Stress, Restorative Yoga & the Relaxation Response

Supported Cobblers Pose
Supported Cobblers Pose

Restorative Yoga is a cooling practice that soothes and quiets the nervous system and can restore hormonal balance. It is a practice of moderate versions of classical yoga poses predominantly done on the floor, supported by props such as bolsters, blocks, straps, and the wall.  The poses are held from 3 – 10 minutes while maintaining an awareness of easy breathing. The support of the props allows the body to stay in the intelligent forms of the poses for longer durations in order to receive the therapeutic benefits of the poses without spending precious energy to hold them. Often, eye coverings are used to encourage a deeper relaxation experience.

Stress is the body’s auto, physiological reaction to circumstances that require change. The stress response is referred to as the fight-or-flight response. Healthy stress is vital as it is the response mechanism that activates in emergencies and was critical to the survival of primitive humankind, our ancestors.

The modern world is ceaselessly fast paced, complicated, and stressful. Human instinctual nature does not differentiate between modern mental stress (brought about by family-care, finances, constant media bombardment, etc.) with the ancient stress of survival in the wild or the useful stress elicited in emergency situations.

Constant mental anxiety and worry  flood the body with adrenaline and stress hormones. Adrenaline is vital for us to keep up with active lifestyles. But without breaks for rejuvenation,  our adrenaline production never shuts down causing the adrenal glands to ‘blow out’ due to overwork.  The result is a stress induced state of fatigue that can become chronic and can lead to a compromised  immune system.

Common warning signals that your nervous and hormonal systems may be in need of restoration are constant fatigue, workouts being a drag instead of uplifting, and increased susceptibility to bugs and illnesses. If any of this this  sounds familiar you, try Restorative Yoga.

Supported Bridge Pose

The best medicine to combat stress is to consistently practice awakening the opposite response in the body/mind eco-system — the relaxation response. Regular practice and  elicitation of the relaxation response has been scientifically proven to be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders. In fact, to the extent that any disease is caused or made worse by stress, the relaxation response can help.

The practice and components of Restorative Yoga make it a perfect method for deep, therapeutic relaxation, for medicinal or preventative purposes.  Supported yoga poses allow for our muscles to let go of deep unconscious holding and bring us to a state of well deserved ease. A focus on easy breathing helps to redirect our awareness to the present moment without distraction, which is utterly calming.  The poses and props can and should be customized and adjusted for each individual to achieve maximum release and relaxation which yields healthy restoration of the body, mind, and breath.

Disclaimer: Obviously consult with your healthcare provider as your main source of guidance in health and wellness.

A ReInvention of Sorts

A ReInvention of Sorts
A ReInvention of Sorts

This time last year I had one of those pivotal moments where I hit a wall and was faced with the reality of my life and the choices that lay before me.  Things were going relatively well. A third teacher-training group was about to graduate from my Yoga Birds program and the studio was chugging along offering valuable services to the community.  I had a nice house, great husband, awesome dogs, and loving family all around me.

My practices of daily asana and meditation were steady, life at home was good…but something was missing or just not right with me. I prayed and I meditated and finally realized that I was not where I wanted to be or doing what I truly wanted to be doing.

It was one of those God-moments when I realized in full force the finite nature of my time on earth, the importance and impact of every choice I make, and the preciousness of every moment that has been given to me.

I started making plans to close my beloved little yoga studio and to get back into film acting which I had left  in 2008 when I moved to Fairhope from New Orleans.  So, in case you were wondering, that’s where I have been all year…. In acting classes in New Orleans. More on that later…

I have not abandoned yoga.  Or, more accurately,  yoga has not abandoned me.  I have taken a massive break and rest from daily vigorous asana (poses) practice. It was not intentional and happened naturally as I stopped teaching so much. I am still a firm believer and advocate that asana yoga teachers should be practicing what they are asking of their students. I asked a lot of my students ergo I spent a lot of time on the mat in my own personal practice doing sun salutations and warrior poses, etc.

This break from the physical yoga for me has been utterly healing and informative…which is essentially what our practices should be about. So yes, my chaturanga and my pinca mayurasana probably SUCK right about now, but really…. I don’t care. And this is cOMpletely LIBERATING for me!

What I do practice regularly is Restorative Yoga. Apparently my nervous system needs a daily re-set to truth, consciousness, and joy.  My husband Burke who is a brilliant wordsmith dubbed Restorative Yoga a practice of ‘pillows and gravity’.  It is  absolute heaven and gives back to me ten-fold in the currency of connection to Spirit, relaxed groundedness, breath awareness, clarity, patience, kindness, happiness, contentment, and vibrant energy.  All it asks of me is to stop, become still, and hang out there for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. And BTW… it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.

In these past several months I have explored different neighborhoods –literal and figurative.  I miss my friends and family and community of yogis in Alabama and further east. I have made some incredible new friends in the acting and film and fitness communities of New Orleans. Life is a constant paradox.  But it is certainly wonderful.

I am ready to start teaching again with a fresh new perspective on how yoga can support day to day life and courageous choices that foster the manifestation of the sparkling, healthy, vibrant  lives that are our birthright.

Next month I will be in Fairhope at Prana Health and Wellness Sunday, November 24th. Becky Ardrey and I are co-hosting an open house and discussion about the collaborative 2014 Yoga Birds Teacher Training being held at Prana. Stay tuned for more details about the open house and about the training.

Also in the works in New Orleans is a yoga class in conjunction with the indoor cycling classes (called RIDE) I have been teaching  at Romney Pilates Center on Magazine Street.  More details TBA.

On Sunday morning, November 17th   I am presenting a Restorative Yoga Session at the Mahabhuta Yoga Festival. I can’t wait to immerse in yoga for the whole weekend with so many friends and teachers! I hope that you can join me there for my class or to attend some of the fantastic classes of other teachers with me.

That’s all I have for now. Please be in touch with a comment below or drop me a line or a ‘like’ on my personal profiles at  Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. And if you’re interested, check out my new acting website at Hope to see y’all soon in a festive and joyful place!

Much Love and Peace,

Melanie Buffett