conscious effort that would otherwise be necessary to sustain the pose without them.
Of the many scientifically verified benefits of Restorative Yoga, the one that receives very little press, and is also the most experientially obvious, is the ability to prolong the time within the pose. This extension of time and decrease of effort gives the student an opportunity to settle more deeply into the fabric of a posture, and experience the psycho-emotional effects that would otherwise be difficult to pick up on, if focus has to be diverted to muscular action. The vantage point restorative yoga offers can lead to a better understanding of the relationship between the mind and body. One can begin to understand that the apparent influence that seems to run in a single direction, from mind to body, is actually a two-way street that allows the body to also influence one’s state of mind as well. This is an invaluable lesson, that undercuts one of the most disempowering and unreflective beliefs people often hold about their own body, that we are slaves to our own mental and emotional life. This belief can dishearten and drain all enthusiasm to make adjustments that could ensure a more satisfying existence.
A classical posture that is one of the primary representatives of a Restorative practice is supported Bridge pose (Setu Bhanda Sarvangasana). This pose supports the body in the structure of a backbend, and relieves some of the most insidious and stubborn postural side-effects of the modern lifestyle. By placing the hips and upper back (thoracic spine) into extension, this pose will gradually unravel the habits of tight hips (Psoas muscles) and the all too familiar slumping and slouching of the torso and spine. By exposing the front of the rib cage and abdomen in this unhabitual way, the most common effect students experience is unburdened breathing. The other deficit of being in a habitual, which is to say chronic slouch, is the limitation of space given to the viscera. The contents of the viscera have evolved to function best, when the body is in an open, unstressed, and uncompressed position.
- Yoga blanket (or big towel)
- Yoga belt
- 1-2 Yoga blocks
- Fold the blanket into a shape that is about ½ the size of the yoga mat, placing at the end of the mat where the head will be, and place bolster so that it overlaps about ⅓ of the blanket
- place 2 blocks about 1.5ft away from the other end of the bolster
- Sit on the edge of the bolster furthest from the blanket, and keeping the knees bent and fee flat on the mat, tie legs together with the Yoga belt at the lower thigh level (make sure the inner thighs have a solid seal between them)
- slowly curl back onto the bolster, and once down relax the neck to allow the head to comfortably hang off of bolster’s edge, and make sure that the weight distribution is even between the R & L sides of the body
- without using anything but the legs, slowly kick away from the mat and begin to slide the head and upper back off the edge of the bolster and once the back of the head and shoulder blades are flat on the mat, slowly place the feet on the blocks, and relax the entire body
- if any tension/discomfort is perceived in the lower back, place the feet flat on the mat again, gently lift the pelvis and aim the sitting bones more toward the feet (posterior pelvic tilt), before settling back down into the pose
- if the low back tension persists, the feet may even be elevated on a chair
- may be placed at the beginning and/or end of a forward bending (hip & spinal flexion) practice to prepare the body with a counterbalancing posture.
- may be used a la carte at the end of the day, for 5-10 minutes, especially if your daily movement habits include a lot of sitting (i.e. desk job, driving)