I have to admit that I was somewhat confused the first time I ever tried a Restorative yoga class. On the way into the studio, the teacher asked us to grab 2 blocks, 3 blankets, a strap, a bolster, a sandbag, and some other props that I can’t even remember.
“What the hell is going to happen in here,” I thought. I had no idea what was going on or how to use any of this stuff.
At the time I hadn’t been practicing yoga for very long, and the only style of yoga that I had ever tried was Power yoga – one of the fastest, most vigorous styles where yogis often see the use of blocks or any props as a sign of weakness.
Understandably, athletes and “Type A’s” are drawn to Power yoga. At the time, however, I didn’t realize that Restorative yoga was doing more for my body than anything else I was trying at the time to recover, including improving my diet and sleeping more. It also did wonders lowering my stress and anxiety levels, and noticeably improved my digestive health.
And as you should know by now, recovery is at least, if not more important than the workout itself if you want to get stronger. Lack of recovery can lead to overtraining, reduced performance, excessive inflammation, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance, digestive dysfunction, and more.
While there are many ways to recover from exercise, calming the nervous system through yoga and meditation is an often overlooked but scientifically supported methods. It’s important to know, however, that some forms of yoga are better than others when it comes to recovery.
Restorative yoga is one of the two best styles of yoga that can help an athlete recover from exercise, the other being Yin yoga.
So what exactly is Restorative yoga? Why is it so effective for recovery and why should you try it? Read on for the answers.
What is Restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga is designed to do exactly what the name implies: restore your body. All poses are done on the ground, and they can be held for 5, 10 or even 20 minutes, so you might only do about 4 poses in an entire class. This sounds like an extremely long time to hold a yoga pose, but they are all held in extremely comfortable positions using props for support. It is a physical and mental practice of finding stillness. Allowing yourself to be still and quiet can actually be the hardest part for most people, especially people who are very active and goal driven.
Why is Restorative yoga so effective (and important)?
Restorative poses are shaped and supported in a way that allows the body to completely relax. The goal is to relax the mind and as much muscle in your body as possible so that the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) can be triggered. This part of your nervous system (also known as the “rest and digest” system) it is in control when the body is in a relaxed state not under stress. It is responsible for regulating functions in the body that are performed at rest, such as maintaining homeostasis (i.e. keeping the body’s systems in balance), digestion, repairing cellular damage.
The counterpart to the PNS is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which you may already know by its common name, the “flight or fight response.” The SNS is triggered when the brain reacts to a perceived stressful situation, whether it be an encounter with a bear or sitting in two hours of traffic. When the SNS is activated, the body goes into a biochemical state that is not conducive to repair or recovery.
Animals, including humans, evolved to spend most of their lives with the PNS in control. Unfortunately, living in a chronically stressed state has become “normal” in our society, and most people live with their SNS activated all of the time. This can not only lead to chronic disease, but it will not allow your body to recover from exercise efficiently.
Exercise in moderate amounts is usually a healthy stress on the body, as long as the body given an opportunity to repair itself. If after your ride or workout you go directly to your stressful job, or your stressful kids, or your stressful fill-in-the-blank-here, you won’t give your body an opportunity to repair itself and recover.
Restorative yoga gives the body an opportunity to recover by eliminating physical and mental stress, which gives your body a chance to go back to the parasympathetic state, the state the body should be in most of the time.
If you feel like you are struggling to get faster on the bike or are simply over-stressed in general, give Restorative yoga a try. Perhaps, dare I say, replace it with one of your workouts. Be sure to find a teacher who is certified and knows how to teach it properly (e.g. like yours truly) so that you get real benefits. It might just be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself.