[wp_ad_camp_1] Most of us are incredibly busy and have very little time to sit still for five minutes, let alone give ourselves the luxury of time and/or permission to fully rest our body, mind and spirit.
If you are anything like me, I find it almost impossible to sit still and relax. Yep, the yoga teacher confesses all. I have this “need to be busy all-of -the time” gene inside of me…. I feel as though every minute must be spent doing those little tasks on my never –ending to do list!
When I finally left the corporate world behind and took the plunge to teach yoga full time, I finally discovered that it is ok, no in fact essential and sanity saving, to just sit still and be. Often! I realized just how much I benefited from this invaluable time for myself. I teach on a small and beautiful paradise island 30 minutes by boat from Bali where people come on their vacation to surf, dive or do yoga and recoup from their busy daily grind. What became glaringly apparent to me was noticing the difference in peoples’ bodies in my class who were escaping from work versus those who were happily and being carefree in their travels of the World.
Stress never just vanishes by itself....
Whether it is in your hips, glutes, or all in your head, tension has a way of accumulating as we busy our way through the day-to-day routine of our daily lives. But there are some fabulously easy ways to reclaim some of the very much needed ‘me time’ in just a few simple steps. Trust me, I am a girl who is short on spare time and ‘me time’ is a cure for potential insanity so I am here to share my wisdom.
So if you’re doing a lot (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), you may want to make some of your yoga practices more restorative. This is lovely and it means that you lie on lots of pillows and relax. Because your body is supported, you are not at the full extent of your flexibility and you can relax very deeply into the pose.
Many people think of yoga as active, but yoga also has a softer side. Many people also think that to get the benefits of yoga you need to commit to a 60 or 90-minute yoga class 3-5 times a week. Not true. Many yoga poses offer the opportunity for restoration, relaxation and healing for example restorative yoga or yin yoga. Generally restorative yoga poses relieve stress by taking yogis into a deep state of relaxation. It also stimulates and soothes our organs and improves our concentration.
The beauty of it all is that there is room for restorative poses in even the tightest of places. You can create a little sanctuary behind your desk at work, or in the smallest corner of your city apartment or anywhere little that you can think of that fits inside of your World. Just remember to take the time to get in and out of each pose safely — especially when the spine is involved.
So what exactly is restorative yoga?
Restorative Yoga is a therapeutic style of yoga that utilizes props to make it easier for the body to get into certain poses, and thus, surrender to the pose. Practicing poses using props provides a completely supportive environment for total relaxation. The more your body is supported in the poses the deeper the sense of relaxation. Relaxation is a state in which there is no movement, no effort, and the brain is quiet. Typically, restorative poses are held for five to ten minutes or for as long as you are comfortable.
A restorative practice is excellent for calming and grounding. It prioritizes stillness, relaxation, and a calmer state of mind, even more so than more traditional forms of yoga. By incorporating props like yoga blocks, bolsters, blankets, and straps to support and align the body, restorative poses allow the body to fully relax in each posture (so no straining to lift and hold that tricky full wheel pose).
Why should I practice Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga’s purpose is to restore your well being emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Some of us live in a close to high level of stress in our every day work lives. This chronically stressed state can, over time, cause significant stress on our mental and physical health and dramatically affect the quality of our lives.
The body's ability to heal itself can be compromised, which restricts our recovery time from injury or illness, or it may even create new illness or injury, including high blood pressure, ulcers, back pain, immune dysfunction and in more extreme cases - depression.
The antidote to stress is relaxation. Restorative yoga focuses on relaxation, renewal, effortlessness and ease. Blankets, bolsters, straps, and other props safely support the body in various postures that allow the body to move towards a state of balance. This practice soothes your nervous system, helps you quiet your mind and invites you to release deeply held tension.
Restorative poses also cultivate the habit of attention, which is something I am always telling my yogis in class. It requires you to focus your mind on the breath, and when your mind starts to wander it encourages you to bring your attention back to the breath. You are taught to use your breath as a tool to release the tension, to bring your attention to the particular area of tension and then use your exhale to release any emotional or mental grip that you may be holding subconsciously on the tension. During these periods of deep relaxation with a focus on the breath your body can help to be healed and nurtured from within.
Enter restorative yoga….
The following sequence of hip-opening restorative poses can be practiced anytime, anywhere and will help to promote that deliciously fabulous and deep state of relaxation that we all love to achieve. When you feel renewed and grounded, your deep compassion naturally arises and you easily serve and care for others.
You can complete the whole sequence or pick a couple of poses that work best for you (don’t cheat and just pick the ones that feel easiest now will you ;) and practice holding them whenever you find yourself with a spare 5-10 minutes.
One of the main things to focus on when you are practicing restorative yoga is your breathing. It’s really simple to give yourself a mini break at some point in the morning, day, or night. Find somewhere where you will be not interrupted for 10-15 minutes
This is also a great exercise for equaling the length of inhale and exhale, and slowing down the breath.
Sit in a comfortable seated position, or lying comfortably on your back.
Visualize a square in your mind. Bring your attention to the top left corner of the square. As you breathe in, mentally take your breath across the square to the top right corner, exhale across to the bottom right corner, then inhale across to the bottom left corner. Complete the square by exhaling to the top left corner.
Repeat this pattern 15-20 times, trying to slow down the movement around the square with each pattern.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Bring your right thumb to cover the right nostril, leaving the left nostril open and take a big inhale. Then close the left nostril with your third finger and open the right, and exhale through the right nostril.
Close the right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through the left nostril, then close the left nostril and open the right, and exhale. Continue this same pattern on each side for eight more breaths.
Why it works:
Your nose is directly linked to your brain and nervous system. As a result, pranayama work almost immediately calms down the nervous system.
The longer you practice, the more stable your thinking will become, and the calmer your emotions will become.
Poses to help create the Zen factor
There are also a number of fantastically calming yoga asana poses, that can be regularly practiced during times of stress to instantly create that wonderful feeling of zen we all crave when faced with busy times.
Legs up wall pose
If you have a yoga mat, great, but if not, grab a blanket. Lay the blanket on the floor against the wall, sit with one hip against the wall and as you lay back straighten your legs up the wall. Set a timer on your phone for 5-15 minutes. Turn your ringer off and cover your eyes with an eye pillow or small towel.
You can place a blanket under your head for more comfort. The key is to get as comfortable as possible and to not be interrupted.
You can also fold a blanket a couple times or use a bolster to put under your hips. Either position works well for relaxation,
Remember to just breath, let go, and take some well deserved time for you.
Reclining Bound Angle pose
Lie on your back and bend your knees so your legs are in a diamond shape. Place pillows or blankets under each thigh so that your legs are supported and not in a full stretch. Completely relax and stay for at least 5 minutes.
Can use bolster also (with a block underneath or not depending on how much stretch you want) – I feel a gentle way to give the spine and chest quite an intense yet manageable and thorough stretch.
In this restorative variation you are going to widen your knees to the width of your yoga mat, bringing your toes together and sitting back onto your heels. Then place a long bolster under your chest, or you can place pillows between your knees so that your chest and head are resting on the pillow. Stay for 5 minutes with your head to one side, then switch and stay 5 minutes with your head the other way.
Lie on your back and take the outer edges of your feet with your hands, bringing your knees towards your armpits. If this is easy, stay like this and lengthen your tailbone towards the floor. Make sure your head is flat on the floor and try to draw your shoulders down your back relaxing the muscles in your neck.
Reclining Big Toe Pose
Lie comfortably on your back. Move your shoulders down your back, relaxing the neck. Make sure that the left leg is grounded with the left toes facing up. If your head doesn’t rest comfortably on the floor, support it on a folder blanket or thin pillow. If the leg on the ground doesn’t stay comfortably flat you can bring a gentle bend to the knee, keeping the foot grounded just below the hip.
Loop a strap or tie over the right foot and lift the leg up. Back off to about a 70% stretch. Stay for at least 10-15 breaths.
Then open the leg gently out to the right side, still keeping the left leg grounded. Hold out to the side for 10-15 breaths. Then lift the leg and release. Switch sides
Lying comfortably on your back. Draw your right knee into your chest, keeping the left leg straight. Move your hips two inches to the right and slowly draw your knees over to the left side of your body. Take your right arm out nice and wide into a T shape, and you’re your gaze to look over your right shoulder. Stay 15 breaths. Then switch sides.
Come to lie flat on your back in a comfortable and neutral position. Let your legs fall freely other side of the mat, with your feet rolling easily outwards also. Bring your arms to rest alongside your body, with your palms facing the ceiling.
Feeling the Zen Yet?
Whenever the world gets a little bit crazy, and you feel as though you have no control, remember to breathe deeply. Take a moment to just be. Sit with yourself. Sit within yourself. Find balance. Find your centre. Stay strong. Stay grounded. Stay focused. Take a moment to practice yoga mindfully. Be kind to your body and your mind.
Caroline Layzell is a certified 500-hour yoga instructor, based on the paradise island of Nusa Lembongan, just off Bali, where she is lucky enough to be teaching yoga full time at the Yoga Shack Lembongan. When she is not doing yoga she can be found underwater diving with the beautiful manta rays in Lembongan. Diving is her moving meditation! Caroline came to yoga after a lifetime of marathon training, cross country running, triathlons and short distance races. It helped her to put her body back together after numerous injuries, and it is here that her passion for yoga began. Now she is a self-confessed yoga addict! Join Caroline on Facebook, Instagram or on her website