In a culture that supports nonstop doing, many of us have lost sight of what it means to slow down. The spread of yoga in the West was supposed to be a way to remedy that…but, of course, we take it, change it, and make it our own.
Yoga for this, yoga for that, goat yoga, the list goes on. It's not all bad, I have to say—goat yoga sounds glorious to me—but have we also lost sight of the essence of this 5,000-year-old practice? Most ancient texts discuss yoga as a practice to control the senses and ultimately, the mind. Contorting our bodies into crazy shapes and nailing handstands were most likely not what these Hindu texts were referring to.
While not all vinyasa classes are this way, many of them only encourage asana—the physical practice of yoga. One of the front-runners of yoga styles in the West, vinyasa is a good entry point for many seeking to understand what all the fuss is about. But is it sustainable? In addition to eventually teaching more advanced postures like headstand and handstand, it shows newbies how linking breath to movement can cultivate a moving meditation of sorts. For us super-active types, this is great—until it starts hurting us more than helping us.
As you work to incorporate more balance (no pun intended) and moderation into your yoga routine, consider adding in a yin yoga practice, more commonly known as restorative yoga.
To complement your active, yang asana practices, restorative practice will slow down your body and mind to help you find more comfort and ease. Restorative yoga is just the antidote we need for our fast-paced Western culture.
Here are five reasons you should add more yin to your yang for the ultimate balance on and off the mat:
1. It's easier on the joints.
Assuming you’re already an active yogi doing lots of physically challenging yoga, restorative classes will give your body a break. Yogis who push beyond their physical limit in vinyasa actually become less flexible as a result—oh, the irony!
Because this style of yoga doesn’t involve very many postures in each class, your joints get a real rest from all the activity you may experience in a vinyasa class or off the mat.
2. You find out where you hold your stress.
Going overboard with athletic-induced yoga classes can stress your body out rather than foster relaxation. Restorative yoga postures allow for more time in the exploratory state of mind. As you rest in a posture for more than a few minutes, you can tune in to the subtle areas where your body is holding on to tension. That tight spot where sensation increases exponentially? That’s the feedback your body is giving you to slow down, explore, and address.
3. You'll get deeper relaxation for your body and mind.
Although not all yang practices are treated equally, the majority of them don’t spend much time focusing on slowing down and drawing the mind’s attention inward. Restorative yoga targets the body’s central nervous system. A healthy nervous system is what enables us to remain "levelheaded" during stressful times. Restorative postures will increase activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to more mental relaxation and a quieter mind.
4. Yin yoga encourages a slower pace of life.
You may have heard your vinyasa instructor mention that savasana is often the most difficult posture of the class. Have you ever considered why? Because vinyasa classes are in constant motion, there isn’t a lot of time to be still and sit with your mind. Being still is a difficult practice in our frantic world.
Restorative yoga offers us the opportunity to steep in that stillness, lends us respite from the outer world, and prepares our minds for meditation. With sometimes only three poses for an hourlong class, practitioners are challenged with fully relaxing and being still, which doesn’t come easy for most of us! And, dare I say, restorative yoga could be more challenging than vinyasa? Food for thought.
5. Yin yoga creates more acceptance in your life.
In restorative yoga, you aren’t experiencing the benefits of the practice through clinging to certain postures and how they should look in your body, like you may in a vinyasa class. The greatest benefits of your practice come from the surrender and release. With this mentality, you’re able to cultivate acceptance of your body and its own unique limitations. As this practice breeds more ease and comfort in your body and mind, acceptance emerges and can be experienced more on and off the mat. So what are you waiting for?
As our culture continues down the somewhat scary path of "busyness," our bodies and minds will benefit greatly from a practice like restorative yoga. If you’re an all-in vinyasa practitioner, I encourage you to take a leap over to the restorative side of yoga and see what happens as a result. I can almost guarantee only positive will come of it.
Not convinced? Here are three reasons you need restorative yoga in your life.