Let’s face it, we all experience stress. I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga for over 30 years, and I still do. Stress is the body’s way of responding to external forces and is a powerful indicator that we need to pay attention to something before serious problems occur. However, unhealthy levels of stress can delay healing and aggravate existing health issues.
Studies have shown that practicing yoga can decrease levels of the powerful anti-inflammatory stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol as a response to stress. But when we suffer from chronic stress and our cortisol levels are kept high, our immune systems are impaired and our bodies’ systems are endangered.
Restorative Yoga Therapy Is for Everybody — and Every Body
I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve told someone I’m a yoga instructor and they’ve responded, “I want to try it, but I’m so inflexible.”
News Flash: You don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga, especially restorative yoga therapy. If you have a pulse, you can practice restorative yoga therapy and feel great doing it, while reaping the benefits. All styles of yoga help to manage stress. What makes restorative yoga therapy unique is that the poses come to you rather than you having to go to them. That’s because restorative yoga therapy is a style that’s for everybody and every body.
We all hold stress differently and tense our muscles in habitual holding patterns as a response to what’s happening inside us. Restorative yoga therapy poses include yoga props that are strategically positioned to meet your unique needs. Restorative poses include soft and supported back bends, twists, forward bends, inversions, and other poses that target your shoulders, hips, and back. Each supported pose provides a very gentle stretch and opening to meet and melt away your stress. There is nothing to do and nowhere to go. There is nothing to achieve in the pose. The only requirement is breathing and feeling. See? No stress!
Fast Times Require “Slow and Steady”
A restorative yoga therapy practice creates an opportunity to improve breathing. Think about a time when you experienced a great deal of stress. Odds are you had rapid and shallow breath or were even holding your breath. Deep, slow, and steady breathing is relaxing, and research has shown that it can alter the pH of the blood, lower blood pressure, and produce positive effects in the brain, digestion, and immune system. Furthermore, slow and steady breathing is a powerful method to condition our body’s reaction to stress, thus lowering the production of harmful stress hormones and cultivating a more mindful way to self-care and well-being.
Here’s a simple restorative yoga therapy setup that works well for breathing practices:
- Position a yoga bolster (or a firm pillow, or blankets folded and stacked in the shape of the bolster pictured above) on your mat in a parallel orientation, with a block (or a thick book) underneath the top end of the bolster.
- With your pelvis on the floor and the small of the back against the bottom end of the bolster, lie back, resting the entire remainder of your torso on the bolster.
- Allow your arms to rest away from the hips with the palms turned upward.
- Let the legs separate and relax.
- If you like, place a 10-pound sandbag on the top of the thighs to further relax your body’s weight.
Once you are in the pose, practice your favorite breathing technique, or just be with your breath. Simply following your breath in and out will naturally lengthen and deepen it.
Stress is a common issue for everyone; there’s no avoiding it. However, we can take charge of how we respond to it. Research suggests that mindful exercise and meditation have wide-ranging effects on well-being, which is what a smart and simple restorative yoga therapy practice can bring to your life.
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Leeann Carey is the author of Restorative Yoga Therapy and has a network of Yapana Way mentors throughout the United States and Canada. She is an ERYT-500 registered teacher and has studied with masters including Kofi Busia and Judith Hanson Lasater. She lives in Redondo Beach,California. Visit her online at www.yapanayoga.com.
Based on the book Restorative Yoga Therapy: The Yapana Way® to Self-Care and Well-Being. Copyright © 2015 by Leeann Carey.