I've been practising yoga since I was 20 - that's nearly a quarter of a century worth of practice! In those early days, yoga to me was about feeling my body-really feeling it. I was depressed and disconnected from my body- yoga awakened me to the feeling of sensation and the realisation I have a home- it is this body, it changes regularly, its not always what I would like it to be, and I might not always treat it the best - but its always here.
And in those early years, I mistook "yoga" for this sensation of being in my body. If I didn't feel my body strongly enough- I didn't believe I was "doing yoga". I practised with a variety of teachers, and I remember going to a class one evening where I was asked to do a complex blanket fold. I never returned, and can even still remember my thinking behind this decision- "I''m here to do yoga, not fold blankets"
These days I spend a lot of time folding blankets - (I'm also more likely to question my thoughts as I have realised that just because they appear doesn't make them true- but that's a topic for another day)
So, why the change? Why does using props, folding blankets and taking time feature so regularly in my home practice, and also many of my classes?
Like many things that develop over time, my felt sensation has become more refined and subtle. I now acknowledge that yoga is about being- rather than doing, which is harder than it sounds! I am better practised at catching myself when I get into doing my yoga rather than being it- restorative yoga is a great way to just let myself be.
It also requires that I attend to myself and my needs. I have to fuss and prepare and find the sweet spot for the bolster, the correct roll hight for the blanket - While all this is also a form of doing- I have to be mindful of my own needs in that moment, you can't easily fudge restorative yoga- it either feels comfy as you lie there for a few minutes or its not quite right. "It's ok", doesn't cut it, spending the time to give yourself some mindful attention is a precious gift, and a great skill to develop.
For these reasons, one of my restorative yoga teachers, Neal Ghoshal, who I attended a workshop with in 2015 describes restorative yoga as an advanced form of yoga. Once you support the body adequately, and this means so that none of the joints are left hanging in space, the body can deeply relax on a very visceral level. He describes the benefits of restorative yoga as:
One of my favourite restorative poses is reclined bound angle pose. This is often a favourite of people to start class, many people allow their legs to hang open, which will often give a deep sensation in the groin. In restorative yoga, we back away from the sensation and support the body so instead of opening on just a gross body level, we can release deep tension held around the hips. There are a few variations of this, my favourite is the most simple:
Lie down on a yoga mat or floor and place a bolster under your knees. Lift your legs and bring the soles of your feet together on top of the bolster. If your knees don't rest on the bolster roll up a blanket or towel and place under the knees. Your arms can rest where they are comfortable, perhaps on your belly. The focus in restorative yoga is to remain present- remember we have turned the volume control down on sensation, so you will need to finely attune your antenna. Deep inquiry is useful - Am I as comfortable here as I possibly could be? what expression is on my face? What is my breath doing? Where is my attention being drawn to? Once settled in the body and mind, you can enter into a meditation practice such as mantra repetition, eg So Hum, or count your breath, or lunar and solar breathing.
To get you started, check out a short restorative yoga sequence from an earlier blog post.. Give yourself an hour at some time to give it a go, or if you prefer, you are welcome to organise a private lesson where I can assist you to find your way into these poses (and lend you the equipment!)