The month of december has sprung.
And with that the time and opportunity to restore, unwind and de-stress. The times around us is uncertain, we stress, we do-do-do and we push our energy sometimes far beyond what we have the resources for. And this is often true for many of us humans all year around.
Then the tools in Restorative Yoga is a phenomenal option not only to de-stress and rebuild ones energies, but also to use this practice as a way to boost energies and help ourselves to re-balance. To re-member that we are a member in our own club called life, having things to say, notice our gifts, reflect upon things of importance and on choices we make for ourselves and the world. And re-connect with things that inspire us and make us find joy and love. Restorative yoga hands us that space to pause, to get a moment in our lives where we build in the present and allow our systems to update and reconnect. So we are stronger and not scattered in our energy when we then re- enter the outside world. To me Restorative yoga is magical magic.
Personally, I tend to build in more Restorative yoga into my life and practice in the winter months, but also at times when I need to focus, ground myself, to unwind after travels/lots of work and when I need a “time- out” physically, mentally and spiritually. After just 20 minutes of shutting off all sensory inputs, I feel much more rejuvenated and balanced. My family has grown to love this practice too, even our cats, who in their essence are natural born “restorers”.
When they look at us and join us in the practice, they say: “Hey, woah- these humans understand the real deal. How important it is to rest oneself back into shape. And then once energies are accumulated, live – play- move -be curious“.
Over the years, I have gotten to be more and more intrigued by what phenomenal results one receives as a practitioner of Restorative Yoga, up to the point where I took the practice further through deeper studies of its techniques through trainings in order to learn more about the practice and its methods. And I last year I wrote a book about this style of yoga, its intention, the science behind it and also what gifts it has brought me, my friends and students.
To my aid, I interviewed many knowledgable people about stress, neurophysiology, restoring techniques, science, spirituality and more.
Two of these amazing practitioners and scholars; my friends and yoga colleagues, New York City based yoga teachers Mona Anand and Gina Menza, generously shared their wealth of knowledge and experience of Restorative yoga with me. These two wonderful ladies have created their own take on Restorative yoga, where they focus on the individual aspects of the practice; to make it all about enhancing ones own healing and rebuilding from a more personal point of view, through the lens of ISHTA yoga, a more self balancing approach on yoga. They call their approach the “Menza/Anand Restorative Yoga – An ISHTA yoga Approach”.
In my role as ISHTA yogas Scandinavian Representative, I have invited them over to teach their training for three years. And the students who take this training all say they benefit tremendously from it. They testament that they can now build their own Restorative yoga practice to fit their daily needs and that the information received in the training has helped them in more areas in life.
In April of 2017, I have invited them to come and again swing their spell, to share this practice with more students. One doesn’t need to be a yoga teacher in order to take this 4 day training. Everyone is welcome.
Read more here about the training.
If you are interested in hearing more about Restorative yoga and read more about it and the ISHTA yoga approach, visit YOGOBE for videos and articles.
For those of you who are interested in this topic and are thinking of buying my book, or if you have bought it already – I here share the whole interview I did with Mona and Gina in its full form. This also since it wasn’t correctly reflected in the first print. I wish to hereby credit my dear friends with their own words and honor their work, words and experiences.
Interview with Gina Menza (G) and Mona Anand (M) on Restorative yoga:
1. What does the Restorative practice mean to you? And what aspects of the practice would you say targets stress and tension?And how?
Gina: Restorative yoga means the world to me. With postures held for around 10 minutes, the practice balances my busy life with relaxation, support and stillness. Teaching restorative yoga is equally divine, to receive the energy created by a roomful of yogis is the best gift. Softening the body, evening the brea
th and quieting the mind change the actual chemistry of the body as both sides of the nervous system adjust. This cascade helps everyday tension drift away.
Mona: The impact restorative yoga has in releasing stress and tension is very personal. About fourteen years ago I had a bout of serious asthma attacks that were life changing. I was continually in and out of the hospital and put on high levels of cortisone for an extended period that created extreme anxiety and panic attacks. I started practicing restorative yoga which was integral to my recovery. Restorative calmed my nervous system, relaxed my body and released tension from my breath, all of which were bracing for and contributing to future asthma attacks. No amount of trying to talk myself out of the situation helped because my whole system was stuck in a heightened state of tension. I needed to bypass my mind and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is exactly what restorative does.
Restorative yoga helps activate the PNS in many ways. Using my own experience, because restorative poses supported my muscles and joints for an extended period of time, the contraction in my body began to release. This led to my nervous system firing less and my mind relaxing. Restorative poses also took tension out of my breath because the breath is directly influenced by the state of our minds and bodies. It is a two way street – a relaxed body creates a relaxed mind and breath and a relaxed breath and mind create a relaxed body. Restorative helped me get off cortisone and also helped me let go of the fear of future attacks.
Modern life is fast paced and filled with stressors that contribute to a low grade level of stress that we’re often unaware off. This continuous state of SNS arousal has lead to many modern day illnesses such as asthma, cancer, heart decease and stress disorders. Restorative yoga provides the prefect antidote to stress because it creates a supported pause. By completely supporting the body and being still for extended periods the breath, the mind and the nervous system begin to calm. Different restorative poses can be used for different purposes though they all help to calm and quiet the nervous system. There are poses that open the breath and lift our spirits when we’re feeling depressed, poses that are supportive and nurturing when we’re feeling anxious and poses that target specific parts of the body where tension accumulates.
2. When you designed ISHTA Restorative yoga, what do you say differs this approach from lets say more Iyengar based Restorative?
Gina: When I teach a restorative group at Ishta, I always bring attention to the breath, may times with kriya technique to draw the attention inward; Ham/ Sa, Awohan/Aharowan, Padadhirasana to name a few. Sometimes we need a “distraction” in order to focus and these help quite a bit, especially in busy New York City. While the alignment of restorative yoga is Iyengar-based and I start from the ground up, I like to add essential oils and occasionally a rotation of consciousness to help settle poses.
Mona: What differentiates ISHTA from other schools of yoga is the focus on the subtle body and the individualization of the practice. We have brought that approach into restorative at ISHTA integrating visualization, mantra, pranayama and kriya techniques into the restorative practice.
I’ve worked with Alan Finger to integrate the koshas (the five vibratory fields that make up who we are) into the way we teach asana at ISHTA.
My focus, similarly, in developing restorative at ISHTA has been on integrating the koshas;The five vibratory fields that surround our spirit are, the anamaya kosha (the physical body), the pranamaya kosha (the breath or fuel body), the manaomaya kosha (mind body), the vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom body) and the anandamaya kosha (bliss body) – we use different tools to target different sheaths. Tension created or released from any one sheath influences all sheaths. When there is tension in any of these sheaths we lose our connection to our essence. Our intension, therefore, in our practice is to release tension from these sheaths so we can rest back to spirit and bring wisdom and inspiration back into our lives.
I’ve also worked with Alan Finger to develop ISHTA’s Ayurveda and Asana material. Integrating Ayurveda into Restorative has also been one of my main focuses. What further differentiates our restorative training from other schools is the integration of yoga nidra into the restorative practice. I grew up practicing yoga nidra in India and the stillness it led me into had a profound impact on my practice and how I teach today. Whilst restorative poses relax the physical body which quiets the mind, yoga nidra quiets the mind by moving awareness through the body in a particular order. I teach Restorative/Yoga Nidra Workshops and find restorative leads people into a place of deep stillness which when followed by yoga nidra allows students to enter an even deeper state of surrender where they are able release past experiences locked in their sub conscious and unconscious.
Finally, at ISHTA we focus on individualizing the practice. We teach students to recognize their imbalances and give them the tools to find balance. We have brought this unique aspect of ISHTA into restorative – teaching teachers in our trainings and students in our classes which restorative poses, along with which pranayama and visualizations they need to find balance.
3. In your knowledge, how does Restorative yoga affect our subtle body?
Gina: The more regularly one taps into the subtle body in class, the easier it is to access in life. It is far more difficult to mediate or quiet the breath and mind on a crowded, sweaty train compare to in a hammock on vacation or a mediation or restorative class. The ability to tap into the stillness can be honed in our practice so that just assuming a restorative pose has a near pavlovian response. With those I work with privately, I can literally watch their heart rate drop, their breathing slow, their skin soften right before my eyes. It is profound change from to subtle body outward and magnificent watch.
Mona: Restorative opens energetic lines in the body because of the amount of time we spend in each pose. We have 72,000 nadis or energetic pathways in the body. When teaching restorative, I focus on balancing the energetic centers or chakras that run along shashumna nadi, the central energetic pathway that runs along the spine. Each of these chakras governs a different segment of the body and has two gates, a back gate and front gate. Energetic imbalances in these chakras lead to imbalance in our lives and are reflected in the physical body. Restorative poses begin to correct energetic imbalances first by rebalancing the physical body. When combined with specific Kriya techniques they can be very effective in rebalancing the subtle body.
For instance, someone with a block in the the heart chakra might round their shoulders closing of the front of their chest feeling depressed and resentful. A restorative pose that corrects the physical imbalance such as supta bada konasana and opens the chest would begin to start rebalancing the heart chakra. When combined with say a sat yum mediation, a practice to let go of emotional blocks, it would work at a much deeper level.
4. As far as you know, what are good keys to think about taking up Restorative yoga? Are there people who shouldn’t do Restorative yoga? Can it be done safely at home?
Gina: The necessary tools are comfort, support, darkness, warmth and security. Adjustments must be made for each person, in each pose, on any given day. We change subtly from day to day and so should our approach. Someday support comes from a firm block beneath a bone, other days a soft blanket curled around the head; some are physical, some emotional.
Mona: Restorative helps to release tension on a physical, mental and emotional level. Since our bodies store all our past experiences, when we let go of the holding in the physical body we often have strong emotional releases as suppressed emotions bubble up. For this reason it’s very important to create a very supportive environment. Students often come into restorative on overdrive. Music, candlelight, essential oils and gentle asana can help slow down their energy in preparation for restorative postures. When students have trouble surrendering, visualizations, breath awareness and body scans are useful tools to help still the mind.
Restorative postures are a powerful way of rebalancing our energy. Back bends lift our energy, forward bend calm our energy, twists calm the nervous system and help with digestion and inversion quiet the mind – we can choose from a variety of poses to help rebalance our energy. Restorative can be practiced by everyone. Pillows, books, blankets, towels – anything that helps support the body can be used to create a restorative pose. People who aren’t physically able to practice asana, such as the elderly and physically challenged can practice restorative and reap the benefits of deep relaxation and energetic rebalancing.
Restorative can be done safely at home, but since poses are held for an extended period of time, a teacher or a basic understanding of restorative is important. Holding postures for an extended period of time when not correctly aligned can lead to physical and energetic imbalances and sometimes even injury. There are poses that are not appropriate for different physical and emotional issues. For example, a person with a heart condition might not want to practice an inversion, a person with lower back sensitivity may need to modify a restorative forward bend and someone with an anxiety disorder may need to modify a backbend. So whilst restorative is excellent as a home practice, an understanding of the alignment of restorative postures and the benefits and contraindications of each pose is very important.
THANK YOU Mona, Gina, Alan Finger and everyone that made the book come to life!