I went to my first Restorative Yoga class at a local yoga studio and as I was walking to the class, I was contemplating the title of the class. How is a yoga class ‘restorative’ and what exactly is it restoring anyway?
An article on DoYouYoga states “restorative yoga helps an unhealthy body, or an injured body, restore itself back to normal, back to healthy, back to uninjured.” When I read that definition, it suggests that EVERYONE will benefit from taking this class. Due to our overly sedentary, excessively repetitive jobs or lifestyle our human race, most bodies are unhealthy or injured on some level.
While not everyone has pain, I have yet to see a single body, in my career and studies as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, that does not have compensations or restrictions which reflects their lifestyle and movement patterns. My own body is no exception.
These compensations change, just as your movement does, with different seasons of life. In my season of life right now, I am constantly breastfeeding or holding my baby girl, writing on the computer, or working with patients. All of these postures have me rounding forward, around my baby or towards the patient or computer. I am assuming this posture for long periods of time in my day to day life, and because of that, my body begins to adapt to it. My body notices the return to this position over and over again, so it begins to tighten muscles and fascia in the anterior or front of my body, while the posterior muscles, the muscles on the back of my body, lengthen and thus, lose strength.
It can be frustrating to feel the body’s restrictions as they start to set in. It is also tough to notice that these changes limit our abilities to do other things well, outside of this forward posture. But, our body is doing its job to be most efficient at what we do most often.
Now that we know that the body conforms to the demands we place on it, we can use that to our advantage! We can restore the body back to its true anatomical position, a position of balance and neutrality, by doing postures or movements opposite of our norm. In the example used above of a posture that is rounded forward, it would be wise to counteract that posture by spending time in postures that open up the anterior chest, move the arms away from the side of the body and even slightly behind the body. This posture described is now the opposite of the posture I spend so much time in.
When you assume a posture or do a movement that is new or different than your normal, the body will try to wiggle out of it, to a more comfortable, sustainable one. This happened to me frequently in my restorative yoga class. I had to remind myself that it is the body’s job to be energy efficient! Our body does not want to work hard to maintain a posture for an extended period of time if it can achieve the same task in a less demanding position.
This is where the body-mind connection becomes so important. At that moment, the body does not focus on the big picture, it simply knows that this posture is not sustainable for a long period of time so it will find a posture or position that is. However, our mind can see the bigger picture, which is why we must use it to convince the body right back into that challenging posture. We know that the body needs to be restored back to its ideal alignment and that the longer we hold the new pose or posture, the more normal it will be for the body.
It is important to do the work necessary to restore our body as close as we can get it to its norm. It is always harder to play catch up, erasing years of repetitively sustained posture than to simply minimize the effects of the posture you maintained today. Restoring the body daily allows you to analyze the posture you maintained the longest and do the opposite! If you wait years, you’ll have more prolonged postures and compensations to peel back before you are able to find that beautiful, highly desired natural balance!
Our bodies are made to change and even maintain positions and postures. The problem is not that the postures are bad, but rather too repetitive and prolonged that it now becomes our new normal. However, it is not normal. It’s off balance, out of alignment with our anatomical normal-and will begin to cause little problems that if not solved, will become bigger problems!
Find RESTORATION today! Ask yourself these questions:
- What position or posture am I in daily?
- How long am I in that posture…or a similar posture?
- What does that posture look like?
- How can I move in the opposite way of that posture?
- How long do I need to maintain the opposite posture before I feel RESTORED?
-This answer will vary based on how long this posture has been your norm and how much you have done about it already! Start hanging out for a few minutes in the opposite posture. Be mindful while stretching. Have you noticed a decrease in the discomfort? Is that because you have experienced a release or is it because your body has found a way to wiggle out of the work?
6. Return to standing and walk tall. Re-evaluate how your feeling and what your body may still need. Then repeat!