A Portal to Being Present

I have this crazy feeling of claustrophobia in my walk-in closet at home.  It matters not if I am alone or there is someone else in there with me, I still can feel it.  My forays into the closet have to happen quickly or a tightness begins around my throat.   

Surprisingly, when I think of a wide open space as in the mid-west prairies, I also get a claustrophobic and tightening feeling.  I need to have an ocean at least 2-3 hours away.  So how is this related to restorative yoga?

I have discovered through my own restorative practice and via the feedback from students and teachers that restorative yoga can also hold its own surprises.  A completely supported and what may seem a comfortable pose can cause the most excruciating sensations somewhere in the body. Conversely you may be in a pose that is not aligned and be relaxed.  Everyone is different. Their bodies and minds are different.  This is why the practice needs to fit each person where they are.

For the beginner restorative student, there may be the expectation that this practice will bring on instant relaxation and perhaps certain poses do.  It is a process of unfolding and may take time.  This is why we offer the restorative class in a 4-part series.  Over time we build layers and layers of tension in our bodies, stressful thoughts in our minds, and emotional reactions in our hearts.  The unfolding takes time and effort, and there may be discomfort along the way.

One pose that gets me thinking about this unfolding is the Reclined Bound Angle Pose.  This is one of my students favorite poses as it supports the spine, is a gentle hip opener and heart opener, and easy on the breath.   On the other hand, I have the most intense pressure in my neck and face when I am in this pose.  I want to jump out of it in the first 5 minutes.  And then I breathe evenly and observe the sensations and not judge or form opinions around them.  Five more minutes pass may pass and the sensations subside.  I can feel my body say “Thank you” as my limbs relax and my bones get heavy. Tiny shifts happen.   It is a far cry from what this pose presented to me two, even 5 fiveyears ago. It is still not an “easy” pose today but I remain present to all.

The Breath
Breath of Joy – Conduct your own Joy
From standing mountain, inhale and bring arms out in front, continue to inhale as you swing arms horizontally by your side, then continue with inhalation as you again swing arms out front, finally exhale as you forward fold and arms come down towards the floor. Repeat at least 6 times and on the final exhale, hang there limply enjoying the energy you just created through breath.  As with any breath, if you begin to feel lightheaded, return to a neutral position and your normal breath.

The Poses
Lumbar Wrap

Props: 1-2 blankets
Benefits: supports low back, grounding, gentle hip opener, supports release and relaxation.

Open blanket so that you have a longer rectangle, fold this rectangle over approx. 4 times, smoothing each fold so no creases appear. Lay on your back with the blanket in the lumbar region, legs stretch out. Arms by your side, palms up.  Add a neck roll or blanket for head and cervical spine.  Option to bend legs with knees touching, feet wide to take any pressure off of the low back. Stay for 5 minutes or however long to let go. 

Savasana on Belly (Bent Leg)

Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll
Benefits: gives lumbar spine support, ease strain on sacral ilium area, good for digestion, full release of the body to gravity with low back pain. Return the body to a state of balance after your practice.

Place a double or triple folded blanket under your abdomen as you belly down on the mat. One leg extended, other one bent at a 90 angle.  Fold arms under head and rest forehead on them or send them to a Goddess position.  Modify arm/head position for most comfort.

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)

Props: 1-2 blankets, strap, eye pillow, blanket for warmth, neck roll, a bolster for behind legs
Benefits: increases circulation and helps venous and lymphatic flow from the lower body; relieves swelling and fatigue in the legs; helps relieve muscular skeletal stress in pelvis; quiets the mind and can help promote ease in meditation and sleep.

Begin with using a double-folded blanket to be placed right above sacrum (see photo), setting it approx. distance 6-8″ from wall (adjust in pose). Sit down on the blanket with one hip pressed right up against the wall. As you lower down, swing your legs up the wall. Once in the pose, you can adjust distance to wall, angle of legs to all, blanket and placement of legs all for comfort.  Hips and tailbone will be in space between wall and blanket. Arms rest by your side, palms face up or variation with Goddess arms (photo above).  
Variations: To ground legs, blanket or sandbag to hang from soles of the feet.  Strap can be placed around calves, so you lose the feeling of holding up legs.  Tight hamstrings or really uncomfortable with legs directly up the wall? Try a bolster angled into the wall to rest legs on, add blankets for more support or move hips further from wall.  Another variation is Legs up on a Chair or on a bolster with blankets on top to bring knees into a 90 degree angle.