My favorite kind of home makeover shows are where they find something really valuable and unexpected under some badly designed wall or worn out carpet or boarded up fireplace.
Yoga practice is like this kind of makeover show.
We aren’t building a new house from scratch.
We are peeling away all of the layers of no longer useful stuff that covers up the brilliant stuff within.
And sometimes that process is very sweaty and full of hard work.
The Sanskrit word haṭha (as in Hatha Yoga) is sometimes translated as the metaphoric joining of sun and moon. However this word literally means a blow, a force, a strike, killing or slaughter.
Nothing easy about that, right?
No wonder it feels nicer to describe haṭha as the joining of the solar and lunar energies!
The Middle Path
My teacher Cyndi Lee teaches that we can honor the practices and alignment of Hatha Yoga while we walk the Buddhist middle path. Yoga is more sustainable and often more effective when we aren't working so hard all of the time.
Cyndi regularly reminds us: “Not too tight. Not too loose.”
This always speaks right to my heart.
I have a tendency to be overly structured.
Mired in details.
I've been know to take the definition of haṭha a little too literally and I regularly make things too hard.
Enter Restorative Yoga
Restorative Yoga is such a huge part of what I practice and teach for this exact reason. For someone who is predisposed to overwork, the antidote is rest.
Restorative Yoga is an entire discipline devoted to attentive comfort and rest.
The Restorative Yoga motto is:
Pay closer attention and work less.
Restorative Yoga poses look like nothing is happening.
However, as the body releases into the support of the props and the ground, we are uncovering a capacity for compassion for ourselves and our humanity.
We tap into our equanimity and clarity and mental stability.
As we get more and more skilled at bringing out these qualities in ourselves, we realize that we actually have the power to transform... everything and anything!
This practice is that powerful.
I wrote these reflections about some of my favorite Restorative Yoga poses with a hope that they will inspire you to take a conscious rest more often.
This is the Restorative Yoga pose you've practiced in nearly every yoga class, probably without even realizing you were doing Restorative Yoga.
I used to think that savasana was a waste of time. But there's so much to do, my mind would say to me, why are you just laying here!
Savasana is the best place for us to be reminded that our worth is not connected to how much we accomplish.
Lie down, close your eyes, and stop entertaining yourself or someone else.
Be really present for whatever there is to notice.
Stop avoiding whatever discomforts you are avoiding.
You do not need to constantly produce and consume.
You are a human BEING not human doing, as that popular saying goes.
I don't know about you, but this is a lesson I have to keep learning and again and again.
RECLINING BOUND ANGLE POSE
It was nearly 20 years ago when I accidentally found myself in my first Restorative Yoga class.
I'd been expecting the Ashtanga Primary Series so you can imagine my shock when the teacher asked us to collect 27,000 props from the shelf.
Once I realized my mistake, it was too late and I was too embarrassed to leave. I resigned myself to a wasted hour with no chaturangas.
This pose: supta baddakonasana.
It was like a bright lightbulb had been turned on in the middle of the night.
THIS is yoga TOO?!?
SIMPLE SUPPORTED BACKBEND
This sweet supportive heart opening pose represents a willingness to face what is ahead with courage.
Many years ago in a training I was taking with Christina Sell she said that courage has a posture:
A lifted chest and a relaxed abdomen.
That relaxed abdomen part is key.
True courage comes from vulnerability, not from hardening. This is not the kind of "batten down the hatches" bracing that might be our tendency when we expect hard or challenging times.
While Christina was teaching us (VERY) active backbends, Restorative Yoga backbends like this one are especially good at reminding us to rest and be soft when we are facing the unknown.
RESTORATIVE FROG POSE
No surprise that this is one of my favorite poses as it looks a lot like my sleeping position.
Sometimes I find it tricky to walk the line between resting and sleeping, especially in a pose like this one.
The truth is that now and then in Restorative Yoga practice, we just fall asleep. Our body's systems are so exhausted that we can't not sleep once we are comfortable.
However, the point of Restorative Yoga isn't to take a nap, despite the fact that my kids call it "sleeping yoga."
Instead we are creating moments of comfortable pauses. We give ourselves a break from the pell-mell pace of our days. This space, this pause, these moments of purposeful rest prepare us to respond to what's next with steadiness, clarity, and patience.
RESTORATIVE WARRIOR 1
We have to make time to rest.
It has to be a conscious choice.
One of the most impactful things I have learned from Judith Hanson Lasater is to change the way I talk about time:
"I don't have time" needs to be reframed as "I'm not making time."
Saying this to myself has been life-changing. It shows me right away when my priorities are out of whack.
I see so often in myself how working more and working harder is a higher priority than resting.
Saying "I'm not making time" gives me a feeling of choice and control. Time is not acting on me but I have a role to play in how I'm using the time I have.
Practice this open twist and see if the spacious feeling here reminds you that I have enough time. You are in control of what deserves your time and energy.
There is a lot to do. That is true. But we also have enough time. I promise.
LEGS UP THE WALL
Viparita karani in Sanskrit translates literally to inverted action or reversing the flow.
In yoga practice, the opposite of being active isn't being passive. It's being receptive.
I'm a doer in so much of my life. It's really hard work for me to stop and receive. To allow.
But this is the spirit of legs up the wall:
Invert the action.
LEGS UP THE CHAIR
You don't have to put your legs all the way up the chair to get the benefits of an inversion.
When I was 16, I had a summer internship as a "go-for" at a local law firm. My job was to run errands for the lawyers and staff. I delivered documents to the court house, made bank deposits, picked up lunch orders, delivered files to off-site storage...that sort of thing.
One day, the only female attorney in the firm called me to her office to pick up some documents for delivery.
I walked in to find her lying on the floor behind her desk, high heels off, with her stockinged legs resting on her desk chair. She looked up and said,
"It is a dog-eat-dog world out there. Sometimes we just have to lay ourselves down for a minute to cope."
I think of this every time I put my legs up on the chair in this pose.
SUPPORTED CHILD'S POSE
The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā tells us that if we are being burned by the fire of suffering, we can find our refuge in the practice.
I can't say that I'm being burned by the fire of suffering. Most days my "suffering" is more like a mild annoyance than a searing fire. Like when the tag on your shirt keeps poking your neck. You know what I mean?
This version of supported child's pose with two chairs is especially soothing, for the little and the big sufferings of life. Your low back will feel relief and you don't have to worry about the deep flexion in knees and the high demand on ankles that the floor version requires.
Whether suffering could be classified as scorching or just a bit itchy, this part is true: we can always find sanctuary in Restorative Yoga.
SUPPORTED BRIDGE POSE
Where does your bridge take you?
When I'm supported in this pose, I feel like I can cross smoothly into a quiet space.
Resting in body.
Settled in mind.
No sense of urgency to get anywhere quickly.
Don't get too aggressive with yourself in this backbend. Prop up on something soft. Add a strap if it takes effort to keep your knees bent and your legs organized. And cover your eyes.
It's amazing how clearly you can see your inner route when you rest quietly without distractions from the world outside.
SIDE SADDLE TWIST
The Yoga Sūtra tell us the true meaning of practice is:
1. Choosing the things that lead you to steady place.
2. Doing these things over and over again with devotion and dedication.
This is the story of Bhradvaja, the sage for whom my favorite Restorative Yoga pose is named.
When we choose to commit to a Restorative Yoga practice, we cultivate a habit of attention and devotion.
We train our nervous system to handle stress.
We subvert the narrative that our value is related to how much we produce and consume.
We become more compassionate, kind, and steady forces for the good of the world.
If you need more guidance and encouragement in finding the most comfortable restful practice for you, join me for monthly live-streaming Restorative Yoga, a Restorative Yoga retreat, or Restorative Yoga Teacher Training.