A Restorative Yoga Practice

With James ‘Fish’ Gill

restorative yoga practice aims to switch on our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) and thereby override our sympathetic nervous system (flight, fight, freeze response), by using postures that fully support the body with props. In a restorative pose, we feel utterly held and balanced and comfortable, and we can hold these postures with total comfort for 5-10 minutes each.

There should be no effort as we can find in a vinyasa practice and no ‘edge’ as we find in a yin practice. Instead, we find ‘Olympic level’ comfort so all of our attention (dharana) can rest in the more subtle experience of balance, safety, and effortlessness within the body, breath, and mind. In this way, we might consider a restorative practice to be a practice of effortless equilibrium and wholeness.

1. savasana
Lie on your back so both sides of your body feel even. You may like to try a bolster under your knees, blocks under your feet, and a blanket under your head for extreme comfort. Now close your eyes and rest both hands comfortably on your belly with elbows on the ground.

a) Just notice the rise and fall of the hands on the belly with the rising and falling tide of the breath. No need to breath any certain way, just watch the breath with your hands. Keep bringing your attention back into both palms on the belly each time you notice that your mind has wandered into thought.

b) Now start to lengthen and soften the outbreath, letting each exhale become smoother and softer than the last. Focus on effortlessness of breath; less about breathing and more about surrendering to being breathed. Notice that with each soft, smooth exhale, the bones in the back body become heavier, surrendering into the earth, and notice that the earth rises up to hold you, so you can soften more.

2. viparita karani
Place your legs up the wall with your sacrum resting on a bolster. Legs can be extended or knees can be bent. Feel the exhale, and the back of the body heavy with each out-breath, and imagine a waterfall flowing from your toes down through your legs, hips, abdomen, chest, arms, fingers and skull, like you are being emptied.
Start to notice that there’s a soft, delicate pause at the end of your exhalation, before the in-breath effortlessly rises. Let your attention rest softly in this momentary pause at the bottom of the breath. Notice that there is no planning needed, no decisions, no analysis. The breath just rises and falls like the tide.

3. balasana
Fold forward with a bolster longways beneath you. You may like to have the bolster lifted up on 2 blocks so it supports the belly and chest more and reduces compression in the knees, and a rolled up blanket under your ankles for comfort. Let your head rest to one side. 
Notice the way the belly softly draws back to the spie as you breathe out. Keep coming back time and time again to resting your attention on the soft pause at the end of the out-breath. Change sides with your head when you feel to.

4. chest opener
Lie back over a bolster so it supports your shoulder blades and your arms can rest comfortably at shoulder height. Place a block or pillow under your head, and bend your knees if you want support in the lumbar spine. 
Notice the way your inbreath wants to become a little more full and long because of the space your body now has from pelvis to collarbones. Let your inhale rise fully yet effortlessly, and let your exhale fall. You can rest hands on your belly again if it helps your attention to keep coming back to how effortless your breath is.

5. supine twist

Place a bolster longways in front of you and rest down forwards with knees out to the side, so you’re supported in a gentle twist. Feel the belly expand into the bolster as your breath comes softly in, and soften back towards the spine as your breaths leaves you. Change sides when you feel to.

6. savasana

Come to lie on your back again as we did to begin. Notice the earth holding you and your breath breathing you. As you bring your awareness gently back, as if leading a lost child home, allow a sense of safety and peace and effortlessness to radiate into every cell in your body.

James ‘Fish’ Gill is a yoga teacher and Transformational Facilitator.

To learn more about Fish and his work visit his Instagram @james_fish_gill

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