Restorative yoga is very dear to me. It is, in my opinion, an overlooked form of yoga that has tremendous benefits for body and mind. I am a Certified Relax and Renew Trainer and use some Relax and Renew sequences in my restorative classes. Most anyone can participate in restorative yoga – it is excellent no matter your body shape or size, and can be modified for pregnancy, illness or injury.
In 2002, a study performed at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Denmark recorded a 65 percent short-term increase in dopamine levels during restorative yoga and meditation in the test group. Dopamine plays a big role in the brain and our reward centers; addictive drugs even increase dopamine activity. Dopamine is also associated with motor control and motor-control related diseases and in controlling the release of various hormones in the body.
- Parkinson’s disease, for example, is caused by loss of dopamine-secreting neurons
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with decreased dopamine activity
- Restless legs syndrome is associated with decreased dopamine activity
So, what is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative yoga uses props – such as chairs, straps, bolsters and blankets – to support your body completely in comfortable poses for 5-20 minutes at a time.
We work on gently opening the body rather than deep stretching of muscles and joints. This allows you to achieve a deep state of relaxation and a quieting of the mind, which giving you the chance to notice subtle shifts in the body, connect body with mind, and reduce cortisol production (the stress hormone). Restorative yoga will continue to restore your energy and calm your mind long after you have left your mat.
Why do we need it?
In today’s vinyasa flow yoga culture, and in the culture-at-large, rest is not admired or rewarded. Moving, doing, activity – those are the attributes that people find valuable. If we’re busy, we must be doing something important. Right? What do the fitness and health professionals say? Ten thousand steps per day! Thirty minutes of cardio five days per week! Yes, it is important to be physically active. We need to keep our bodies fit to be healthy. But what about the other side of the coin? What about rest and relaxation?
We live in a state of instant gratification, and don’t give others and ourselves the space to just BE. Cortisol is produced during times of stress – the fight-or-flight action. Humans have this response hard-wired to help us in times of great need. When our lives are in danger we move to “fight or flight” – cortisol production increases, which can provide us with a quick burst of energy, the ability to focus intensely for a brief period of time, and even lower our reactivity to pain. Those sound like pretty good things, huh? They are! However, the body also needs to return to a state of relaxation following a stressful or heightened event so that the body’s functions can return to homeostasis, where all the systems work in harmony.
When the body is in homeostasis it can then function to heal itself.
Prevention Magazine published a short article on the benefits of restorative yoga titled “The Easiest Way to a Flat Belly.” Research presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting revealed that restorative yoga can help reduce belly fat thanks to the reduction in cortisol production. Cortisol is a leading contributor to fat around the middle.
Suggestions for incorporating restorative yoga into your practice:
Try to add one restorative pose to your daily routine for 20 minutes
Add one 60-90 minute restorative class to your weekly routine
Restorative yoga engages the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). Studies show that engagement of the PSNS leads to:
Improved mental cognition long-term, including attention, memory, problem solving, and decision making
Improved thyroid function
Balanced blood sugar
Increase in bone density
Lower blood pressure
Increase in immunity
- Increase in range of motion
Promoting repair functions, including wound healing
Aiding in reducing depression
Reduced belly fat –cortisol production is a leading contributor to the amount of fat deposited in the abdominal region