At first glance, this posture doesn’t look like it’s doing much, but there’s a lot more happening than simply opening the hips. Gomukhasana, or cow-face pose, benefits digestion, and when you add the forward fold, it can release the upper back, lengthening and offering release to the lumbar spine. We typically feel the sensation in the hips, so if we’re not careful, we can put stress on the back that we don’t necessarily feel. If one finds themselves rounding in the back, then simply allow the back to rest in a rounding position and place some support (such as a blanket) under the hips. If the back and hips are more open, and one can hinge at the hips, the forward fold becomes more active and leading with the heart may be appropriate. If uncertain, be gentle with yourself!
I begin every class inviting people to notice their breath. Many teachers do this as well, but because I work with audiences who have stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression, among other things, the breath is one of the essential components that we always come back to. I also want to give students an opportunity to notice how their body feels when they are completely at ease, which is what I attempt to establish in the beginning of class, so that they can pay attention to sensations that invoke a sense of peacefulness as that is what they want to take with them when they leave class. What’s tricky about this is the fact that the breath can actually be anxiety provoking for certain people depending on their life experience, especially as we begin to move it around the body where we may change the direction of, or limit, breath flow. For example, during a twist, the breath becomes limited as we reduce the amount of space that the breath can flow into. So it’s important to notice with each movement how the body responds. And because many people have extreme difficulty with focusing on the breath all together, noticing these subtle changes are often missed.
What I recommend to students is to commit to noticing the breath as much as possible, not just during yoga class, but also throughout the day. If someone’s mind is extremely busy, then I invite them to lengthen the inhale or exhale which gives the mind something to do and notice. I suggest setting their iPhone alarm, or purchase an application that reminds them to breath. Because if we develop a pattern of noticing the breath, we can become more aware of those subtle changes as we move about our day and this will allow us to shift our breathing to a pattern that serves us and helps the body relax. Then over time, those sensations that invoke a sense of peacefulness begin to become the norm.
How is your body feeling? Are you reacting? Are you stressed? Do you have anxiety at this moment? Notice your breath. Your breath will tell you every time.
What is restorative yoga?
Recently a friend of mine and her friend came to one of my restorative classes. She had hesitated for quite some time because she was unfamiliar with restorative yoga, or any yoga for that matter. I convinced her that she not only would be fine in the class, but also I thought she would really enjoy it.
I have so many people ask me, so what exactly is restorative yoga?
Restorative yoga concentrates on postures that are free from exertion and effort, which minimizes the potential for adding any additional stress to the body. The way the body is positioned (almost entirely on the floor) allows the body to stretch, lengthen and release tension. Props are almost always used (including blankets, bolsters, straps, and blocks) to assist and maintain the postures. The postures are held for a longer periods of time (from about five to fifteen minutes). Restorative yoga allows us to become relaxed and calms the mind and nervous system allowing for a peaceful, restful state.
Restorative yoga is great for just about anyone but in particular is helpful to people who are recovering from illness, have PTSD, suffer from depression or anxiety, are recovering from injury, or just have a high stress lifestyle.
I found early on in my own yoga practice that I always looked forward to the restorative class that I would attend. Although I do enjoy quicker paced and more challenging classes, it was nice to give myself permission to slow down with a restorative class. I also purchased some props so I could practice at home which is great since I can’t always get to a class. It has really changed my life for the better.
After class, my friend was surprised at how relaxed she was and now wants to make restorative part of her own wellness routine.
If you new to restorative yoga, check out this article from Yoga Journal: