Updated: May 4, 2019
I once taught a yoga class on the theme of restoration. I compared the difference between the act of renovating a house and restoring a house. When you renovate, you fix it, add on, make it better; you change it into something new. When you restore a house, you bring it back to its original state, usually by removing all of the layers that have been added on over the years. The house becomes new again, not by a process of adding on, but through the process of letting go.
In restorative yoga, we do our best to take off all of the layers of stress and anxiety by withdrawing the senses. We create an environment that is warm, quiet, dark, and still so that your nervous system knows that it doesn't have to run from a bear anymore. The "bear" in this sense, representing our daily stressors such as our to-do list, transporting kids to activities, pleasing and appeasing your boss, spouse, friends, family, etc...
We find a state of ease in the body. This is the best part of restorative yoga. The student and teacher (concierge) team up through clear communication and generous listening to create the most comfortable position for the student's body. This involves the folding and unfolding of blankets, the subtle shift of an eye pillow, a nudge of the bolster up or down. It is many small movements that create ease.
I recently attended a 4-day restorative yoga teacher training where we spent equal amounts of time as teacher and student in order to experience the power of both roles. As the student, I found it very challenging to ask for what I needed. I felt bad about making my teacher fetch another blanket or to adjust a bolster or block that had already been adjusted several times.
I had to let go.
To find ease, I had to let go of this feeling of "feeling bad" (it is crazy how often I catch myself "feeling bad"!) or seeming like an annoyance. Just one more layer to remove in the act of restoration.
As the teacher, we doted on our students like children, giving ample care and attention to their comfort. It feels good to nurture. As an adult without kids, it made me understand the joy we receive from unconditionally loving.
Once the student is in ease, we simply hold space. There is a magic that happens as the teacher sits beside the student and creates a container for their relaxation. The teacher is both concierge and sentinel, kind guide and friend, loving mother and mystic.
As I sat with my partner and watched their breathing, I became grounded as well. There is an attunement that happens between people, when their energies align and match the pulse of each other's frequency. I felt myself restore as I watched the student restore.
When the pose was complete, the student would remark that they could feel my presence beside them. Even with their eyes under an eye pillow, they knew if I had gone away.
After 4 days of this practice, I felt like I had given my nervous system a bath. I was in such a state of calm and bliss that I struggled to get to work on Monday morning. Not for not wanting to go, but for really feeling present in whatever else I was doing -- drinking coffee, walking the dog, brushing my teeth.
Since returning from the training, I have been practicing a restorative yoga pose by myself for 20 minutes before bed. This is also known as "shavas-ing" oneself, putting yourself into a state of savasana. Although it feels great to "shavas", I have yet to drop in to that deeper state of relaxation like I did in the training. I believe it's because there is no concierge to hold the space for me.
True restoration feels like coming home, back to yourself. The true you that lives and reside underneath all of the layers that we attempt to add on in order to make ourselves better. When really, we are already whole.
Tired Eyes? Watch my video from Instagram IGTV on the same topic.