Although we may just appear to be lying on the floor with our eyes closed moving through shapes and breathing, there is a lot happening beneath the surface of the Restorative Yoga practice. We are giving ourselves an opportunity to nourish.
Our root chakra is responsible for safety, security, survival as well as deep connection to a tribe. Today our “tribe” encourages us to be stronger, faster, achieve more if we just continue, often at the expense of ignoring our own survival instincts. We trick our physiology into releasing more chemicals, under the threat of deadlines, traffic and multitasking. Our adrenaline and cortisol levels are maxed out, yet we are exhausted. Outside chemicals help mask any perceived weakness, so we can continue this tribal dance in superficial circles. Until our legs are tired, low-back aches, immune system comprised, anxious and uncomfortable, we have all felt the symptoms of an imbalanced root chakra.
Restorative yoga often addresses physical discomfort, while covertly healing wounded roots ‘in-between’. Breathing in that space beyond the physical body and thinking mind, pausing before an inhale and sighing out an exhale, along side another tribe member. Together we begin to ride the natural rhythm of our breath, letting go of personal agendas, experiencing a group intention to simply restore balance. ‘In-between’ trusting gravity from above, supported by the ground below, we are safe.
Inhale the word ‘safe’ exhale “I am” continue this mantra over and over, to gently focus the mind. Mentally the power of the practice is in the magic of just breathing. Much easier said than done. However, that is why it helps to be in a room with other students and a teacher to guide us away from our preconceived pressures, back into a natural state of being. I often promise my students they are welcome to pick up the ‘to-do’ lists’, decisions and responsibilities after class. All those phone calls and emails will be waiting for us, yet just for the next few precious moments together, we commit to our intention. That intention is personal, yoga is personal connection within ourselves, best understood by not talking ;)
Physically, we move energy back into areas of the body that have been under attack. The low back often feels the pressure from over taxed adrenal glands. Demanding lifestyle choices put us in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Releasing chemicals from the brain and above the kidneys that alter our body chemistry. Only time truly re-balances adrenal dysfunction, however we can help soothe low back tension through simple movement.
The psoas muscle is also directly linked to survival. This strip of muscle literally lives in the core of our being, behind the guts, connecting the torso to the legs from the lower lumbar to the top of the femur. As humans we instinctively tighten, attempting to curl into a ball to protect ourselves when stressed. This doesn’t make sense logically under today’s typical threats while at a desk or driving. Yet the area of the brain that perceives danger doesn’t understand our reasons. The psoas pulls on the low back and knees instigating various injuries. We can release this tension from deep tissue stretches, yin-style holds for a good 5 minutes. Along with deep breathing because the psoas also connects to the diaphragm, full belly breaths are encouraged to invite our intentions deep inside, and complete exhales to release.
In almost every restorative class we address common culprits, low back, psoas, and hips. Often we hear yoga teachers blame hip openers for feeling emotional after class, which may have more to do with the breath, exhaustion and power of suggestion. However, we actually do store emotions, especially grief, in our joints. The hips are the largest joints in the body are basically a storage bin of stress. By inviting mobility, maintaining full range of motion to lubricate this ball and socket we let go, without the drama or stories. Key element throughout an effective practice is Somatic Experiencing, to understand that issues living in our bodies might not need to be analyzed or articulated to heal.
The group intention of the restorative yoga practice is to bring the body back to balance, not balance like a fancy inversion to post on Instagram, but truly balance the whole self. Balancing our 1st chakra, our root, is essential to build a solid foundation. In class we reconnect with our own breath, assured by the breath of others around us, and a leader guiding us. Almost as a way to reaffirm our own sense of self, being safe, secure and connected to a tribe. If we are really committed to deep relaxation, we even release oxytocin and begin to shift our body chemistry. We ease muscle tension, increase joint mobility, and find a little peace of mind. All of these effects last well beyond the end of class. We continue to infuse this practice into everyday life, simply by restoring our roots, we really nourish.