When I was 19 I was unhappy, experiencing anxiety and depression, and felt disconnected from the world around me. These feelings and emotions took up residence in my body and I began to experience a number of health issues including problems with my digestion, fatigue and trouble sleeping at night, problems with my immune system, and joint inflammation and pain. At the time yoga was the only activity that made me feel like myself, it helped me slow down, it gave me a glimmer of joy and a sense of hope.

For the last 8 years, yoga has been an integral part of my healing journey. However, my healing journey took a new and exciting turn this past year when I discovered Restorative Yoga.

Exploring Restorative Yoga

Like many yogis, I had explored a variety of styles, lineages and traditions over the years (Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin and Kundalini just to name a few). I had tried restorative yoga poses here and there but had in fact never taken a class until I signed up for a Restorative Yoga Teacher Training with Toronto yogi, Andrea Peloso.

In full disclosure, I didn’t really know what I was signing myself up for! I just had this intuitive feeling that exploring restorative yoga was next in my studies of yoga and knew that I was interested in Andrea’s therapeutic approach to the practice.

It was love at first practice! I was able to connect into such a deep state of relaxation and I started noticing the effects immediately. I had more energy, slept better at night, was getting sick less often, and my digestion improved. I quickly realized that restorative yoga was the missing puzzle piece in my own self-care.

So what is restorative yoga? It is a practice where we guide the body into poses designed to relax the nervous system and the internal organs. The focus is not on stretching or strengthening muscles, but on bringing the body into a space of deep rest. We use lots of props (blankets, blocks, bolsters) to help support your body so that you don’t have to do any work to hold yourself there. Students are guided through relaxation techniques and encouraged to explore the stillness from a place of compassion and ease. During a restorative yoga practice you will experience deep rest, you might feel like you have entered a profoundly meditative state, you might even fall asleep!

Embracing Stillness: The Missing Link to Supporting Our Nervous Systems?

I love teaching restorative yoga because I think stillness is a missing piece in most of our health and wellbeing routines. Most of us pack as much as we can into a day and many of us experience stress and anxiety as a result. Anytime we experience stress we trigger our sympathetic nervous system. This state is often talked about as the “fight or flight” state. When we experience stress our body experiences physiological changes in order to deal with a perceived threat: heart rate speeds up, muscles contract, adrenaline is released, any systems of the body that are not essential for survival are paused or shut down (one example is your digestion).

There is of course a usefulness to this, if you are walking through the woods and see a bear, you want to be alert. The problem is that our bodies do not distinguish between whether we are facing a life-threatening situation or if we are just running late for an appointment – the physiological response is the same. While useful at times, most of us spend so much time in this state of stress (either mentally or physically) that we start to tax the systems of our body and we also prevent our bodies from exercising their own capacities for self-healing.

Restorative Yoga helps us access the parasympathetic state. This is the state where our body is able to “rest and digest”. When we are in the parasympathetic state we are able to heal and regenerate. You might access this parasympathetic state through a gentle mindful yoga practice or through deep breathing, but Restorative Yoga takes you even deeper because we take so much time to set up the body so you can feel supported in stillness.

As you reconnect with your nervous system you help support your digestive system, your immune system and your mental health. Not only are restorative yoga postures helping you reconnect with your nervous system, but there are certain postures that can also have therapeutic affects for everything from poor circulation, to PMS cramps, to low back pain and more.

What Students Say

My students who try restorative yoga talk about how deeply they are able to relax! Restorative yoga can be a more accessible form of stillness for many than meditation as we prioritize making the body as comfortable as possible. After an hour long restorative class students report feeling less anxious, sleeping better at night, improved digestion and feeling muscles of their bodies relax.

I believe we can all benefit from taking the time to be still and from the therapeutic effects of restorative yoga. Often those of us who are most resistant to slowing down and finding stillness are the ones that need it the most! This is certainly true in my own life, but I can’t tell you how learning to embrace and explore stillness has changed my health and my own relationship to my body, mind and spirit. I hope to see you on the mat so we can explore this beautiful and transformative practice together!

For Meghan’s classes check out our class calendar here.