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Yoga Insights

Restorative Poses And Meditation

Our asana practice doesn’t always have to be a strength-building workout or a reach for greater flexibility. Sometimes what’s needed is just slowing down and taking some time to rest. Many yoga poses can be done in a passive manner and, on certain days, that may be just the ticket to help you slow down, relax, and recharge.

Keeping up the pace of a busy lifestyle, working, exercising, keeping the house together, doing the shopping, cooking—whatever a busy lifestyle means for you—can be pretty stressful. If we don’t take the time to rest and let go of that stress, it can build up and become chronic, leading to a wide variety of health problems. Heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems are just a few. The risk of disease increases as we age, too, so it’s wise to try to reduce stress as much as we can.

As our bodies get older, there’s a natural tendency to take it a little easier anyway. You may notice that you run out of energy sooner, need a mid-afternoon nap, or that you can’t play your favorite sports for quite as long. Giving yourself permission to do a restorative asana practice, rather than a more vigorous one, is a good way to give your body a break, without skipping your yoga poses altogether.

So what makes a pose restorative? It’s the ability to get into a pose, relax completely, and rest there for several minutes. Props are essential for most poses in a restorative practice. Cushions, bolsters, blankets, blocks, straps, or even just a wall can help you do your asanas passively, making them more restful. You may also like to add a lavender-filled eye pillow for supine poses.

It’s well worth taking the time to set up your props so you’re comfortable. It may take a few different configurations before you find the “sweet spot,” so if you’re feeling discomfort anywhere, come out of the pose and make adjustments until you have that “aaaahh” moment.

For example, you can practice Sunset Pose (Paschimottanasana), a seated forward bend, with a bolster or stack of cushions on your legs. Make the stack high enough—and it might be quite high—so you can bend forward comfortably with no backache, and rest your arms and head on the cushions. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees and place a folded blanket under them. You can prop yourself up in almost the same way for Alternate Leg Stretch (Ardha Paschimottanasana).

Our asana of the week is Lying Hero, where you lie back on several cushions (or a bolster/blanket/cushion/block combination) as you rest in the pose. Lying Cobbler is another pose you can do lying over the cushions; just bring the soles of your feet together. My Flexibility DVD (Yoga for Everyone Series) has another version of Lying Cobbler using a wall, which you can make restorative simply by relaxing.

Another good restorative pose, especially if you’ve been on your feet all day, is simply lying on your mat or even on a firm bed with your legs up the wall. The eye pillow is especially comforting here, and it sometimes feels good to put a bit of weight on your belly as well—like a folded blanket or your pillow.

Be creative with your restorative practice. Choose poses that are comfortable for you, and that you can passively hold for 5 minutes or even twice that. It’s up to you. If time is short, you can even choose just one pose and stay in it, until you need to get on with your day, or go to bed. I really appreciate the benefits of restorative poses at the end of the evening. They help me wind down and fall into a restful slumber.

To make your session even more restorative, add Yoga Sound Meditation. I have several CDs and a meditation kit with relaxing tracks to spiritualize your practice while in the poses. After all, it’s one thing to relax the body, but often quite another to relax the mind. When you focus your mind on spiritual sound, and let it flow through your ears into the core of your being, you can let go of your thoughts, worries, and concerns, and truly rest in the heart of yoga.

Yoga Tools for Healing

Have you ever had something go wrong with your car? You take it to the mechanic only to find out it was something simple that you could have dealt with yourself. Maybe it was just a blown fuse or your coolant was low. Or maybe the fan belt broke—something that could have been prevented by checking under the hood for wear and tear. Yoga gives us a good way to “check under the hood,” as it were. This can sometimes prevent us from having to run to the doctor for a relatively simple health issue.

Take Your Practice Outdoors

I love waking up early on a summer morning and stepping outside into the freshness of a new day. The birds are singing as they scout for their breakfast. The earth and plants, still damp with dew, smell so inviting. The trees gently sway in the soft breeze. All of this creates a peaceful setting for some yoga practice.

Yoga Poses to Head off PMS

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Some women aren’t particularly bothered by the onset of their monthly period but, for many others, Premenstrual Syndrome can be debilitating. PMS generally refers to the discomfort, pain, and emotional swings that can occur from the time of ovulation until bleeding starts about two weeks later. Unpleasant symptoms often continue through the menstrual period as well, especially during the first few days.

Grounding for Steady Poses

If you have trouble balancing or feel top heavy when you practice asanas, it could be that you need a little grounding. For us to experience the steadiness that is part of what the word “asana” means, it’s very helpful to be aware of our body’s connection with the earth. Regardless of whether we’re standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying down, our poses begin from the ground up. So take a few moments before starting each pose to feel your body’s points of contact with the earth.

Explore the Effects of Your Breath

Breathing is a subtle process that occurs every minute of every day, yet we often take it for granted. The breath is actually a very powerful tool that we can use in various ways to enhance our yoga practice.

Our lungs are large air sacs, each one approximately the size of a football. When we fill them with air, they give us a sense of buoyancy. If you’ve ever floated on your back in a pool, a lake, or in the ocean, you’ll notice that it’s much easier to stay afloat when your lungs are filled with air. You can use this same sense of buoyancy when practicing asanas.

Let Your Poses Blossom from Within

If you want to really enjoy and advance in your asana practice, it’s important to feel what you’re doing, not just on the level of what muscles are stretching or strengthening, but on a deeper level. You’ll want to experience your fullest expression of each pose. This doesn’t mean pushing as hard as you can to move further into a pose so that it looks a particular way—that can actually get in the way. Like expressing an idea or an artistic concept, this comes from the inside.

Calming the Mind in Asana Practice

At the beginning of an asana practice, it’s nice to draw your awareness inward, focusing on the body and the breath for a few moments. This calm focus is an essential part of yoga. Once we’re practicing the asanas, however, it’s common for the mind to wander. It’s not that we necessarily start thinking about other things on purpose, but the mind wanders nonetheless.


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