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What is restorative yoga?

In the previous post, we touched on Why we use props in yoga. The props are essential for helping us approach the poses with safety. But we also use the props to help facilitate a more profound effect through the awareness of the breath.

When we are doing active poses, and not holding still very long, it is difficult to feel the subtlety of the breath. Try this –> stand with your legs together and lift your arms up over head multiple times. While you are lifting and lowering your arms see if you can notice the breath. Is the breath short and quick? Or is it long and smooth? My guess is it’s probably short and quick. My guess is also that it’s nearly impossible to try to guide the breath to do anything except move in and out. There’s no subtlety.

Subtlety in the breath requires stillness

The first step in learning how to develop long smooth breaths is to hold still. Stop moving your arms, keep them down by your side for awhile a minute or two and you will notice it’s easier to deepen the breath. It’s easier to take a deeper, more profound breath.

Iyengar Yoga is not just one type of approach. Iyengar Yoga has a lot of variety which is dependent on the students ability, age, mental state and physical health. On any given day the classes will vary in tempo; some days the poses are done quickly with little to no props and other times more slowly and with more instruction. Occasionally the poses are done very (very) slowly with longer holds and more support from props. This slower approach can sometimes be referred to as restorative yoga.

The props help you hold still

Restorative Yoga College Hill Yoga Cincinnati
An example of a pose, supported by props, allowing the student to be still for longer.

Restorative yoga is an Iyengar Yoga approach where you do a small amount of poses each for five more more minutes. Very often the entire body is supported by props so that the body can relax completely (see image). The body can relax and also be still. When still, the breath, which is often invisible to us, can then be brought to the forefront of our consciousness.

Spending 1-1.5 hours supported by props observing and deepening the breath has a profound affect the mind, mental health and overall physical health. It’s a good idea to do a restorative practice at least once a month or every six weeks or so. All types of yoga practice is more profound and beneficial when it’s done on a consistent basis. So when you do a restorative practice more often the benefits are longer lasting.

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