I had come from a very intense youth as a competitive gymnast. I was used to pushing myself beyond my edges. The drive was a competitive, mental, egoistic one that often ignored the body’s needs to rest and repair. I also would constantly be thinking about how I could do this better or that more.
Needless to say it created a very tense and tight body and a very restless mind that was quite critical, mostly of myself but that also meant I was critical of others too. How was I to ever find peace in this vicious cycle of never being enough!
I burned out for the first time at age 15. But repeated this cycle a few more times over the years before I realized my central nervous system was in overdrive. What I needed was to back off, to rest, less pushing, less stretching, less muscle engagement, less effort. I needed a space where I could soften, surrender, open and rest. I needed to be nurtured and I needed to feel safe.
During those periods of burnout I started dabbling more in restorative work and moving more slowly finding the comfort I very much needed. Every time I practiced Restorative yoga I felt a little more normal, a little more balanced and a little more humble. I am a human organism after all, not a machine!
Several years later I became a Classical Hatha yoga instructor and thought I’d try teaching Restorative yoga.
“I mean, how hard could it be, right? It’s just a few poses.” Humility set in when I realized that the people I was attracting through this practice were overworked athletes and hospice caregivers, cancer thrivers and the newly diagnosed, people healing broken spines and people healing broken hearts. But even more important, these people weren’t just sick and trying to get better. They were on the wellness train—working hard to to prevent further illness, balance the effects of chronic stress and optimize their potential as human beings. These very wise students were giving this very “green” yoga teacher a lot to learn about this practice.
With a ton of studying, training and many mistakes along the way, I now try my hardest to offer a nurturing, open space where people can practice resting (I intentionally use the word “practice”). And even though someone passing by might see a restorative yoga class as adult nap time (which would be completely wonderful, by the way), I know these students are doing way more. They are courageous enough to get quiet and potentially uncover physical and emotional states that are often masked by overbooked schedules and never-ending checklists.
They are aware enough to know that they must take responsibility for their own healing if they expect to be well. They are trusting enough to know the body can do amazing things when we get out of our own way and allow ourselves true rest. And over time, as each student has come and gone, I’ve come to a clear realization that even though I’ve never seen them do a standing pose, restorative yogis are warriors.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love a good sweaty yoga class. However, now I inwardly laugh at the intensity and seriousness with which I used to practice active yoga poses. Instead, when I’m needing to fill up on strength, I take it to the bolster and know that the notion “support equals release” has metaphorical implications that go way beyond the mat.
I’m practicing unclenching my jaw and softening my belly, so my body can teach my mind to stop. I’m practicing becoming aware of how I actually feel, so I know what I actually need.
I’m practicing noticing what is and accepting it, not with the intention to give up but with the intention to be honest about what is happening in my life and move forward with more authenticity.
And to me, that is some seriously power(ful) yoga.