December can be a fun and exciting month, but also a very busy and exhausting one, culminating in a few emotionally loaded celebrations. In order to stay centred and energised, it is important to make time for yourself. In this blog I explain how you can do this with simple restorative yoga. When you feel tired and overwhelmed, or you need a short rest before a long night, most effective and easy is to lie for 15 to 20 minutes in one of the rest positions explained below. Resting for 15 to 20 minutes a day in a restorative yoga position counters the effects that stress can have on your body and mind and restores your energy. It also suits this time of year, when the winter invites us to rest more and turn inward.
The American yoga teacher Judith Lasater attributes the invention of restorative yoga to B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the Indian yoga teachers who brought yoga to the West. In her book “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times” she describes over 25 of these different “nurturing physical postures” and claims they are true antidotes to stress. Many other yoga teachers prescribe rest positions, for back pain, menopausal problems, stressful life changes, depression, etc.
Restorative yoga is about resting deeply, which we can only do when we feel completely comfortable and supported. This means that organising some of the positions can involve quite a lot of faffing around with pillows, bolsters and blankets. But the results are worth it, as it allows us to tap into our body’s relaxation response. As opposed to the stress response, the “fight or flight” mechanism, the relaxation response aids muscle relaxation, digestion, slower heart rate, slower breathing rate and lower blood pressure.
You will find that deep rest doesn’t happen immediately, and that the mind keeps racing around for a while. This is why we have to stay in the position for 15 to 20 minutes. However, as in all the positions, you must adjust or come out of the position if it is no longer comfortable. In a restorative yoga pose, it is beneficial to concentrate on the breath, but it is actually fine to fall asleep, as the health benefits will still be there. Just set an alarm clock to 15 or 20 minutes so you can forget about time.
Legs on a chair pose
If you have followed my blog for a while, you know that I have written about this pose as a super rest position for most kinds of back pain. It involves least props so can be quickly set up.
-Simply find a chair or sofa to lie in front and rest your lower legs on.
-Choose a pillow for your head: a higher pillow will be beneficial if you have a tight neck.
-Cover yourself with a blanket.
-Make sure you feel completely comfortable and allow yourself to rest deeply.
Lying lengthwise on a pillow
I learnt this position in the course of “Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs”, which is a group course for people with lower back pain that I now teach. The next one is starting in January 2020 so please contact me here if you would like to join us in West London:
-Sit in front of a rectangular pillow that is placed lengthwise behind you.
-Place a block above or below this pillow for your head. You may need an extra cushion for your head if your head feels like it is leaning back.
-Lie on the pillow, making sure your lower back and neck are comfortable. Keep the legs bent or straight, whichever feels better for the lower back.
-With a blanket over you, breathe and allow the body to widen and soften…
Supported reclining pose
Lisa Kaley-Isley showed me this position at the Yoga Therapy Centre in London, and she called it “Instant Maui” after the Hawaiian island. For this restorative rest position, quite many cushions are needed. They don’t have to be yoga bolsters but something similar like sofa cushions, rolled blankets, etc.
-Start with 2 bolsters in a T-shape.
-Place a cushion in front and sit on the cushion.
-Lean back and have a cushion at hand for your head if your neck is tight.
-You may also want support under the elbows and bolsters under your legs.
-If you don’t have bolsters under the legs, simply keep them bent, possible with the feet shoulder-width apart and knees together.
-Cover yourself with a blanket and imagine yourself in an idyllic and sunny Maui!
We all think that we don’t have the time for these rest positions, but do consider that these 15 minutes are so powerful that they can make you feel more energised, less stressed, clear-headed and thus more able to cope. If you would like to combat stress and restore your energy, this is an easy way to do it. Do let me know how you find it!