Back in August, I wrote a blog entitled “The Art and Science of Relaxation.” If you missed it, you can read it here. The gist of it is that in today’s world, we find ourselves in “fight or flight” mode WAY too often. Too much adrenaline is being pumped into our systems on a daily basis, sometimes for no real reason. Our distant ancestors used adrenaline to escape real life or death threats; today, we produce adrenaline when we watch the evening news or read something we disagree with.
During restorative yoga teacher training this past weekend, my teacher started by explaining to us what happens to a possum does when it is threatened by a predator. Just like us, it’s body is flooded with adrenaline and other chemicals. Then, unlike us, it collapses and appears dead. Once the threat is gone, the possum “comes to” and violently shakes its body. That shaking is the possum’s way of discharging and releasing the alarm chemicals produced when the threat occurred. But what do modern humans do to discharge our alarm chemicals?
Often we do nothing. Often we just sit and stew in our own hormonal waste. Sure, some of us find some physical activity to “burn off” frustration, but sometimes that just compounds the problem. Going for a run (for example) helps us feel better, but now we’ve got endorphins and lactic acid adding to the adrenaline overload. Sleep is meant to be the body’s time to rest and repair and bring our hormone levels back into check, but many of us aren’t sleeping well (ironically, possibly due to an overload of adrenaline) or aren’t sleeping enough. Some of us consider it a feat of strength to be able to “get by” on just a few hours of sleep. And napping? Well, we aren’t toddlers anymore, are we?
Our society has come to believe that we are meant to get as much done in a 24 hour period as we can. Resting is frowned upon. As a result, we are seeing an alarming rise in autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, reproductive problems, and anxiety and depression. If we’re lucky enough to avoid big problems like those, we might end up simply catching a virus or succumbing to a bacterial infection that we otherwise would have been able to avoid.
So what can we do? We need to make time to relax, to let the “rest and digest” state undo the effects of “fight or flight.” And since we’re not sleeping well, we need to find time to do that during our waking hours. Any type of yoga or meditation will help, but if you want the full body/mind conscious relaxation experience, nothing beats restorative yoga. It is the antidote to the modern lifestyle. And the great thing is, anyone can do it! If you’ve come to a beginners class and been frustrated by it because you didn’t feel strong enough, or if you’ve come to a yin class and been frustrated by it because you didn’t feel flexible enough, you will love restorative!!! If you’re go-to exercise is core strength yoga, running, or crossfit, you need restorative yoga. In fact, if you are alive in the world today and you’re not living off the grid as a hermit, you need restorative yoga.
So what is restorative yoga and what is the philosophy behind it? Restorative yoga poses look a lot like poses you might see in a regular yoga class, but in restorative, the body is fully supported so that there is no effort or stress on the body. Full support encourages complete relaxation of the muscles, allowing the lymphatic system more effectively do its job of ridding the body of toxins and hormonal waste. Free flowing lymph moves infection fighting white bloods cells throughout the body. So even though it might not look or feel like the body is doing very much in a restorative practice, there is a lot of important “behind the scenes” stuff going on. For this reason, restorative yoga is especially beneficial for people with autoimmune issues, people who are receiving cancer treatment, people with anxiety and/or depression, and anyone under an unusual amount of mental or physical stress. And because the body is fully supported, it can be practiced by anyone including pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are less mobile.
I’ll be adding restorative yoga to the schedule in November, and I hope you’ll give it a try. It just might become your favorite class. ;)
See you in the studio!