11 Reasons Why You Need to Practice Restorative Yoga

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Disclaimer

Some people have never heard of restorative yoga. Others (maybe you) know kind of what it’s about but have never practiced it. Or perhaps you’re familiar with it and want to learn more. 

Whichever sounds like you, you’re in the right place!

Do As I say, Not As I Do

Most people know they should practice restorative yoga or some form of structured and intentional rest. Yet, most don’t. Most think restorative yoga isn’t doing enough and flock to the hot power classes. Always turned on. Go go go. Running from work, yoga, family, or other life duties.

You never stop to actually breathe.

Because in this society, we wear stress as a badge of honor. Who has the darkest circles under their eyes? Who got the least amount of sleep last night? Who pulled the most overtime this week? 

Hopefully, by the end of this, your mindset will change, and you’ll set some time aside to rest.

The Fundamentals

The nervous system plays a crucial role in these benefits and changes in your body, so it’s valuable to understand it first.

Very simplified for those who have never taken anatomy (or it’s been 20-plus years). The nervous system is like branches starting at your brain or spinal cord (central nervous system) and sprouting to different organs or places of the body (peripheral nervous system). The peripheral nervous system division is voluntary (choosing to move your finger) and sensory (feeling how soft the blanket is). 

Most of this will refer to the autonomic division, which is all the body processes you usually don’t think about: sweating, releasing hormones like insulin, and digesting food.

The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “fight or flight” nervous system. It helps to create, to do things during the day. It’s needed for stressful or dangerous situations like a bear running toward you or standing in front of a large audience to do a speech.

The parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as “rest and digest.” It helps to heal, and it’s needed for digestion, waste removal, and other vital processes.

If one is on, that doesn’t mean the other is off. It’s not like an on/off light switch. It’s more like the justice scale or equal arm scale. One might be more dominant at times, shifting back and forth.

When out of homeostasis (balance), our “thinking brain” sits in the backseat, and our limbic system takes control of the wheel. This is the part of the brain that’s commonly referred to as our “reptilian brain.” It is emotional, and its purpose is the survival of the species. It seeks pleasure and runs toward it, or it sees danger and runs away.

Restorative yoga helps to reeducate your nervous system to go through the ebbs and flow of life. It rejuvenates and restores in down moments, and it lets you be alert and prepared in the up moments. Each phase is important.

Most of us stay dominant in our sympathetic nervous system, which is why resting and downregulation are the main focus.

The Juicy Part

  1. You learn how to relax and know what feels natural in your body.
  2. It prepares the body for deep sleep.
  3. It values undoing and rest.
  4. Provides internal awareness
  5. It helps support deficiencies spiritually, mentally, physically, and energetically. If you’re deficient in yin energy, you might find it hard to stay still and fidget.
  6. Weight loss. One study found practicing restorative yoga helped participants lose subcutaneous fat and keep it off.
  7. Regulates your parasympathetic(PSNS) and sympathetic nervous systems (SNS).
  8. Regulates your amygdala (emotion center), which helps reduces cortisol and adrenaline (these are a part of the SNS, and most people are swimming in these hormones). Chronic stress is activated by thoughts and emotions. “I have so much to do.” Constantly feeling like you’re going to be fired. Consistently feeling like you’re not good enough or a failure. Cortisol is the chronic stress response. Adrenaline is the acute stress response (a car swerved in front of you or a boost of motivation).
  9. Triggers endorphin secretion (one of the happy hormones).
  10. The immune system and nervous system are intertwined. With the fight or flight alarm, cortisol suppresses the immune system. If a bear is chasing you, your body is focused on that immediate threat. It doesn’t care about the bacteria or viruses at the moment, only staying alive. It doesn’t have to be a bear. Living under any type of stress will have this system dominate, and the immune system takes the backseat.
  11. Trains the body and mind to relax (a duplicate of number one to emphasize this importance).

The Other Cool Stuff

The “goal” in this practice is for the nervous system to relearn patterns. To reprogram and retrain yourself. The central nervous system can change. It has neurplasticity. The brain can reorganize its structure, function, or connections.

You can train your brain. If you’re stressed more than you are relaxed, you have trained your brain to take that stress pathway instinctively, and over time, that pathway becomes the most dominant. 

Practicing mindfulness rewires the brain to fortify the prefrontal cortex connection and pathway. This makes that the default pathway instead of just reacting with the limbic system. With this new pathway, you can start to assess the situation and make decisions instead of automatically reacting. 

How Could You Not?

You need to have a baseline of being calm and centered before you can downregulate, such as practicing breathing exercises, when you’re stressed. Practicing restorative yoga or any other mindfulness-based practice helps to establish that calm baseline.

Your practice will have ups and downs, but its effects will be cumulative. Undoubtedly, some days will be hard than others to find peace in the stillness, it’s okay! Keep at it.

Rebalancing your nervous system, rewiring your brain, relieving stress, having better sleep…

With all of these benefits, how could you not practice restorative yoga?

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