Restorative yoga is a slower-paced form of yoga than the styles most people would be familiar with in the West. It takes a healing, meditative approach to the ancient practice and has been less popular than other, more dynamic forms of yoga over the decades because of its slower pace. That is changing, however, and it is beginning to gain a significant following as people start to see its value. Recent studies have shown restorative yoga can aid weight loss, benefit the immune system, banish stress, and improve overall health and quality of life. And as the pace of life gets faster and busier, giving yourself the time to slow everything down for an hour with some restorative yoga poses becomes more and more beneficial…
What Is Restorative Yoga?
As the name suggests, restorative yoga is, well, restorative. It asks us to do what we are so bad at doing in the Western world: slow down, reflect, heal and recuperate. The practice emphasizes relaxation over flowing movements and physically challenging poses, instead focusing on simple stretches. There is a lot of focus on centering the breath and body, practicing stillness along with gentle movements, and holding poses for extended periods.
Part of the reason it has not been as popular a choice as more dynamic styles of yoga is because people have a short window of time each week to include exercise into their routine, and restorative yoga doesn’t look as beneficial from the outside as yoga that makes your muscles burn and your glands sweat.
Restorative yoga uses a lot of props, including blocks, bolsters, blankets and beanbags, to help you comfortably hold stretches and poses for longer periods of time than the more active yoga styles. It is a much more therapeutic and relaxing practice, but that doesn’t mean it is ‘easy’ or lacks the benefits of faster-paced styles…
Benefits Of Restorative Yoga
Although the thought of minimizing effort to reap physical and mental rewards may seem alien to Western yogis, there is mounting proof that suggests this form of yoga has a number of incredible health benefits. Science has discovered that restorative yoga is even better than sleep for releasing muscle tension, reducing joint pain and calming the mind. It decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, which is associated with weight gain, high blood pressure and heart disease when constantly released due to anxiety or persistent worrying.
Restorative Yoga Can Reduce Stress
Restorative yoga poses allow you to find out where your body holds tension. For example, many women carry tension in their hips. It sounds like a metaphor, but the link between the hips and emotions is real and quite fascinating.
The pelvis area is made up of bone, muscles, tendon, ligaments and fascia, and it is a central point in the body, used to stabilize, support and control motion. The hip flexor muscles are large and are usually held in position, when standing up or sitting down for long periods of time, causing them to be quite tight. But tight hips aren’t just the result of extended periods of sitting or standing – they can also be signs of stress. During a moment of fear, when stress hormones are released, the body’s natural instinct is to clench those deep muscles, and the problem is, constant clenching with no counteractive releasing causes them to store that stress. Restorative yoga poses focus on stretching and opening muscles, releasing tension and stress in the body. Hip-opening restorative yoga poses use some of the best techniques to release that build-up of emotion.
Aid Weight Loss
This is the one that came as quite a surprise to the fitness community. Everything we’re taught growing up about weight loss is that it is about eating small amounts of healthy food and torturing your body with strenuous exercise. It’s basically the polar opposite to slowing everything down and resting, which is what restorative yoga is based on. Strenuous exercise and eating healthy, of course, both have their benefits to weight loss, but the interesting thing is that restorative yoga does too. A 48-week study from the University of California in San Diego found that restorative yoga helped overweight women trim subcutaneous fat, and, in fact, they lost more weight than overweight women practicing more active stretching sequences. This may be because of the effect restorative yoga has on reducing cortisol levels, with high levels of the stress hormone linked to increased stubborn tummy fat.
Yoga is a well-known flexibility enhancer, but restorative yoga is not focused on how bendy you can get after a certain number of sessions, like some other forms of yoga have become subjected to. Instead, restorative yoga focuses on what happens when you release tension in the body, in areas that have been tight and unopened. As a result of deep, elongated stretches, restorative yoga can actually increase flexibility faster than other flowing dynamic forms of yoga.
Help Illness And Injury Recovery
Restorative yoga allows people who might be partially immobile or recovering from certain injuries or illnesses to benefit from exercise, while they are unable to practice more strenuous workouts. Restorative yoga can be customized to suit individual needs and allows people with low energy or depleted strength to enjoy some exercise and stretches. For example, someone suffering from a broken bone can still practice restorative yoga using other parts of the body and focusing heavily on the breathing and meditative parts of the practice.
People who have suffered illnesses like a bad bout of the flu virus or chronic fatigue can really benefit from restorative yoga, when they may not be able to manage more active, flowing asanas or other forms of exercise. Not only will it get their body moving, keeping them mobile and stretched, but its restorative, restful and stress-reducing benefits will actually aid in the recovery.
Calm The Nervous System
By slowing down for an hour and practicing deep breathing and relaxation, restorative yoga poses can actually trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps alleviate the effects of our regular stress responses in everyday life, which can be extremely damaging to our physiology and overall health. The calming effect of restorative yoga on the nervous system allows your body to reach a state of repair, where it can renew and rejuvenate during deep relaxation.
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