Yoga not all about twisting in knots
When we think of yoga, images of difficult, and at times, seemingly impossible postures often come to mind.
In the practice, we actively participate in sweating it out, and learn to endure the inner struggle as we experience moments of discomfort, both physically and psychologically.
This is how we usually envision becoming stronger, flexible, and more capable.
There is truth to this; struggle in life can change us in very positive ways and, for most of us, in one way or another, it seems to be an inevitable part of life. But if this effort is all we know, a sense of balance will continue to evade us. We equally need moments of laying everything down, of passivity, of quiet and ease in life; to collect ourselves, to reflect, and to heal.
This other side to yoga that grows our strength in the gentlest of ways is often overlooked in our success-driven culture. It is the lesser known path of surrender.
A restorative yoga practice is a way of paring back physical movement, to create the necessary space to shift our care inward. It is a quiet and introspective practice, and one that is primarily concerned with cultivating our capacity for acceptance; to let go and let things be.
For many of us who live in a constant state of activity, to enter into quiet is a difficult task. As we turn down the outer noise, our inner noise can ramp up, with our busy minds taking stillness and silence and twisting it into action: problem solving, looping through our to-do list, fretting about the future, ruminating on the past, and relentlessly commenting about ourselves and the moment. Quiet hardly seems restful. Anyone who has been awake at 3 a.m. with the mind racing knows this first-hand.
We are human, and this is what our minds do. To complicate things, our sense of self is very much wrapped up in what we think, our opinions, our beliefs, and our achievements. To enter into quiet and stillness – to do nothing in the presence of all this mental activity and emotional reactivity – can feel like a threat against our very definition of who we think we are.
The mind is hardwired to avoid this, for if we are not what we do, and not who we think we are, than who are we?
We begin a restorative yoga practice with gentle, light movement and breath work to settle the body and pacify the nervous system. We then transition ourselves into supported, restful postures that require very little of us; by simply being in the posture and allowing the breath to move to the forefront of our awareness, we begin to open. Our breathing deepens and physical tensions release.
The practice runs much deeper though as we relax, with meditation bringing into clear view the state of our mind. As we soften, let go, and observe within, we touch down on our capacity to be present, even in the midst of the chaotic antics of the mind. We see it all for what it is and, as we can, we choose to let it be; perhaps from time to time experiencing the deep rest, equanimity, and freedom that this affords us.
This kind of willingness deepens an inner stillness that lays the groundwork in our life for meaningful change, not by force, but by way of acceptance and clarity.
In the midst of the current willful and driven climate of our time, this practice is not only a quiet act of inner strength, courage and resilience, it is the grounds of compassion, and our descent into peace.
Alissa Price is a certified Yoga Teacher with a specialized background in mindfulness meditation practice. She teaches the Restorative Yoga at The Sanctuary, www.thecreemoresanctuary.com.