Feeling depleted and unfulfilled in your relationships? It may be time to explore a restorative yoga practice.
In today’s world, busyness is an expert seducer: Step into its rhythm, and your thoughts and your days will always be occupied. It’s an appealing promise for those of us who experience discomfort in stillness and silence. However, when we let the pressure to always be doing something run the controls on our lives, we give up valuable things in the process. Most importantly, we forfeit the quiet space that could be used to care for our spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.
Over time, this leads to our feeling disconnected from our very selves. This could manifest so strongly that we become conscious of this rift, or it could be more subtle. If another person were to ask us what we genuinely needed—not what we needed to do, but what our bodies and souls needed to receive at this moment—we would likely respond with, “I’m not sure.”
When we are out of touch with what our needs are, we are not simply out of balance on the individual level. This can also make it increasingly hard to identify what we need from our friends, family, and romantic partners. One of the best ways to remedy this and reconnect with ourselves is through the practice of restorative yoga.
What Is Restorative Yoga?
If you were to pop your head into a restorative yoga class, you would not see any downward dogs or sun salutations. Instead, you’d see what looks like a group of people building nests and resting. Child’s pose, legs up the wall, supine twists, and seated forward bends are all some of the quintessential restorative yoga poses. In restorative yoga, these asanas are held for five, ten, or fifteen minutes with the ample support of props. Unlike a vinyasa class where we build heat, restorative yoga is all about cultivating stillness with the goal of relaxing the body and mind.
The practice was made popular by Judith Hanson Lasater, a devoted student of BKS Iyengar. Lasater has been a key figure in popularizing yoga in America in the 1970s and beyond. Her slow and gentle approach to Iyengar-inspired asanas set the foundation for what would become the restorative practice. Today, new generations of teachers and students are giving life to the practice and, most importantly, giving their bodies the necessary support to release tension and just be.
How to Practice Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga creates space for us the rest and abides in the calm of presence. While the experience can seem abstract, the feeling of relief and release is physically tangible. Sue Taylor, a certified Bhakti yoga instructor who has also earned her Restorative Yoga Level 1 and 2 Certifications from Dr. Ann Saffi Biasetti, explains what is really going on in our bodies during this experience.
“We have the sympathetic nervous system, which is fight, flight, freeze—and that's where we are a lot of the time. This practice moves us away from that and into the parasympathetic nervous system, so it moves into rest and digest,” says Taylor. “If you're not feeling safe enough, or you haven't given your brain the time to make the switch, you don't move into that relaxation state.”
When our everyday lives aren’t conducive to moving into a relaxation state, practicing restorative yoga helps us reclaim our equilibrium. When we show up to our mat, we are showing up for our body, mind, and spirit. We become ready to listen to what we really need.
Taylor recognizes that for many people, especially those who are just starting to cultivate this relationship with themselves, walking into a yoga class can feel intimidating. For others, restorative yoga classes may simply not be available in their community. The good news is that restorative yoga is perhaps one of the easiest forms of yoga to practice right at home.
“My first thing to suggest is to find a blank wall, and bring your legs up against the wall, and notice how your body responds, notice how your breath responds,” says Taylor. “I always want to come to a place of curiosity in this practice, because we can tend to be critical in a lot of ways, like, ‘Oh, my hamstrings are tight. I can't get my legs up the wall.’ But instead, we can be curious: ‘Oh, my heart rate is changing. My breath is changing. Interesting.’”
This element of mindful awareness and listening is what elevates the practice from simply being a series of poses to becoming a vehicle for spiritual growth. When we are able to be curious about ourselves rather than being critical, we open up space for more love and compassion. We become gentle toward ourselves and more generous.
Restoring Our Relationships With Restorative Yoga
When the restorative practice is sustained over time, we are able to take what we’ve learned on the mat and integrate it into our daily lives. Naturally, treating ourselves with greater love and care has a ripple effect: When we are able to honor ourselves and our needs, we are better able to do the same for others. We wake up to our own deservingness and create relationships that are rooted in mutual respect and compassion.
Lasater recognizes this connection in her book, Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life. She writes, “When you serve yourself, you make it possible to serve others. And when you serve others, you acknowledge your interdependence with all of life.”
She poses an important question for all of us interdependent beings to consider: “What kind of servant are you: resentful and manipulative, or joyful and inspiring?”
When we aren’t listening to the needs of our spirits and our bodies, it’s easy to become resentful and unfulfilled in our relationships. We may even feel like we’re depleting ourselves by giving to others because we are not first and foremost giving to ourselves. Lasater’s question isn’t intended to shame if that happens to be the space that we’re in right now. Instead, it invites us to ponder where we want to go from here.
If we find that we want to move toward the joy that comes when we can freely care for ourselves and others, then it might just be time to find a quiet room, put our legs up against the wall, and listen.