I have recently taken my first 2 restorative yoga workshops, and I may be premature in saying this, but I think I might be hooked.
It shocks me to say this! I have never had any interest in restorative yoga. Then again, there was a time I didn’t have an interest in any yoga at all. And one of the many lessons I’ve learned from my practice is that the practices I have an aversion to initially often become the ones most important to me. So I’m open to and excited about this shift.
Why have I had an aversion to restorative practice? Well, one of the main reasons is that I’ve always had an aversion to using lots of props, which restorative yoga definitely requires. I’ve just never felt comfortable dealing with all that STUFF – lugging it around, setting it up, etc. That’s one of the reasons I have loved yoga so…..because all I really need to practice is my body. I love the simplicity of that, being able to practice anytime, anywhere. It’s not so much an aversion to seeking support in a pose, but preferring to find that support in the form of trees, playground equipment, the scarf I’m wearing, etc. This attitude has given me a lot of freedom and spontanaeity in my practice which I cherish and have tried to protect.
Part of my aversion to props is in rebellion against what I see as the rampant consumerism and commercialism that has found its way into the world of yoga. I have been thoroughly disgusted trying to read an article in Yoga Journal only to find advertisements (and sometimes really bad ones) on EVERY SINGLE PAGE, and dismayed at times walking into a yoga studio seeking peace and relief from the street only to find a boutique full of accessories and the familiar feeling of desire welling up….that if only I had this or that item, my practice would be so much better. Yes, I have built a fortress of stubbornness about “accessorizing” my yoga practice, to protect this sacred space in my life from the corrosive effects of the greed I know I’m susceptible to.
I’d like to just mention here, with regards to the many yoga boutiques opening up all over…..they are not evil, I know, but let it be known also that there ARE other options. One of my prime influences is the amazing teacher I did my 1st teacher training with back in 1999, Diane Wilson of Portland, OR. The only thing for sale in her studio is the highest quality yoga instruction, enhanced with homespun props like lots of knee-socks looped together for straps, basketballs, hoola-hoops and any number of fun objects that find their way into her space. She remains my greatest inspiration for this and other reasons.
Well, if I get down to the heart of the matter I can see that both my aversion to props and the consumerist aspect of yoga stem from the same place: ah, that ol’ devil, ego! As the sage Bob Marley says, “Every need got an ego to feed” – in the case of comsumerist yogis, the need for products proclaiming “I am a Yogi”; in my case, the need to define myself as a particular kind of yogi that doesn’t need props. Well – I’m ready to acknowledge that perhaps I’ve been silly and neurotic about that, and that I’m ready to break with my ego on this point.
Speaking of ego, that is another reason restorative yoga has perhaps not held much allure for me. Quite frankly, restorative yoga doesn’t do much to entertain the ego. And quite frankly, the healing that happens in yoga practice often begins at that level. For me it did. When I discovered yoga at the age of 20, I had been struggling throughout my teenage years with a coctail of depression, low self-esteem, negative body image and food-addiction. Yoga helped me to learn to love my body based not on what it looked like but on what it could do! How marvelously it could function, the beautiful poses it could perform! So, in the beginning my practice was definitely geared towards learning fancy and exotic poses, and this was healing to me on many levels. My body became healthier, my self-esteem increased, and old energetic knots came undone. I re-learned the feeling I had as a child, of feeling at home and happy in my skin, and that I deserve this feeling; that it is my birthright. What a precious gift.
As we know, yoga is a gift that keeps on giving, and an authentic practice will keep on evolving. In the Body-Mind Centering training I’m doing, we are required to take some restorative classes. And thus my world was gently rocked.
I took 2 classes. The 1st consisted of all floor poses, “easy” stuff accessable to pretty much anyone. The 2nd was more advanced, using chairs and more complicated set-ups to get into inversions and backbends. In both, we used the head-wrap, which is kind of a gauzy ace-bandage thing wrapped around the eyes and head. This closes off the eyes and gives a nice gentle pressure to the skull which supports pratyahara. I love this – though apparently it makes some folks crazy. Then we proceeded into a series of reclining and semi-recling poses using all the props – bolsters, blocks, straps, etc. The poses mostly lasted 10-15 minutes each. Some of them were effortlessy yummy. Some started out feeling awful (like the 10- minute down-dog with hands on a chair) but then became blissful (as I finally let the top lobes of my lungs open up!) And many of them were physically uncomfortable and frustrating throughout, even more frustrating because they seemed like they were supposed to be “easy”. Part of it is the “princess and the pea” syndrome – every little wrinkle in the folded blanket can be disruptive to the nervous system. And part of it is just the nature of the beast. It made me see I don’t mind working hard but I want to see obvious results, like a handstand, dammit! But I proceeded as an act of faith, and the rewards came. At the end of each class, I had the feeling of being in some sort of clear, bright, yet cocoon-like space. It wasn’t the endorphinated rush of a vinyasa practice. I could feel the delicacy of cerebro-spinal fluid moving . And I liked it. If you’ll forgive me a drug analogy….a friend and I joked that if kundalini yoga is like doing a line of cocaine, then restorative yoga is like taking an opiate. I suspect somewhere there is a scientific expanation to support this…
Beyond the feeling directly after class, I noticed that my body felt different in my regular practice. I was more in touch with deeper openings; my breath felt freer. This is valuable. I don’t know if I will ever let go of my more vigorous practices. They still feed me. But its true that my body and mind are evolving in the process of age…the gift that comes along with stiff knees and the like is a deeper and more subtle awareness. Being able to go further than ever into practice, more safely and precisely. The vigorous practice becomes sustained less by muscle-power and grit and more by that subtle awareness. Restorative yoga can support this growth.