Friday, May 28, 2010

Open Your Heart in Restorative Yoga

By Michele Geyer

Lying on my mat in a restorative yoga class is like floating on a cloud or on a raft in the middle of a quiet lake, fully conscious and aware. My breathing softens and regulates; my bones get heavy; my muscles melt like butter on a warm afternoon; my organs, especially digestive, are grateful for the opportunity to work optimally; and my mind, after a good release, a little focus and encouragement, becomes still.

It is not a stress antidote, it entrains the body-mind to find a different response, physiologically, emotionally and mentally.

Here, the word stress is a blanket identification and source for all maladies be they emotional, mental or physical. Each level of health or dis-ease can be a precursor for the next and begins with stress of some sort. They all link like fire, wind, water, earth and metal in Five Element Theory used by acupuncturists and herbalists. The stability of one creates health in another. If we want overall health, we can begin with the body and the body will communicate to the other levels that it's time to relax. We can also begin with the mind, which tells the emotional body, which tells the physical body to surrender to this moment.

Either way we approach it, Restorative Yoga has it covered, effecting all levels and states of being. No matter where it begins, stress creates acidity, which creates inflammation, which is the foundation for all illness and dis-ease.

Back on the mat I am fully rested, my body restoring itself as I breathe and watch as the days thoughts and emotions are channeled downward out of my head and heart. There is nothing wrong, and there is nothing right. All is accepted, all is neutral. My mind is mostly quiet, save the intermittent thoughts of gratitude and "why don't I do this every single day?" passing through. In this emptiness, I begin a conversation with my soul who effortlessly encourages my heart to open more and more with each breath I take.

The position is Supta Baddha Konasana, reclined bound angle pose. It is designed to open the heart, quiet the mind and relax the body. We sink into this pose (notice how I didn't say hold this pose), for approximately 15 minutes. In this fully supported simple back bend, we connect not only with our own souls, speaking to our inner voices, we engage with each other and the rest of the world via the spiritual web of connection. The telepathic lines of communication are ignited and pulsing with energy and recognition, compassion and enthusiasm. We become one with the Universal heart of all things.

This is how we begin the class, each time we meet; this is the foundation for de-stressing and further opening of the rest of the body-mind as the 75 minute class unfolds.

Here's how we set up for Supta Baddha Konasana:

1. Gather 2 medium sized blankets folded into rectangles about 1x12x36 inches, 2 small pillows or yoga blocks and one small blanket for under your head (about 1 inch thick).

2. Lay the two medium blankets lengthwise on top of one another, staggered just a bit on the narrow ends. Place this blanket stack perpendicular to your low back when you sit cross legged on the floor.

3. Keep the pillows or blocks nearby to prop up your knees and thighs..

4. Place the small blanket at the far end of the two-blanket stack for your head and neck.

5. Sit cross-legged about 4-5 inches from the closest end of the blanket stack.

6. If you can, instead of crossed legs, try placing the soles of your feet together, creating a butterfly with your legs.

7. Place your hands by your hips for support, curl your tail under and slowly roll your back one vertebrae at a time onto the length of the blanket stack.

8. Pull the smaller blanket down to the top of your shoulders so it supports both neck and head.

9. Place the blocks or pillows under your knees or thighs for support.

10. Arms are extended between 45-90 degrees with palms up.

11. Lengthen your low back gently, reaching your tailbone toward your heels.

12. Close your eyes (use an eye pillow if you like) and just breathe. Listen to your breath, feel your breath, watch it move up and down your spine.

13. This pose is gentle, easy and is not about forcing anything, not even a little stretch. Find the most relaxed position possible. It is designed to switch your autonomic nervous system from stress to relaxation. Do not push yourself to be in a position that is in anyway uncomfortable.

14. Rest here for 5 minutes to start, then up to 20 minutes as you become accustomed to it.

Try it every day and notice how you feel. Try not to worry about your thoughts, they will begin to dissipate more quickly each time you rest. Falling asleep is not part of this practice, yet if you do, don't worry. Being conscious, relaxed, aware and awake is the strongest and most powerful combination of elements to entrain the body-mind for less stress.