Latham Thomas’ Advice for Reinvigorating Your Practice: Active Rest - Yoga Journal

Latham Thomas’ Advice for Reinvigorating Your Practice: Active Rest

The author, doula, and founder of Mama Glow offers a three-part restorative practice to reset your nervous system and reclaim your yoga glow.
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Every September, National Yoga Month inspires us to get on our mats and reminds us of the magic inherent in the mind-body connection. But for many practitioners, COVID-era livestream classes have run their course.

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We can all admit there are times when we feel like the last thing we want to do is look at a computer screen. If Zoom and pandemic fatigue have all but dulled your senses, Brooklyn-based Latham Thomas, founder of the maternity lifestyle brand Mama Glow, and author of Own Your Glow, suggests an alternate pathway to reinvigorate your practice. “This moment presents an opportunity to lean into the limbs of yoga and focus on philosophy more than physicality,” she says. Collectively, we’re restless, anxious, even sluggish; full of uncertainty about the future. Plus, she adds, “a lot of people are bored with their practice and say that it’s just not as fulfilling.” But there’s a silver lining to coronavirus lockdown, according to Thomas: By slowing down and leaning into unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings, we tune in to what it is we really need in order to thrive. This “reprogramming” can help us reignite our inner spark and reclaim our lost yoga glow. “Your emotional body wants to rest—so how can you practice active rest?” she asks. “How much space can you make for yourself? What would it feel like to center your needs—not your physical needs, but your psychic needs? Use that as a compass for wisdom. Reclaiming your yoga glow is about expanding your capacity to receive.”

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Everything we would normally do to anchor ourselves in times of stress, anxiety, or tension—like gathering in our yoga classes, embracing our friends and families, and being in proximity to other living, breathing, bodies—has been missing from our lives for months. “There’s collective mourning—a weight, a heaviness connected to everyone, we are all feeling the effects of the same set of circumstances, but in different ways all at the same time,” she says. “We’ve been cooped up inside—but we’ve also had to deal with what’s happening in the world around us—and we’re not getting the community lift that we’re used to.”

Thomas says the invitation now, for all of us, is to listen to what’s happening inside of us. “What does our internal landscape look like at this moment?” she asks. “There is another pathway that is also yoga—it’s going beyond what is challenging us in a different way that’s not necessarily physical.”

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What Is Active Rest?

For Thomas, the practice of active rest begins by giving ourselves permission to feel rather than think. “In this time of quarantine and unrest, it's important to anchor ourselves in possibility, revel in grace, and embrace the energy of ease,” she says. By channeling emotional intelligence, we defer to the parasympathetic nervous system to ascertain the style of embodied practice that will work best for us at the moment. “We can reclaim an intentional practice around rest that is more reflective and less robotic,” Thomas says, adding that active rest can include movement.

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It’s possible that our yoga practices have mentally prepared us for this very moment in human history. Thomas says that in 2020, the practice serves as a reminder that it’s OK to lay in bed and sleep a little longer and that it’s OK if you’re exhausted—because there are plenty of reasons to be exhausted. “There is wisdom in listening to what your body needs,” she says. “Don’t just show up to your mat—but show up to your life and tune into the landscape that yoga philosophy teaches us all about.”

Thomas says her COVID-era practice is very different than it used to be—it’s quiet and solitary and continues to ebb and flow. “I would not be surprised if we start to see more active rest classes in 2021 when we can go back into the world,” she says.

For a journal to keep track of gratitude, try Good Days Start With Gratitude: A 52 Week Guide To Cultivate An Attitude Of Gratitude

The somatic work that Thomas has been exploring in recent months—especially during moments of anxiety and uncertainty—connects the body with higher consciousness. For National Yoga Month, and just in time for essential Fall grounding, Thomas shares her three-part practice for active rest and relaxation. The practice should take about 15–20 minutes from start to finish—or longer if you need it. “The body is so powerful because it’s the arbiter of safety, security, and belonging—and this practice invites us to attune to our bodies, feel your way through, and figure out the pathway that makes the most sense for you,” Thomas says.

It's not too late to join us for our National Yoga Month program for recommitting to your practice—whether that's five minutes of active rest a day, a quick pranayama or meditation, or a full asana class. 

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Latham Thomas’ 3-Part Practice for Reclaiming Your Yoga Glow

1. Self-Inquiry

Set up a sacred space in your home—if you haven’t already—and lay down on your mat using as many props as you need so you’re cozy and comfortable. You might also try this practice outdoors, laying on the earth to recharge. As you deepen your breath and open yourself to the wisdom of your body, imagine sending breath to each part of your body starting from your feet, legs, knees, et cetera, all the way up to your head. As you breathe and listen, reflect on what you can learn about your body when you take the time to listen to it. Ask yourself the following questions for self-reflection:

Where do I feel joy in my body?

Where am I soothing myself?

Where do I feel constriction?

Where am I feeling open?

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2. Vocal Toning
Once you’re calm and centered, continue elongating your breath, but with each exhale, release a gentle humming sound with your lips closed. Vocal toning is not harmonic, Thomas says, but a single solitary note that’s closest to your speaking voice. Each humming sound generates an internal massage for the body and stimulates the vagus nerve. Vocal toning slows down the body and brain waves and grounds the nervous system. The throat (vishuddha) chakra is also activated, increasing the capacity for truth-telling. By empowering your voice, you can actually listen to your inner voice, Thomas says—what’s been buried beneath the surface that you haven’t spoken aloud will start to reveal itself. For beginners, Thomas advises starting with 5 minutes of toning, and over time, as plasticity increases, increasing to up to 10–15 minutes. When you allow yourself to feel versus think and enter a state of total relaxation, you allow for moments of clarity as you move from an active brain wave state to an altered state of relaxation (theta and delta waves).

By developing this “spiritual stamina,” you’re bringing to the surface what’s uncomfortable like taking a sponge, soaking it up, and wringing it out, Thomas says. You can also hum alongside simple, repetitive drone sounds or ambient music—the Insight Timer app or YouTube are great resources. You might record the wisdom that arises as a voice memo on your iPhone or jot down in a notebook. “Just letting that stuff come up is the medicine,” Thomas says.

The next phase of this process incorporates a simple mantra such as “Ah.” The throat and pelvic floor are neurologically coordinated, Thomas says, and as the throat chakra signals the root chakra to open, a pathway to creative solutions around what’s really been bothering you and what you need to remedy will emerge. This “creative vortex” is a portal that opens upon entering your personal “medicine melody,” according to Thomas. Savor the resonance of sound and sensations in your body as you go. If there’s someone in your household you can partner up with, Thomas says the experience of doing this practice head-to-head on the floor or seated back-to-back is profound. “You can feel the heat and energy of their spine and they feel yours—and you hear their voice and you entrain your voices together,” she says. “Stuff comes up just by using your unhindered voice(s)—it starts by just allowing the sound to come through and be the medicine and clearing agent.”

For a thick blanket to use during your practice, try this Mexican Blanket, Falsa Blanket

3. Intention Setting
To close the practice, ask yourself what steps you’ll take—not in a forceful, goal-centric way, but in a loving, gentle, and nurturing way, to remain spiritually anchored. Instead of a to-do list, which is helpful for goal setting, this moment calls for liberation from those expectations.

Ask yourself what conditions are necessary so that you may thrive. “We tend to set beautiful, powerful goals, but then life is layered—there are kids and homeschool, your job, etc., that get in the way,” Thomas says. “Don’t beat yourself up over what you didn’t get around to or achieve.” Thomas reminds us that the yoga of 2020 is not about pushing to your edge but reorienting your approach. Ask what it means to “practice” in every aspect of your life, not just on the mat, she advises. “It’s not about being in a set of postures, but creating a prostration for listening so you can receive what is meant for you with the tools you cultivated.”

Emerge from this practice with new promises you’ve made to yourself, speaking your truth about what you actually have the capacity to do. Thomas recommends starting your day with active rest in the morning, and if your body is craving movement, trying a gentle flow midday—though ultimately it’s up to you to decide what it is you need. Whatever your practices may be, use them as tools to be in direct relationship to yourself and to what’s happening around you—but do it in a way that’s sustainable.

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About Latham Thomas (@GlowMaven)

Named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, Latham is leading a revolution in radical self-care, guiding women everywhere to “mother themselves first”. A celebrity wellness maven, and birth doula, Latham is the founder of Mama Glow, a global maternal health and doula education company serving birthing people along the childbearing continuum. Mama Glow supports birthing people during the fertility period, pregnancy, birth as well as during postpartum offering hand-holding through their bespoke doula services. Mama Glow also offers a globally recognized doula immersion program, attended by people from all corners of the USA and 6 continents. They educate doula-trainees from around the world to become the next generation of birth workers that will transform the modern health care system for birthing people and babies. She is a fierce advocate for birth equity and works to bridge policy gaps in maternal health. 

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Pick up a copy of Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living & Crowning The Queen Within, (Paperback release: June 2020; Hay House), to learn more.

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