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Stilling the body and mind through restorative yoga

Sitting in complete stillness and silence can be one of the hardest things to do. It might sound strange, but it’s actually much easier to run a couple of miles than it is to sit still for minutes at a time – without twitching, readjusting, or letting your mind run rampant.

But that’s exactly what restorative yoga asks of us. You learn to sit with that mental discomfort and find a way to face and move through it.

Restorative yoga is a therapeutic style of yoga that promotes healing of the body and deep relaxation through supportive poses. It uses gravity, combined with a wide array of props (including blankets, straps, pillows, and blocks), to naturally open the body. The more your body is supported in restorative yoga, the deeper the relaxation you’ll experience. And there is little to no movement or effort, allowing your mind to be silent.

Restorative yoga engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your body and offers a variety of benefits including:

  • Improved digestion
  • Reduction of muscle tension
  • Increased mindfulness
  • Less chronic pain
  • Lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • And an amazing night’s sleep!

Think this sounds easy? Maybe a little bit like adult nap time?

While you won’t drip with sweat or have to combat your racing heart rate, restorative yoga is not as simple as it sounds. The challenge here is that most of us are very uncomfortable confronting our minds in this way for fear of the emotions and worries that might emerge. That’s why we fill our days with work, school, parenting, tv, and exercise. Anything to keep us busy enough to avoid the vulnerability of sitting with our own thoughts.

That’s why I’m thrilled to bring a candlelight restorative workshop to Yoga Fever on July 21. Registration is extremely limited (free for unlimited members or $25 for all others), so don’t delay in signing up! From 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. Gretchen will guide you through a small handful of poses, such as light twists, seated forward folds, and gentle backbends. And you’ll be asked to hold these poses for long periods of time.

Isn’t it about time that you gave yourself a chance to truly center your breath and body? I’d love to have you join us!

Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep Better

Are you having trouble falling asleep at night? Do you wake up for work in the morning simply exhausted from tossing and turning? You’re not alone – and it could be costing you more than you think. Research shows that consistent lack of sleep can lead to associated health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and diabetes.

But a good night’s sleep is within your reach thanks to, you guessed it, yoga!

Yoga practice doesn’t always have to be an intense, blood-pumping, sweaty workout. Some of the most amazing aspects of yoga are the subtle changes you experience through focused breathing and bodily awareness. I’ve found that taking a few minutes at the end of my day for yoga and meditation are essential to unwinding and relaxing before bedtime.

So, how exactly does yoga help us sleep better?

Yoga helps us get in touch with our breath. When you slow down and hold a pose, you’ll identify different areas of your body that are tense – think: shoulders, hips, back. The longer you sit and breathe through the pose, the better your chances of releasing that tension and gradually letting go. Plus, stretching in general has a wonderful calming effect.

Yoga reduces stress. Difficult and exciting events both bring stress into our lives. Whether you’re in the middle of a demanding season at work or preparing to marry the love of your life, you’ll likely experience stress. Practicing yoga mindfulness before bed will help reduce levels of cortisol (ie: the stress hormone), reducing the amount of time you spend tossing and turning.
Yoga helps us create a routine. If you’ve ever struggled with sleeping, you’ve probably heard advice like “go to bed and wake up at the same time each day” or “don’t look at your phone before bed.” While these practices may work for some, I’ve found that yoga has the most significant impact in creating a routine that works for me. Ten minutes of gentle yoga before bed can do wonders in setting you on the right path.

Yoga helps us handle uncertainty. One of the biggest culprits of insomnia is a restless mind. Often, my body is physically exhausted, but my mind won’t zip it! I’ll stress about additions to my planner, adding activities in tight spaces, upcoming events. Adapting to a yoga-before-bed practice helps me accept where I am in each moment. And, sometimes, where I am is…awake. This acceptance that I can’t sleep actually helps me be able to relax more. It’s weird, but it really does help eliminate the anger and frustration.

Looking for a few poses to aid sleep? Here’s a sample routine:

  • Hero’s pose | Virasana – take this opportunity to lengthen your spine and open your chest. Settle into your calming breath pattern and clear your mind.
  • Cat and cow– Roll forward onto your hands and knees, flowing between these two poses for as long as you like.
  • Child’s pose | Balasana – Sink your hips back and settle your chest onto the floor. Breathe deeply through your belly and lower back.
  • Legs up the wall | Viparita karani – This helps drain acid from your legs, decreasing symptoms of fatigue and soreness. Stay here as long as you like.
  • Supine twist– This is a great back stretch, helping you relax and prepare for sleep.
  • Happy baby | Ananda balasana – Gently rock back and forth on your back to massage your spine.
  • Butterfly pose | Suptabaddhakonasana – a supported butterfly can help you relax deeply while focusing on the breath.
  • Savasana- It’s called corpse pose for a reason! Use this as the final pose before crawling into bed, closing your eyes and freeing your mind from thoughts.

Looking to put this into practice? In addition to your personal practice before bed, join us on Sunday, February 25 from 12:30-2:30pm for a special workshop on deep relaxation and mindfulness. Join Brie to learn about meditation clarification and practice, restorative yoga poses, guided yoga nidra (“yogic sleep”), and tips for staying mindful in the busyness of everyday life.

7 Common Yoga Mistakes & How to Fix Them

Our goal is to guide you throughout your yoga journey, helping you grow in strength, flexibility and mindfulness while preventing you from facing injury or discouragement. In this week’s blog we offer tips to help you avoid seven common yoga mistakes. Are you ready to get the most out of your yoga practice?

Mistake #1: Comparing yourself to your neighbor

One of the most effective ways to get injured or discouraged is looking at your neighbor and trying to mirror their pose or stretch. All of us have different body types and skill sets. The person on the mat next to you might be a former ballerina or athlete; they might have years of yoga experience under their belts; or they might be naturally flexible. Yoga is a personal journey, so there’s no reason you should be comparing yourself to anyone else.

Pro-Tip: When you find yourself trying to bend into a pose that your neighbor can do, take a moment to close your eyes, focus on your breathing and center yourself again. Remember, yoga is not about measuring your level of performance. It is about harnessing the energy to tame the mind and shedding our negative behavior and patterns.

Mistake #2: Comparing your body to the way it was 20 years ago, 2 weeks ago, or even yesterday

Remember when you were eight years old? You could practically do a cartwheel and wheel pose in your sleep. Your body moved where you wanted it to without even thinking about it. But that was when you were younger – before you sat in a desk for hours straight, or had a child of your own, experienced an injury or had a life full of stress, bills and interpersonal relationships. We carry stress and trauma deep within the tissues of the body. Limiting our movement and our mind.

Pro-Tip: Take a moment before class to meditate on the phrase: “Here I am. This is where I’m at with my body and strength today.” Always try to meet yourself where you are at – in the now.

Mistake #3: Pushing your body to do too much

Yoga beginners often mistakenly think that it will be a piece of cake. Maybe they’ve been exercising or playing sports for years. Although certain yoga poses seem simple, it’s best to listen carefully to your teacher’s instructions and ease into the practice without looking for an edge. Going slow and moving to the point of sensation as a newbie. It’s easy to fall prey to questions like “Why can’t I touch my toes yet?” or “Why is this not getting any easier?” The beauty of yoga is that it benefits you on many levels. Maybe you can’t touch your toes yet, but instead you’ve learned to modify to a better plank or breathe more effectively.

Pro-Tip: Take the most modified pose you can do correctly, in order to create strength and proper alignment rather than creating negative habits. Engage as many muscles by hugging the muscles to the bone throughout the entire practice. Instead of going deep, go strong.

Mistake #4: Practicing inconsistently

You know that feeling right after you finish a yoga class? You feel open, relaxed and focused – you can’t wait to come back for another one. But all of us lead busy lives and eventually our work, social life and family responsibilities begin to interfere. When you finally do return to class, you’ve lost what you thought you had gained. Don’t worry!! The mat is always there for you to build your strength and flexibility. The key is being ready. When you are ready to get consistent, your body will gradually open up, strengthen and move further into the poses. It just takes time and patience.

Pro-Tip: Commit to practicing yoga twice a week, even if that occasionally means rolling the mat out in your own basement and sitting in a seated position for meditation. Build a relationship with your mat. It can quickly become a good friend, guide and safe zone.

Mistake #5: Holding your breath

We often see students failing to let their breath lead them through the sequences or even holding it completely, especially during the more advanced poses. Forgetting to breathe consistently is a negative habit that causes anxiety and stress, exactly the opposite effect we seek in yoga.

Pro-Tip: Focus on your slow, deep inhales and exhales throughout the whole yoga class. (PS: read our recent blog post on how to breathe in yoga)

Mistake #6: Taking classes that are too advanced

If you’re a beginner to yoga, you really should look into trying a few slow or gentle flow classes first. These offer the opportunity to learn the poses, discover yogic breath and become comfortable within the practice. However, even the more advanced students would benefit from remembering the positive effects of slowing it down once in awhile.

Pro-Tip: Mix a few slow, gentle or restorative classes into your yoga routine. Check out our Restorative Workshop April 30, 2017 – Align & Relax – 90 minutes of restorative yoga for $20

Mistake #7: Failing to disclose medical/physical conditions

When you visit many of our classes at Yoga Fever, you’ll hear your teacher ask if there are any injuries or medical conditions he or she should be aware of. Students often feel embarrassed or too shy to speak up here. Your teachers want to know these issues so they can craft a restorative practice that won’t endanger your body.

Pro-Tip: Yoga is therapeutic. An experienced, intelligent teacher will help you overcome these injuries. Speak up!