Restorative Yoga. When less is more
For centuries, Yoga practice did not include standing poses. The practice of Yoga back in the day involved mostly floor-based work often performed, as well, without a mat under the bum. Standing poses came later on as Yoga progressively modernized its principles thanks to the influence of revolutionaries like Krishnamacharya and disciples, to address the concerns and needs of a variety of students for which standing forms of asana were not only beneficial but also extremely necessary.
Indeed, standing poses help us develop balance, focus, they build discipline, and increase our ability to pay attention to the moment we’re in; and these are all qualities we need to increase in order to properly practice and grow with our practice. But one thing about standing poses is that you can’t hold them for too long –not as long as you can hold a floor-based one that is. Which means that, when you perform standing poses, the need to change from one pose to the next is a bit more pressing. You simply can’t hold your arms up, nor your balance for that long. And this little detail has radically transformed the actual pace and rhythm of traditional yogic practice.
Thanks to standing poses, modern Yoga became the type of more dynamic, even flowy practice many contemporary students now associate with Yoga; which in turn, has made standing-work and rapid postural changes a must for many students’ practice. Yet, originally, Yoga was a floor-based practice and there was a reason for it.
Think of it. If the presence of standing poses means that one’s practice gets a bit faster and more dynamic, then, in traditional forms of Yoga like Restorative Yoga where no standing poses exist, the type of work performed during one’s asana part is necessarily a bit (if not a lot more) slower, less movement-centered. And when overt movement is ‘sacrificed’ in favour of greater attention to subtle dynamic work, what the student gains is the ability to pay greater attention to detail, having more time to actually experience stillness, connect to her breath, and dwell in inner silence.
Now, think about your life for a second. Chances are that, unless are a conscious Yoga teacher yourself or have some sort of job that allows you to lead a conscious and slow-paced lifestyle, life will often get quite hectic and stressful without much previous notice. Stress, anxiety, worry, and fear are the everyday ‘bread’ of many Western brains. And when life gets crazy like this, what do most of those brains do? They do mainly two things: they either slouch like a potato on the couch at the end of the day confusing passivity for stillness as they try to forget their stress TV show after TV show; or else, we run to the nearest gym in search for ways to ‘exercise’ and pump anxiety, worry, and stress out of our system one sweaty workout at a time.
Yet, these seemingly 'healthy' approaches to counter the negative side-effects and sensations of living a stressful lifestyle may not be all that healthy. As the science of Yoga and Ayurveda tell us, it is precisely when we are most out of balance that we tend to make the poorest decisions –decisions that further bring us out of balance. And this is very often the case when it comes to how students choose their Yoga practice.
Oftentimes, it is those students that are under greater amounts of stress and anxiety the ones that opt for sequences or styles of Yoga that put more emphasis on rapid and intense movement through fast and flowy asana work.Thinking that “because I am very stressed I need to do a high-intensity ‘workout,’” students not only confuse Yoga with fitness training, but also opt for high-intensity styles that eventually prevent their nervous systems from finding the type of release and stillness they otherwise desperately need. And so, they can’t properly meditate or sit still. The go through the moves, they perform the pranayama, but come the meditation they’re restless. They can’t stop fidgeting in their seats.
Wouldn’t it make sense to do less and experience more? Sweat less and breathe more consciously? Move less and connect to the space within even more? This is the beauty of Restorative Yoga –in a way, not all that different from the goal pursued by other modern-day products like Yin Yoga, for example. Of course, there’s more to doing less than meets the eye, and this begins with this Restorative Yoga’s ability to tap deep into the memory-bank of our bodies, as we settle into stillness and digest different emotional experiences. After all, the body is a vessel for the mind, and only when the body is at ease, can the mind truly relax. The opposite is also true. But even at a more superficial or experiential level, anyone who tries Restorative Yoga will feel replenished and tranquil immediately after. And in a world where we are often depleted, and have become progressively unable to rest in stillness, do nothing, dive within, the value of traditional forms of Yoga such as Restorative Yoga is just priceless.
So, if you’re curious about this most traditional style, come over to The Practice Bali on July 14th and experience the beauty of Restorative Yoga first-hand with Jonas, as he delivers a one-day intensive on the theoretical and empirical 'whys' and 'hows' of this slow practice.