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For many of us, long restorative holds can be deeply relaxing, but for some people, being still for extended periods and entering the pratyahara state can result in a feeling of discombobulation or distress. This may be because they’ve lost their proprioception—awareness of their physical body in time and space. When receptors in our skin, joints, muscle tissues, and fascia known as proprioceptors are stimulated, our brain receives information about our body position and our body’s movements. But no movement—and therefore no information—can be disorienting for some people. Related to this, while the physical body is still, the mind can become (or at least appear to be) more active. With no distractions, any thoughts or emotions you have been suppressing can race to the surface.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t practice restorative yoga. In fact, when you’re going through a tough time, feeling anxious or experiencing chronic stress, restorative practices can be particularly beneficial. In the case of a racing mind or anxiety, relaxation helps to reduce physical tension, which can then enable you to control your reactions. That said, we are all individuals and it’s important to note that you might need to engage in a more active practice to help you relax. There are things you can do to adapt and tailor your practice to your needs, but it is important to do what feels right for you. Here are some suggestions to consider.
Add movement to ease yourself in.
Before you begin your restorative yoga practice, incorporate movements like a Cat-Cow flow, seated spinal rotations, or twists.
Try progressive muscle relaxation.
This involves tensing muscle groups in your body and then relaxing them. You may find that doing this before you settle into a Restorative pose helps to facilitate relaxation.
Take shorter holds in the pose.
Whatever pose or poses you would like to practice, you can start with as little as a minute or eight breaths in a posture.
Keep your eyes open.
Instead of covering your eyes, soften your gaze to something in your eyeline. Softening your gaze will allow the muscles around your eyes to be relaxed.
Add weight to your body.
This can be covering up with a blanket, resting folded blankets on your body, or wrapping parts of your body with a blanket as though tucking yourself in to create a sensation of being held. This can also provide proprioceptive input.
Ground the soles of your feet.
Allowing the soles of your feet to be in contact with a surface like a wall, the base of a sofa, a block, or a hardback book can create more of a sense of feeling grounded. Having the soles of your feet on a wall in a variation of the Legs Up the Wall pose, for example, can provide a feeling of standing on solid ground even though the body is supine.
Add mindful movement during your practice.
If it feels good and safe for you to do so, incorporate some gentle, mindful movement while you’re in the pose. This could be done as a way to help you settle into a pose, or as needed when you are in the posture. For instance, depending on the pose you’re in, this movement could be gently circling your wrists or ankles one way and then the other; gently turning your head to one side then the other; or turning the palms down and up. This can also be done while linking your breath to the movement. For example, inhaling as you turn your palms up and exhaling as you turn your palms down.
Remember, kindness begins with you.
Above all kindness towards yourself—compassion for yourself—is key. Your practice is not a competition. There is no one right way. What feels right for you can vary from day to day. The berating voice inside your head is not the truth. Think of how you would treat someone who you care for deeply and offer yourself that same care.
Paula Hines is a senior yoga teacher and advanced Relax and Renew trainer based in London. A former television professional and a writer with script-writing credits for the BBC, she is a columnist at Om Yoga Magazine. This piece is excerpted from her book Rest + Calm: Gentle Yoga and Mindful Practices to Nurture and Restore Yourself (Green Tree, 2022)