Why Restorative Yoga may not be what you want—but could be what you need
By Caren Baginski
Over the years I’ve compiled a list of reasons why people have told me they don’t want to practice Restorative Yoga. As a Restorative Yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and relaxation advocate, these comments can be discouraging—but they’re not surprising.
Achievement, sweat, and physical fitness are prominent in the culture of yoga asana (posture) practice in the West. Restorative Yoga flips this script. The practice uses props to support the body comfortably; there is no active stretching; and it’s generally practiced in a space that is warm, quiet, and dark. Students hold postures in stillness for longer periods (5–20 minutes).
Unless you’ve had a taste of its fruit, you might be thinking, “I’ll pass on Restorative Yoga!” And you wouldn’t be alone. People may choose to opt out of Restorative Yoga because they
- have difficulty being physically still
- think, “I’m doing it wrong,” if their mind is racing or a foot is fidgeting
- resist resting in silence because unwanted or intrusive thoughts or emotions arise
- want a workout from their yoga practice
- hesitate to pay to “lie around and do nothing”
- have a misconception that Restorative Yoga is only for beginners, elderly people, ill people, or those who have difficulty practicing active yoga postures
It’s this last myth that I’d like to unpack. My intention is to help you see why trying this practice, whether in a class or yoga therapy session, can open a new gateway to peace you might not find through other styles.
First, all of these reasons for not wanting to practice are valid. Doing less and being with your mind in a fast-paced, productivity-focused society is a radical departure from the status quo.
But the misconception about who Restorative Yoga is for can hold back many from the deep healing that can be found through this practice. Let’s debunk three myths about who practices Restorative Yoga.
Myth 1: Restorative Yoga is only for beginners.
Restorative Yoga creates space to meet the mind without distraction—this is why I’d never call it a “beginner” practice. We know from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, an ancient text that maps out yoga practice and philosophy, that advanced practices have little to do with perfecting a pose and more to do with moving into a contemplative inner state that promotes self-inquiry. Sutra 1.2 defines yoga as something one experiences in “that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.” You may meet many fluctuating thoughts while you’re practicing Restorative Yoga. With guidance, this can be a transformative revelation: learning to be aware of one’s thoughts in relaxation without being bound to them.
Myth 2: Restorative Yoga is solely for elderly people or those with injuries.
This misconception paints Restorative Yoga as a purely physical practice, solely for individuals with physical limitations. Far from it! There is much more to yoga than postures—yoga is a philosophy and system that supports harmonious living within ourselves and with others. Those seeking to deepen their practice can do so through Restorative Yoga, which promotes the process by encouraging slowing down and going inward. And remember, Restorative Yoga is not about stretching; it’s about relaxation. All bodies and ages can benefit from some sort of relaxation.
Myth 3: Restorative Yoga is only for those facing a disease or illness.
Chronic stress can lead to inflammation—which in turn can lead to disease. Restorative Yoga helps decrease stress by activating a parasympathetic response (“rest and digest” mode) in the autonomic nervous system. As a result, symptoms can improve from conditions in which stress is a factor—like anxiety, depression, hypertension, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, gastrointestinal distress, chronic pain, and headaches. We can also see Restorative Yoga as a stress-management tool that may be protective against stress-related challenges. Plus, it may help with sleep. The first thing many students in my practice report after integrating Restorative Yoga into their lives is better sleep. Who doesn’t need that these days?
If we prioritized rest more often—not only as a society, but inside of our yoga practice—we could potentially stave off some of the health issues that are directly linked to stress. You may have heard the adage: “If you don’t slow down now, your body will force you to do it later.” Restorative Yoga may not be the practice you want, but it could be just the practice you need.
Caren Baginski, C-IAYT, guides yoga classes in person and online. She is the author of Restorative Yoga: Relax. Restore. Re-energize., a step-by-step illustrated guide to deepening the connection between body and mind through the power of rest and relaxation.
*As with any yogic practice, please do what’s best for your own system and follow recommendations from your personal healthcare providers. Some people find that dynamic movement is necessary before resting in stillness. Also consider working with a yoga therapist to identify a Restorative Yoga practice that is right for you.