I love watching students settle into savasana at the end of yoga practice. It's a strange and beautiful thing. Usually, people get together to socialize and DO something. In yoga, we often gather together to un-DO things. Agreeing as a group to lie down, to let our guard down, to take off our social masks, to relax, to let go, and to just BE in one other’s presence, without expecting anything from ourselves or each another. In a world that's always telling us to do more, to get more, and to achieve more, there's something delightfully counter-culture about that.
Students tend to either love or loathe yoga’s restorative practices.
If you’re the sort of person that craves intense stimulation, you probably have a hard time surrendering to yoga’s softer side. You might even find it feels pointless and frustrating. When you’re a busy person with things to do, it’s easy to think you don’t have time to lie on the floor and do ‘nothing’. And you would be right – except that when you’re doing restorative work, it only looks like you’re doing nothing. Beneath the still surface of your restorative practice, there are a mind-boggling array of physiological processes taking place in support of your health and well-being. Rest is absolutely essential for long-term health, happiness and success. Prepare to be inspired, surprised and delighted by the benefits of rest.
If you’re already sold on this idea, you can just skip down to the 5 Yoga Practices for Rest, Rejuvenation and Relaxation and set yourself to maximum chill. Otherwise let's dive into
The Benefits of Rest
1) Your Body Heals and Regenerates
When you relax you turn on your body’s healing response, also known as the ‘Relaxation Response’ or Rest/Digest/Repair response. During relaxation your body directs its energy resources towards digestive functions and tissue repair. When you're stressed, on the other hand, blood is shunted away from your organs and re-directed towards your muscles to prepare you to fight or flee from danger. When your body perceives a threat or stressor (like a grizzly bear or an angry boss or being stuck in traffic) it decides that you can digest the burrito you had for lunch later while it devotes energy to getting you safely out of that stressful situation. That’s how chronic stress can affect our health and well-being - from tension headaches to high blood pressure to digestive issues.
The table above shows a sampling of the ways in which stress creates wear and tear on your body and how relaxation can helps promote health and well-being.
2) You Become a More Relaxed Human Being
Relaxation is a trainable skill that you can practice on your mat or meditation cushion and take with you into everyday life. Learning to relax yourself can help you feel more in control of your emotions and become less reactive. It can also help you deal better with anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
3) You Integrate New Learning
Your nervous system processes new learning when you rest. All those new movement skills you just learned in yoga class? You integrate and assimilate them better when you make time for rest at the end of practice. This goes for ANY movement practice; not just yoga.
4) Rest Stimulates Creativity
Relaxation stimulates activity in the right hemisphere of your brain (your left brain is the side that analyzes, calculates and deliberates). Right-brain activation is the doorway to holistic, big-picture thinking. It allows you to connect far-flung dots and think outside the box. It creates space for introspection, self-reflection, and inner clarity.
Rest allows us to tap into our creativity, generate fresh ideas, and find new perspectives by providing an opportunity for the mind to wander and explore new possibilities. It's an invitation to inspiration. Some of my students bring a journal to class with them – because they've found their best ideas come to them right after savasana. If you feel stuck in a problem that’s crying out for a creative solution, try rest!
Honouring your need for rest can enhance your creativity and help you tap into your full potential.
5) Replenish your energy reserves.
Constant activity can deplete your energy levels and lead to fatigue and burnout. Incorporating a resting practice into your life gives you a chance to recharge and rejuvenate. Nurture yourself through rest so you can replenish your physical, mental, and emotional energy, restore a sense of balance and vitality. and approach your life with renewed focus and enthusiasm.
If you’re thinking ‘all of this sounds great, but I just CAN’T relax.’
Stop right there.
You definitely CAN’T relax - if that’s your mindset.
Now, repeat after me:
“I do enough. I have enough. I am enough.”
“I allow myself to rest deeply and relax completely.”
Your ability to relax gets better with practice. Just like you have to do lots of bicep curls in order to see muscle growth, you also have to do lots of relaxation reps to get good at it. Relaxation is a trainable skill. Keep practicing. It's worth it!
Now that we’re all pumped up about calming down, let’s get into the practices.
5 Yoga Practices for Rest, Rejuvenation and Relaxation
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is an excellent gateway into other styles of relaxation practice. It can be especially helpful for people that have a hard time recognizing what tension and relaxation feel like. For the cues to 'relax' and 'let go' to mean anything at all, you have to know how to relax and let go. PMR teaches you that. You're instructed to tense a particular muscle group, like shoulders, then to release that tension and notice how the muscles feel when they are relaxed.
There’s a two-way communication relationship between your mind and your muscles. A worried mind exerts pull on your muscles (in preparation for fight or flight), but you can trick your mind out of stress by consciously relaxing physical tension - which sends a message to your mind that it can let go too. It's brilliant in its simplicity. Also, very effective and very easy to learn.
This is a great place to start training your relaxation muscles.
2. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Savasana is yoga’s quintessential resting pose. It involves lying down in a comfortable position and surrendering your body and mind to complete relaxation. Savasana invites you to release tension, calm your nervous system, and integrate the benefits of your yoga practice. Focus on letting go of physical and mental tension, and let yourself drift into a peaceful state of deep rest.
The video above introduces you to savasana practice.
3. Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep)
Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation/visualization practice. It involves getting into a comfortable position and following the verbal instructions of a teacher as they take you on a tour of your body, breath, sensations, emotions and mind - while you hang suspended in a state between wakefulness and sleep. Yoga Nidra promotes deep relaxation, inner awareness, restful sleep, and leaves you feeling calm, refreshed and rejuvenated.
This is one of my favourite Yoga Nidra's with Dr. Richard Miller, creator of iRest Yoga Meditation.
4. Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is a gentle practice that relaxes your body and mind with gentle stretching. If you’re chronically stressed out, you've probably noticed stiffness in your neck back, shoulders or hips. Stretching just plain feels good. It relaxes you by relieving tension and improving circulation - which help to reduce stress. Stretching also gets you out of your head and into your body, by focusing your awareness on physical sensations, rather than thoughts. Stretching also has an analgesic effect, acting like a natural painkiller. The effects are temporary, also like a painkiller.
Taking time to stretch is like hitting a mental and physical ‘refresh’ button.
Try this Yin class from my online studio.
Pranayama is a yoga practice that involves breathing in specific patterns to help quiet your mind. It's often used for relaxation, stress reduction and to improve focus.
I created this little sequence of 4 pranayamas for soothing your nervous system. Get yourself in a comfortable seat and give it a try.
Slow down. Breathe. Relax. Tune into bodily sensations. Observe with a passive state of mind. By embracing rest as an integral part of your mindfulness journey, you can experience profound transformation: gain perspective and clarity on your life, replenish your energy reserves, open up your creative potential and assist your body's natural healing potential. In other words, when you make time for rest and relaxation, you DO LIFE BETTER. That's why we need to invest in rest.
Amanda Tripp, Yoga/body nerd and woman of a 1000 opinions