My colleague Sally Belmont sent me this piece on restorative yoga. I include restoratives in every class, and my students love it. My restorative teachers were Donna Farhi and Judith Hanson Lasater. From them I learnt that spending time in a restorative pose allows the organs to reap the benefit, encouraging the body to shift from ‘busy’ to quiet, repairing and rebuilding. Treat your organs, get a bolster and practice lying around on it! The photos are mine, taken in my studio. The story is by Brook McCarthy, of Yoga Reach
News flash: Being busy is not a virtue. Multi-tasking does not save you time. Filling time with a thousand actions does not mean you value it. Go slow and embrace the joy of the moment.
There’s a movement taking place around the world. It’s not loud. It’s certainly not busy. But it is joy-provoking, passion-rousing, value-aligning. The movement of slow, recently revived in 2004 by In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, is a reaction to, as Honoré puts it ‘the Cult of Speed’. Modern society makes us time-poor, with not enough time in the day to enjoy family, see friends, tend to hobbies and interests and, perhaps most significantly, to feel connection with one’s community and be emotionally and spiritually satisfied.
As a result, we see the rise of ‘slow cooking’, slow cookers, organic foods, ‘down-shifting’, ‘tree changers’, home schooling, community building, and yoga. The rise of websites based on Honoré’s work, and blogs such as Leo Babauta’s ‘Zen Habits’, show the continuing popularity of this counter movement as individuals around the globe seek to simplify their lives, making conscious decisions about which parts of modern society they will embrace or reject.
As yoga continues to proliferate into a variety of forms and combine with various other modalities (think ‘yoga and surfing’, ‘yoga and golf’, ‘yoga and…’), the move towards slow is best seen in Restorative Yoga. Restorative Yoga encourages the yogi to spend more time in each pose, to be more mindful of breath than is possible with some of the more aerobic styles of yoga, and to puts more emphasis on the final pose, Savasana (Corpse Pose), to allow deep healing to take place.
The physical benefits of holding a pose for a longer period, usually a minute, was particularly encouraged in the modern era by B.K.S. Iyengar, but benefits of Restorative Yoga are far more than physical.
“Yoga poses are used to prepare the body to sit comfortably in meditation,” says Sally Belmont, Restorative Yoga teacher. “Poses in the right combination combined with pranayama and meditations will leave one relaxed and rested but also highly energised. Making a practice of active relaxation is a great investment of your time.”
The perfection of this moment
The fifth stage of the yogic eight fold path as described by the sage Patanjali is Pratyahara. This translates as “withdrawal of the senses” and precedes concentration and meditation, the sixth and seventh steps. Withdrawing the senses is a crucial step in reaching a meditative state. We withdraw our senses by first embracing them – of using them to notice the world before actively withdrawing our involvement with it.
“Our senses are part of being human; they can never be turned off completely. It is our engagement and emotional reactions to our sensory sensations that we seek to control,” says Sally. “Similarly, going on retreat to a restful, quiet place for a week or so is wonderful but, for us to most of us in the middle years of our lives, it is neither practical nor desirable to live on retreat. We live in cities. We need to develop skills to live our lives with all the busy-ness, noise and distractions that this entails, while simultaneously being fully aware and present in each moment.”
As yoga continues to proliferate into ever more wacky and non-traditional combinations, a counter movement towards slowness, simplicity and stillness is a welcome balm.