Lying around on bolsters and calling it “yoga” used to bring out the cynic in me. Two incidents several years apart have now convinced me of its value.
When I completed my yoga teacher training in 2000, the routine I’d been learning was to begin with the relaxation pose, “savasana,” lying supine. It was fine in a class, but at home I’d plunge headlong into the tough stuff, seeking to “improve”. I had three young children aged under five, so no time to waste!
One day I rolled out my mat and was so very tired that I didn’t even want to practice. So I lay down. It felt good. I still remember that delicious moment of simply lying down flat, letting all my muscles and bones relax, and letting my mind notice that happening (rather than getting caught in thoughts about why I shouldn’t be allowing myself this luxury!). After around 10 minutes, without thinking, I rolled over, stood up, and did a short but satisfying yoga practice. It was amazing how those few minutes had such a strong restorative effect on me.
Fast forward to 2019. The yoga industry has boomed over the past 19 years, and restorative classes have proliferated. Once the preserve of the serioulsy stressed (aren’t we all? you may ask) or those with major physical restrictions and serious health issues, it now seems the done thing to arrange comfy bolsters, light candles, and lie back. Yet yoga is supposed to be a physical practice; a means to connect with our mind through the body, and unravel long-held patterns of thought and action through strong physical challenge. We see in children how beneficial movement or exercise is on the mood and for supporting a good, deep. So why skip the movement part and go straight to an extended lying-around session? Even having learned my long-ago lesson of the value of relaxation within a yoga practice, I remained cynical about an entire class of supported poses.
Meanwhile, in 2010 I had developed a programme for Lisnavagh House & Gardens for a new Yoga & Sleep retreat. Emily, lady of the hosue and herself a yoga practitioner, and at the time mother of very young children, thought that if she needed more sleep, probably others did too, and proposed the simple idea to me. She was right. It’s been a hit – nine years later it’s grown steadily in popularity and is a regular feature on their retreat schedule. It includes some gentle, restorative yoga, which always receives positive feedback.
With all the signs pointing in the same direction, I enroled on a CPD course with Ciara Cronin in Dublin to explore this phenomenon more deeply.
Again, despite all the support of scientific studies, it was the personal experience that gave me the strongest conviction. Our first session consisted of lying in various arrangements of bolsters and blocks. After a while, when we’d come to our final resting pose (“corpse pose” is the popular translation from Sanskrit for the supine relaxation pose), Ciara’s voice drifted in: “So, it’s coming up to 3:15 now...” Impossible, I thought. We started at 12:30; that would mean that we’d been draped over bolsters and blocks for 2 hours and 45 minutes.
We had, in fact, been draped over bolsters and blocks for 2 hours and 45 minutes. I felt great.
As we discussed and experienced through the rest of the course, the relaxation response can be learned, and triggered through environmental cues. The breathing, sometimes deep and controlled, sometimes allowed to take on its own rhythm, has a plethora of positive neurological and physiological effects that are being explored and documented by the scientific community. The sympathetic nervous system (“fight-or-flight”) can be overridden by the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest-and-digest”). This is gold dust in our agitated age of disconnected-connectedness. They are tools that can also assist with deeply held trauma, when used with skill and care.
Armed with this information, and with a new feeling of ease, I am implementing more restorative practices myself at home, and offering more restorative options at certain seasons – as we approach the holiday season, for example, which can be a fraught time of year.
I still believe in the tough stuff too, though. There’s a place for everything!
Join Pam’s restorative yoga workshops on Saturday 19 October and Saturday 14 December, 4-6pm, in Carlow Mandala Yoga Studios. Details and booking at http://pambutleryoga.com/workshops
For information on retreats, see http://pambutleryoga.com/retreats