When I outlined the strategies for deepening yoga practice that I write about in my book, Evolving Your Yoga, I could never have foreseen the circumstances under which we would be using yoga right now. For example, the idea of renewing oneself through yoga always felt important, but now it feels absolutely vital for all of us turning to our practice to navigate these trying and uncertain times of the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic.
In this excerpt, I share the concept of renewal from the yogic perspective, including some perspectives on how and why yoga is such a critical way to fortify our inner reserves, now more than ever.
It’s based on the essential yogic teaching that the source of renewal is found within each of us. Therefore, one way to approach yoga is as a set of practices designed to help us drink from this well in order to renew our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.
Restorative yoga is a practice designed for deep renewal. My go-to sequence is below. But if lying over bolsters and propping yourself up with blocks and blankets doesn’t resonate, or isn’t possible for you right now, know there are many other ways you can touch the space of renewal. Being in nature, cooking, being with your pets, being in virtual community, being in silence, walking, running, any movement practice, reading something uplifting, learning something new, making art, and appreciating art are just some of the ways you may be able to access the state of renewal.
Remember, it’s not necessarily about the form your practice takes, it’s the principle of taking time to unplug, unwind, and release and let go that allows you to tap into the source of renewal within yourself.
I took my first series of yoga classes while working as an executive secretary in a midtown Manhattan office. This was the early ’90s, when we still had old-fashioned tape counters that would measure how much of a cassette tape you’ve played and whose numbers could be set back to a string of zeros by pressing a button. By the end of each yoga class, I felt as though my tape counter was set back to 0000. My reset included a release of the mental residue left over from the events of my day; a healthy distance from whatever current dramas were unfolding; and the clarity, lightness, and ease that come from working accumulated tension out of the body. Through focused attention to movement and consciously freeing the breath, I was ready to begin again with renewed clarity and presence of mind.
Now more than ever, we need the ability to reset our internal tape counters. We live in an ever-accelerating world that moves infinitely faster and more efficiently than even midtown Manhattan did 20 years ago. The sheer speed and volume of communication, with the infinite array of never-ending and instantaneous content, is mind-boggling. And it isn’t going to slow down or diminish.
As we move through our days interacting with the world through devices, we take our mind and sense perceptions out of the physical world. I believe that the imbalance created by inhabiting an abstracted reality for hours on end takes its toll on how our mind functions, on our nervous system, and indeed, on all the systems of the body, in ways we might not yet even fully grasp.
Therefore, the importance of resetting ourselves, of taking time to slow down, to come back to our physicality, to release stress on a regular basis, has become even more crucial for maintaining a sense of balance and harmony. It is vitally necessary for our well-being. Not only must we prioritize time dedicated to removing ourselves from the world of our screens, we need reliable and effective ways for restoring a sense of physical and energetic integration to our beings.
Yoga practice is, of course, an optimal way to renew ourselves. It (hopefully) remains one of the last places where we disconnect from texting, social media, and email for an hour or so. But even more powerfully, in practice we bring the energy of the mind back down into the body, the breath, and the organic, physical reality of our material existence. We reawaken to our primitive, sensual, and instinctual nature. We give refuge to the mind, provide a resting place for the senses, an opportunity for them to pause from their outgoing movement. We emerge with a renewed sense of clarity, balance, and harmony. The value of bringing the mind into the body and staying there for a while has only gotten more precious.
Through unplugging from our outer lives for a little while, we give ourselves the chance to actually plug into the most empowering and nourishing sources of renewal we have: our own breath, our own awareness, our own inner being. We emerge recharged, nourished, and bolstered to meet our lives anew.
Asana Sequence: Restorative Practice
In alignment-based practice, which is the type of yoga that I practice and teach, restorative yoga refers to poses in which the body is supported and made comfortable by the use of props to promote relaxation, calm, and quietness of mind. The goal of restorative practice is not to actively stretch or strengthen, but rather to decrease the effort required and increase feelings of safety and release in order to elicit the relaxation response in the parasympathetic nervous system. For this reason, the body is completely supported and comfortable and these poses are held for longer durations.
• The most important part of restorative practice is to be comfortable. Adjust or modify the prop supports to make sure you can relax.
• Once you are comfortably supported, allow yourself to release fully.
• Be mindful in every part of practicing these postures. Take the time to set up your props with care. Transition slowly in and out of the poses.
• Focus on your breath and the subtle sensations in your body and allow your senses to turn inside.
• You may simply observe your breath or, if it is helpful, use conscious breathing to focus your mind as you move into deeper and deeper levels of relaxation.
- 1 bolster (or 2 to 3 firm blankets. If you are using blankets, fold them so that when they are stacked they resemble a bolster.)
- 1 yoga strap
- 1 block
- 2 to 3 blankets
Take a moment before you begin to consciously offer and receive this practice as a gift of love to yourself. Approach it with a sense of appreciation for making the time and space for renewal. Open to allow yourself to enjoy these postures fully.
1. Easy seated pose with clasped hands overhead (baddhanguliyasana in sukhasana): 5 to 15 seconds; switch clasp of hands and repeat.
2. Easy seated pose with eagle pose arms (garudasana arms in sukhasana): 5 to 15 seconds; switch arms and repeat.
3. Easy seated pose twisting (parivrtta sukhasana): 5 to 15 seconds twisting to the right, then switch sides for 5 to 15 seconds.
4. Reclined bound angle pose (supta baddha konasana): 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Supported simple seated twist (salamba bharadvajasana): 5 to 7 minutes twisting to the right; then switch sides for 5 to 7 minutes.
6. Supported child’s pose (salamba balasana): 2 to 3 minutes with head turned to the right; then switch sides for 2 to 3 minutes.
7. Legs up the wall on floor or on blankets or bolster (viparita karani): 10 to 15 minutes.
8. Supported bridge pose (salamba setu bandhasana) with bolster, block, and strap around legs: 5 to 10 minutes.
9. Corpse pose (savasana): 5 to 10 minutes.
This article was adapted from the book Evolving Your Yoga by Barrie Risman.
Photography: Sonya Messier