How does Restorative Yoga work?

Dec 19 2017, 4:59 am

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured” – BKS Iyengar

What is Restorative Yoga and exactly how does it work?! – I get asked this question a lot. Before I knew exactly what Restorative Yoga was I was a little skeptical about its benefits. How do these poses help us to respond to pain, both physical and emotional, differently? The answers were simpler than I could have imagined. It was just a matter of connecting the dots! It is all about our Autonomic Nervous System – specifically by soothing the sympathetic nervous system in order to elicit the response of the parasympathetic nervous system. The following explanation is quite straightforward; I’ve refrained from using much scientific jargon because, well, I don’t see the need for it when all we really want is a briefing on the topic at hand.

The Autonomic Nervous System consists of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. It is important in two situations: emergency “fight or flight” and non-emergency “rest and digest”. Under normal situations this system controls internal functions. The Sympathetic Nervous System is a system for short term survival. It has an active pushing function and excites the body preparing it for action – a stress response. It alerts the heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar level, respiration, voluntary muscles, sensitivity to pain and self defence (slow or shut down). In contrast, the Parasympathetic Nervous System is a long term survival system. It has a relax – rest – rejuvenation function. It also controls salivation, urination, digestion and directs blood flow to the core.

Yoga is a way of changing our responses to stress by changing our patterns of thinking. Through our practice we can literally re-program the brain to respond differently. Restorative poses such as Savasana, Viparita Kirani, and Supported Chest Opener as well as Pranayama and deep breathing practices can elicit the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. A restorative practice is most recommended for when you are feeling overwhelmed, not centered, overstressed, not grounded, unfocused, or if you are recovering from short or long term illness. In my Therapeutic Yoga classes we always begin and end our practice with a restorative pose, because we can all do with a little less stress in our lives!

For more information on all things yoga visit or follow @YogaOnTheFlow on twitter.


DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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