When I was in training at Miami Power Yoga I was often the first person to arrive and the last to leave. I was teaching classes, finding my zen folding towels, and sitting for hours of lecture. One evening my teacher’s then-girlfriend approached me with a hint of panic in her eyes.
“Can you cover the last class? I’ve taught seven classes today and I’m losing it.” I had been up since sunrise for a week but acquiesced immediately. My teacher disagreed, insisting I rest. He took his girl to a corner and began to stockpile bolsters, blankets, blocks and a washcloth. I watched as he set her up in the most nooky, cozy, mat-bed I had ever seen: with bolsters under her knees and spine, blankets supporting her arms and covering her whole body, a washcloth over her
eyes, she was unrecognizable, untouchable, completely cut off from the high-energy yoga class taking place around her.
I had literally never witnessed anyone use a bolster. Once, a teacher had slipped one under my pulled hamstring while I rested unaware in savasana. I fell a little in love with her, wondering how she had known I needed the support. When I got back from training, and awoke in my own bed, I left it immediately for a nearby restorative yoga class. Thus I met my second teacher, the woman who has led me through my journey into yin yoga and restorative, the gentle, therapeutically sequenced and highly propped flow developed by BKS Iyengar.
Restorative yoga has the particular effect of targeting the parasympathetic nervous system, the section of the nervous system that opposes “fight or flight” and allows us to rest. PNS activity could be described briefly as all “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” actions. In the Yoga Journal article “Positively Prana” veteran teacher Rod Stryker explains that “vigorous vinyasa, backbends, handstands, and arm balances are powerful and beneficial, but they don’t stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system as much”: “To build your parasympathetic nervous system, you need to do poses that encourage deep relaxation, such as forward bends and hip openers; do fewer standing poses; and do more sitting, supine, and prone postures as well as inversions. You also need to hold poses longer, as you would in restorative yoga, and dedicate longer periods of time to developing slow and complete breathing. “
Not all yoga has to make you break a sweat. There are days when the thought of a vivacious, peppy flow makes me nauseated. If you’re trying to function on the belief that there are no days off from yoga, then you need restorative. If you work, if you are a student, if you have a family, if you are a human, you need restorative.
You need pillows and blankets and dim lights and a soft voice guiding you though asanas that feel like advanced snuggling. Challenge yourself for real: slow down, and explore this softer side of Iyengar yoga. Go find some restorative, and take a rest. As I love to tell my students: you really, really deserve it.