Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
In YJ’s newest course, Restorative Yoga 101, Jillian Pransky, director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga teacher training for YogaWorks and author of Deep Listening, will have you rethinking rest one deep breath at a time. This four-week program offers students an in-depth look at eight essential poses that will help you elicit the relaxation response, simple prop setups that will help encourage deep mind-body release and healing, guided meditative sequences and breathing exercises, mind-body alignment lectures, and personal inquiry. Eager to learn more? Sign up now.
Think restorative yoga is an easy, “recovery” practice akin to a candlelit massage? On the contrary, it’s actually an advanced practice, says Jillian Pransky, director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga teacher training for YogaWorks who leads Yoga Journal’s upcoming online course, Restorative Yoga 101: Journey Into Stillness With the Tools and Practice to Heal, Restore, and Rejuvenate.
“While restorative yoga is a healing practice, it’s not just a physical ‘recovery’ practice,” Pransky says. “People think, ‘I did my five vigorous yoga classes, now I deserve a treat.’ They think of it as a massage or a pampering. Or if you’re sick or injured and you can’t get to regular vinyasa class, people think restorative yoga is ‘all’ you can do. On the contrary, I think it’s the most advanced practice.”
Here, Pransky explains four of the main benefits of restorative yoga, and why it’s an essential antidote for our fast-paced, stressed-out lives.
4 Big Benefits of Restorative Yoga
1. Restorative yoga helps us cultivate the skill of conscious relaxation.
A restorative practice is more of a yin style of yoga, as opposed to more yang styles that involve more movement and more muscular effort, Pransky says. Restorative yoga uses long-held, supported resting poses to create the conditions for us to cultivate the skill of conscious relaxation and most importantly to release unnecessary habitual tension in the body and mind. It’s a little bit closer to a meditation practice than a movement practice—it’s a way of practicing “meditation” as a somatic, embodied experience. For many of us, hatha yoga practices can easily become another opportunity to over-effort or get caught up in accomplishing or striving to get better at a pose. Restorative yoga is about, “How can I let my body and mind unwind? How can I do less?”
2. Restorative yoga helps us discover where we are holding tension.
The actual effort involved in restorative yoga is the willingness to look at how and where we are holding tension, and to relax our body on the ground, allowing the breath to come in more, so the tension that we find can be softened or less gripping. Discovering where and how we hold tension helps us find room for change, so that tension won’t limit our physical, emotional, and mental wellness and our comfort in our body.
We tend to favor activities that ask us to use our muscular body, but we are already doing that all day. In restorative yoga, we let go of all muscular effort, trust the earth to hold us completely, then if we find we are still holding ourselves up somewhere, we let go again in the next breath. This creates deep release and ease in the body and teaches us how we keep working and doing even when it’s not necessary, so we go back into our regular activities in more articulate and wise ways.
3. Restorative yoga creates the conditions for the relaxation response to kick in.
The grounding; complete, full breathing; and quietness of restorative yoga help us elicit the relaxation response, a neurological response that tells us we are safe, pulls us out of “flight or fight” mode, and initiates the body’s self-healing process. We switch over from worrying about staying “safe” to fostering the longevity systems of longterm health, including digestion, elimination, reproduction, growth and repair, and immunity.
4. Restorative yoga helps us face what we are avoiding about ourselves.
Most of us are programmed to “do” a lot—it keeps us engaged and makes us feel productive and in control. But our habit of running around, conquering our to-do lists, and fueling ourselves with coffee and ambition can often be a way we avoid deep discomforts and unwelcome feelings in the body and mind. Restorative yoga asks us to stop engaging in all the doing and face what we really need to look at about ourselves. To learn about, befriend, and care for the whole of ourselves in a way we are not used to. This is an essential step for health and healing, for true renewal. A lot of people think relaxing is about letting go, but rather than throwing out, we are trying to make space for what’s uncomfortable and to allow more space for the full experience of who we are.