There is a Chinese proverb, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” And this truly defines what it means to be relaxed in our own skin, fully accepting of the present moment without wanting to change, add or subtract from it. Relaxation is an art and a science both. It needs creativity as well as comprehension, only then can it be fully experienced.
But let us understand relaxation itself first. If we go by the textbook definition, it means to be “free from tension and anxiety”. This means relaxation is not just a physical phenomenon, there is a huge mental/emotional element to it as well. Hence one needs to offer the system a modality that will relax and rejuvenate it on different levels.
Watching a movie, social media interactions, social gatherings etc are a great way to unwind instantly and distract us from our immediate concerns, but ever wondered why many of us have come back from a long weekend needing another holiday just to recover from the last? Wanting that staycation after a vacation is not so uncommon. We are both perpetrators as well as victims in our mad rush to find external sources of relaxation.
The truth is our body, mind system can find real relaxation only when we are not busy expending energy doing stuff. Activity takes up a lot of energy – even simple activities like chatting, talking, watching TV, checking phone, browsing internet, reading, processing, eating etc. All of the supposedly normal mundane activities we engage in during our time off expend energy and can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. Relaxation happens when we can train our body and mind to completely switch off, so that our sense organs can be directed inwards in the process of complete recuperation and rejuvenation.
Think of it like offering your body regular servicing and maintenance, so that the engine can cool down and various parts can fully shut down. While sleep will offer us a respite, often times the quality of our sleep is also compromised due to the overload of digital stimulation. Hence it is critical to invest in conscious relaxation techniques through which we can train our body and mind to relax on call.
Restorative yoga hones this ability to be able to switch to relaxation mode each time our system calls for it. It makes us slow down, tune in and sensitise ourselves to the inner mechanism so that the parasympathetic nervous system response can get optimally activated. Simply put, this is our body’s own in-built relaxation response that self-activates after going through a stressful situation. Unfortunately, due to the stressful lives we lead nowadays, this inbuilt response gets suppressed, while our fight or flight mode is constantly activated. This creates severe imbalances.
In restorative yoga, we learn firstly to really and truly slow down. There are fewer postures, and the focus is on holding each of these for extended duration until the inherent restlessness we feel can slowly die down and the mind, body and breath can calm down. To enter this state of deep relaxation, we use the help of props and allow ourselves to fully surrender to each pose. We learn the art of letting go peacefully which helps us better able to control our reactions to life’s stressful situations.
Restorative yoga can be practised by everyone and is particularly recommended for people who hold a lot of tightness and stiffness in the muscles and joints. It is a great healing modality for people who wish to unwind at a deeper level. It offers a safer and gentler way to open up and stretch the body and owing to its usage of props it provides support in getting into postures in a comfortable way.
Below are outlined a few key restorative postures that can be practised safely from home. You can hold each assisted posture for at least 3 to 5 min depending on time availability.
Supta Sukhasana (Supine assisted easy pose)
Helps relax the hips, thighs, groin and psoas region and eases tension from lower body. Allows thoracic region to open up, helping the body to breathe better and stay energised.
Points to note:
– Use a firm long cushion/ pillow or bolster for back support.
– Close eyes and allow body to be still allowing for deep breaths.
– Hands rest by side with palms facing up.
Matsyasana (Assisted Fish pose)
Allows the heart to be elevated for a few minutes, releasing tension and tightness in the region. Helps in releasing tension that accumulates through bad postural alignment through hunching over our laptops, phones or other activities that strain the cervical spine/neck region.
Points to note:
– Use a firm block or bolster. Place it right under the mid-back under the rib cage and allow the crown of the head to rest on mat.
– If the crown doesn’t touch, use a soft/ thin cushion under the head for support.
– Let hands rest by the side with palms facing up.
Provides a good stretch to the inner thighs and groin, opens up the hips and relaxes the nervous system.
Points to note:
– Place the inside of the knee on a firm block in order to feel a good stretch.
– Perform this posture on both the sides to maintain a balance.
Setubandhasana (Assisted Bridge)
Gentle inversion that allows the blood to flow back towards the heart. Stretches and tones the front of the body and strengthens the back. The placement of chin on chest helps activate the relaxation response in the body and is a stretch for the cervical spine.
Points to note:
– Place a firm block or bolster under lower back for better support.
– Let your hands rest by the side as you relax into the gentle inversion.
– Focus on the connection between chin and chest.
Balasana (Assisted child’s pose)
Calms down the nervous system and allows for a gentle forward fold helping in decompressing the spine. Helps relax neck and shoulder region and provides blood circulation to the whole spine.
Points to note:
– Keep knees apart and place cushion between legs.
– Rest head on cushion and look to one side for a few minutes and then to the other to stretch both side of the neck.
– End with placing forehead on the cushion to stretch back of neck.