Restorative Yoga: the hardest workout of all

The Imbalance Within

As a society, we have come to value doing morefastnow. Our brains are always three steps ahead of us. We live in our minds. We are cut off from our bodies. When we make time for our bodies, we do so to be "fit", to be "strong", to be "toned". We want a morefastnow workout. 

Which is fine. Important. But there is a whole other part to our bodies, to our system. And most of us ignore this other part of ourselves. We are, therefore, living in a state of imbalance.

 

SNS and PNS

I am not going to science out on you- especially because the kindest thing my high school science teacher could say at parent-teacher interviews was, "Phiroozeh has been very... consistent this year- she has maintained a consistent C-." But this stuff is really cool. And really important to be aware of:

Our nervous system, which regulates our response to the world, has two parts: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which listens to all your problems- JK. The SNS is in charge of our Fight or Flight response, meaning it is always on the lookout for threat and working out ways to get us out of it. The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is in charge of our "rest and digest" response. 

The way modern life is structured today, we're always in our SNS- always on the go, always thinking and planning and doing 400 things at once. Our workouts, the way we do them today- Cross Fit! Bootcamp! Hot power Vinyasa yoga- all instigate our already overworked SNS. We don't tend to our PNS, don't make the time for it. 

There has to be a balance in our SNS and PNS. We must "work out" our PNS just as much as we do our SNS.

Imagine- we should only be in our SNS if there is threat, yet we live in it all the time!

Imagine- we should only be in our SNS if there is threat, yet we live in it all the time!

 

How do we work out our PNS? 

Through restorative yoga. This includes meditation. Breath exercises. Slow, mindful stretches.

It is this state of relaxation that restores us, mind, body and spirit. It is this form of guided, conscious relaxation that allows for better sleep, better digestion, more quality to our waking hours.

But again, we have come to value "hard work" (or what appears to be hard work), which in fitness talk means sweat and sore muscles. We feel we should be doing something. Something hard. We should be in pain. That's what life is about.

if we are told that we should make the time everyday to sit quietly and raise and lower our arms- well, you just laughed a little, didn't you?

Um...that's not a workout

Just as people generally don't want to try yoga because they aren't "flexible", people don't want to try restorative yoga because they're "not doing anything."

You are.

Lifting and lowering your arms in rhythm with your breath brings you back into your body. You start to reconnect with your body. You start to slow down your body. Which in turn slows down your mind.

Sitting still and observing your breath (so like, meditation, but shhhh...we also don't like that word) also brings you out of your mind and into your body. Which gives your mind a rest. 

There is an entire branch of yoga dedicated to restorative postures- poses that activate the PNS.

It looks like she's sleeping, but this supported child's pose brings so much calm to your whole system. 

It looks like she's sleeping, but this supported child's pose brings so much calm to your whole system. 

 

But is this a workout, you ask?

If you've ever tried meditation or a slow, restorative yoga class, you know it sure is a workout. You're just working out a different part of yourself. It is just as "hard", too. It may not show in sweat and sore muscles, but it takes a ton of effort to slow down the mind. To slow down our body. Our breath.

Seeing the results of the workout

 When we go to the gym (and work out the SNS), we see the results: sweat. Lean muscles. Weight loss.

When we work out the PNS, we can't see anything. But we can feel it.

We sleep better. Our digestion improves. We are more alert during the day. We have more energy. Because we are more in touch with our bodies, our emotions are more regulated, we anger less. You tell me that's not some results right there.

With a little attention to your PNS, you can be like this guy.

With a little attention to your PNS, you can be like this guy.

 

Ultimately, we want to relax. We want to slow down. We are just pressured to do. By the world around us.

Do it anyway. Do you. For you.