Hello again friends!
Today I would like to talk about Restorative Yoga. I can just hear some of you experienced restorative yogis hum-sighing with excitement. When I practice restorative yoga it makes me feel like a fat cat with nothing better to do than lounge around with a bunch of squishy, comfy objects. I have described this kind of yoga as delicious and if you EVER get the chance to try it, DO IT. It will slow you down in the most comforting, enjoyable way. Alas, this isn’t helping you with truly understanding what to expect in a restorative yoga class, so let me try again with the power of STORY TELLING!
Joy was taking her first restorative yoga class at a studio in her City. She was nervous, but she had read in the class description to wear comfortable clothes, to bring water, and an open mind. As she walked through the studio doorway the lights were dim. There were sounds of the ocean rhythmically tossing against the shore and a light overlay of a string instrument. Joy sat at the bench in the lobby and began to unlace her boots. She silently worried to herself, “Joy, don’t fall asleep.”
“Are you here for the 5:30 Restorative class?” A woman asked as she approached Joy.
“Yes, I am,” Joy said with a smile. She hoped her nerves didn’t show through.
The woman across from her had a kind smile. She wore loose fitting pants and a tucked-in shirt. Her wavy hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she walked with ease. “I’m Emily Basili. I teach this class. What’s your name?”
Joy responded and the woman said, “Hello Joy, if this is your first time here you’ll need to fill out a health questionnaire and a waiver. The questionnaire helps me tend to your needs so please take your time answering the questions.”
Joy took the clipboard and forms from her instructor. Once completed, Joy handed it back too Emily. “Thanks! You can go ahead and make your way into the studio. At the front of the room you’ll notice I’ve set up my mat and several props. Once you find a place on the floor for your mat please grab the same amounts and kinds of props for yourself. While you wait feel free to do some cat-cows, light stretching, or meditate sitting or in Savasana.
Joy nodded and turned to the studio doors. As she moved closer she could smell burning sage and what she thought might be sandalwood. The room was dimly lit with a lamp at each of the back corners of the room. In front of her she saw the mat Emily had described as well as 6 yoga blankets stacked to the side and one bolster and eye pillow stacked next to that. Joy felt a twinge of excitement beginning to erode her nervousness. “This is gonna be good,” she said to herself and she began to set up her things.
At two-minutes after 5:30 Emily came into the room, closing the door behind her. She walked to the front of the room with a clipboard. “Good evening everyone. I am grateful to be sharing this space with you and I hope you leave class tonight feeling relaxed and centered. We will begin tonight’s class with a centering exercise. Come to a seated position, and become aware of your breath.” Emily continued to guide Joy and the others in the room. She told them to let the breath flow as it wishes and throughout the next hour to practice simply being. This was a hard concept for Joy to understand, but she hoped that after the next hour of class she would know better.
After centering, Emily led the class through three poses. The first was called Supported Child’s Pose. Emily instructed students to place a bolster and blanket in front of them and an additional smaller folded blanket at one end. She demonstrated how to enter into the pose by gently and slowly laying her torso, belly side down, on top of the props. She used the smaller folded blanket as a pillow for her head, resting one cheek on it. Emily then prompted the class to try it themselves. “I’ll be around to assist you,” she said.
The next pose was Supported Supine Twist. After listening to directions of how to place the props and how to get in and out of the pose Joy set her area up. She sat with the bolster to one side with the top end in line with her belly button. She inhaled as she brought her knees bent and raised her calves to be parallel to the floor. She exhaled and let her legs float down to rest on top of the bolster at her side. She didn’t feel much at first, but tried to focus on her breathing to experience more. Emily came around to each student to check in with them. “How does everything feel?” Emily asked quietly.
“It feels fine, but I don’t feel much of a twist in my spine,” Joy replied.
“Let’s see if we can adjust a few things.” Emily had Joy lift her legs back up and exchanged the bolster for two blankets. Joy relaxed her legs down onto the blankets. They were lower to the ground than before. “That’s much better,” Joy said.
“Excellent,” Emily said quietly. “Now go ahead and close your eyes and lift your gaze just slightly.” Joy did as she said and could feel Emily move to the space above her head. “Is it alright with you if I adjust your neck?”
“Sure,” said Joy. Emily gently drew her hands to the nape of Joy’s neck. She placed her hands firmly under Joy’s neck and without lifting it she moved her hands all the way up the back side, gently pressing slightly. She rested her fingertips just on the bottom of Joy’s skull. Here Emily lifted Joy’s head slightly off the floor and ever so slightly pulled her head away from her body. This movement was gentle and controlled. It was subtle and made Joy feel longer as she laid across the floor.
The final pose that was instructed was Supported Savasana. Students put two blankets under each leg, a blanket with one end slightly rolled under the neck and Emily came around to each student to cover them with an additional blanket and assist putting on the eye pillows.
Joy could feel herself fully relaxed into her props. Her body felt heavy but her mind felt light as though it was filled with space. Emily guided students through a visualization of light lapping over the body like sweet waves lapping against the shore. “Time doesn’t seem to exist in this space of relaxation,” Joy thought. Time moved on. Joy wasn’t sure if she had been laying in Savasana for five minutes or five hours.
“Gently begin to bring yourself back to your body. As you inhale, feel your belly rise and as you exhale, feel the belly soften and relax towards the floor,” Emily cooed.
As instructed Joy slowly awakened her body by wiggling her fingers and toes, rocking back and forth, and slowly bringing herself up to a seated position. While seated, Emily guided the class through a meditation technique called Hong-Sau. As it concluded Joy found herself overwhelmed with the feeling of acceptance. She was accepting of her initial nervousness, she was accepting of the parts of herself she tended to be critical of, and she was accepting of the guy next to her who snored during Savasana.
“Bring your hands together just in front of the heart. Keep the eyes closed and the gaze lifted. Say I silent ‘thank you’ to yourself for the time and energy you put forth today and send out waves of gratitude to the other individuals in this room for cultivating this space. Thank you so much for attending class this evening. May you leave here feeling calm and relaxed and know that this space of stillness is present within you all of the time. You are free to revisit it whenever you’d like. Namaste.” Emily gave a small bow.
After cleaning up her props and mat Joy thanked Emily for the class. “I’m glad to hear you enjoyed, Joy,” Emily said with a smile.
“I very much did, and I hope to come back.”
“That’s great to hear. Classes are every Thursday from 5:30-6:30.”
“Thank you,” Joy said once more. She turned to go and felt deep in her heart a new level of relaxed effort in her own skin.
Wanna give it a try? Check online with your local studios to find a restorative class near you. If you live in the Mason City, IA area and would like to attend a class with me please check out the classes tab on this website! Have a great day and be well.