This past weekend, I had the great privilege of spending a few hours learning from a brilliant teacher named Sam Rice. Her workshop was called “Harbor of the Heart” and at the beginning, she offered this as the definition of the word harbor:
a place of security and comfort
a part of a body of water protected and deep enough to furnish anchorage
While the posture work we were doing was deep and active and full of precise and and intentional alignment cues designed to take us into a deep place with backbends, the whole time I was thinking about Restorative Yoga.
(But not for the reasons you might be thinking. It wasn’t like “Help me! I can’t possibly do ANOTHER wheel pose! When is savasana?!?” Though actually, after the 12th wheel pose, there might have a been a bit of that too!)
I was thinking about savasana because these two definitions of harbor describe EXACTLY what we are doing in Restorative Yoga.
First, the props create a safe haven, a place of security, and comfort.
That security and comfort communicates to our nervous system that we have entered protected space.
We hold the poses for such a long time in order to plumb the depths of the consciousness, and to anchor ourselves there.
It might be tempting to think that this is the whole game of our yoga practice: To get super comfy and supported and then to anchor ourselves and hold fast to those deep places in ourselves.
Who needs to face the outside world? It’s hard enough to deal with the dark places within. Why not just drop anchor, batten down the hatches, and stay until we’ve sort it all out?
Many a yogi have renounced their worldly possessions and attachments to do just that.
But our life as modern householders doesn’t really give us that option.
We have jobs, and families, and responsibilities to each other and the world.
Instead, our yoga is to find that protected space, to seek out and create a comfortable place where we can let go safely.
In the harbor of our Restorative Yoga practice, we drop in to the deep waters and we give ourselves time to rest and to notice what we notice.
When our lives and the world around us require it, we pull up the anchor and head back out into the open waters.
It’s only when we leave that safe and quiet harbor to face the problems of our lives in the world that we can really assess the efficacy of our practice.
If what we learned about ourselves in that deep, quiet, and protected place helps us navigate the relationship with ourselves and others in the world with more clarity, compassion, and ease, then we will have succeeded.
And when it doesn’t, we head back into the harbor to rest some more.