five reasons why you should just do nothing
Relaxation? I know relaxation! Scrolling on Instagram, making ‘dream apartment’ boards on pintrest, Netflix. Facials. Massage. Holidays. Spending time in nature. Reading a book for way too many hours because you just can’t put it down.
All good things. Really great things. We should keep doing them. Well maybe a little less Instagram scrolling. But otherwise lets keep at it, scroll, binge watch, chill.
Take Netflix for example. My current Netflix drug of choice is Peaky Blinders. How relaxing though, is becoming emotionally invested in a violent gang from Birmingham, while slouched in a position that is undoing all the hard work I put into my yoga practice every single day? I mean I’m not going to stop doing it, but it’s quite obviously not the perfect brand of relaxation for maximum effect, right?
There’s nothing particularly unexpected about feeling relaxed after a yoga class, even if it’s really vigorous. You twist and bend and fold your body in every which way. You get all sweaty, then (hopefully) quiet down in something seated and inverted and finish with savasana. You’ve got some kinks out, you’ve breathed more than usual, you’ve even focused on that breath somewhere in there and maybe even had a little nap at the end. Relaxed. What more do you need!?
My daily yoga practice is the above. I am not advocating that this kind of practice is ‘too much’, or lacking at all. It’s not. But deep relaxation is a whole different ball game. It’s a whole other thing. It’s not instead of your regular yoga practice, or exercise routine. It’s an addition to it. And the less time you have, the more essential it becomes.
I don’t like Restorative Yoga because it’s an excuse to do nothing. I don’t like it because its ‘easy.’ I love it because I love to do everything. I love it because it gives me more energy to run around town like a crazy person teaching, have my dedicated yoga practice, write these blog posts and sometimes watch nexflix until midnight (crazy life I lead over here.)
Restorative Yoga is wonderful for people who are working with limitations in energy, illness, injury and so on, this we all know. This is studio websites, online and simply in conversation, which is great and it’s not wrong - but it’s also a shame. Because it leaves out or even turns off people who I feel will get the most out of it. Those who are constantly doing, creating, making, running around, working and not having time for anything.
If this is you, Restorative Yoga is totally your practice.
1. Relaxation is the new black
We all know about the fight or flight response. It’s an ancient gift to the human body. A wild boar tries to attack you and your family, the response kicks in and you have superhuman strength for a short period of time for higher chance of survival. Problem is, the body doesn’t know the difference between that and the stress of your favourite tv character having a gun pointed to his head (again!!) and so this response is constantly activated. Which comes at a high (exhausting) price and renders it a little bit useless.
Herbet Benson, who literally wrote the book on this idea puts it like this: “the body is also imbued with what I termed the Relaxation Response - an inducible, physiologic state of quietude. Indeed, our progenitors handed down to us a second, equally essential survival mechanism - the ability to heal and rejuvenate our bodies. And in modern times, the Relaxation Response is undoubtedly more important to our survival.” So if you wanna drink coffee, run a business, watch violent television AND live over 40? Restorative Yoga.
It is very hard to see things clearly when you hardly have time to see at all. You know that feeling after you leave a job or relationship and you’re like wow that was actually SO bad but I was just caught up in it? Do you want your entire life to be like that? Probably not. The thing about being still for 15-20 minutes at a time with zero distraction is it becomes hard to ignore or push away those things you would rather bury or pretend didn't exist. Aside from “I can’t believe the time went so fast” the most common feedback I receive after class is the feeling of having gained a very strong sense of clarity about a specific situation.
When I have no idea what to write or teach it’s not because I haven’t been teaching and writing, or practicing and reading. It is generally because I’ve been doing too much. I have found it an invaluable practice to give myself time and space to relax my body and not try so goddamn hard to come up with ideas, but instead to allow the ideas to come to me. This has also made me believe ideas and inspiration are always floating around and it is only a matter of giving them space to come through. I commonly hear feedback from people, writers in particular, who have great ideas for their work during a restorative class or find that they can go home and work for hours and hours afterwards, with very little distraction.
Restorative yoga is certainly not the definitive answer to your flexibility issues but it is a part of the solution. Flexibility is relative person to person and I feel it has a lot to do with being comfortable in your own body and your own skin. Think of what happens to your body when you are stressed or even self conscious. There is a constriction, a tightening – almost as if you are trying to become smaller or more hidden. Having a more relaxed nervous system directly affects the physical body, and simply imagining the breath moving to areas of tightness or restriction will help you become more connected, more open and more in your own body. This leads to greater body awareness and more intelligent practice, which is essential to safely increasing flexibility in the body and in the mind (along with very non-restorative dedication and hard work.)
Sure, maybe it’s a superficial point, but at the root of many (most?) skin issues is stress. I have personally had my skin described to me by one candid Mecca Cosmetica employee as ‘reactive’ (I have never felt so seen in my life) and I honestly love skincare more than I should, but no amount of anything (besides botox) is going to make your skin look as flawless as being well rested, on top of your shit, doing what you love and fully comfortable in it. My skin has been at its worst when I was eating my best, exercising well and using all the right products. From my experience, none of this makes a difference if your emotional health isn’t in check or you’re pretending everything is fine on the outside, when internally it is absolutely not. But that’s another conversation.
If you are resistant to the idea of doing nothing, practicing relaxation or being still, ask yourself why. What are you afraid of seeing, feeling or thinking? What are you afraid of missing out on? Why is that ten minutes better spent on Instagram? Surely you can do both.
If you’re interested in testing out this theory for yourself, I recommend coming along to Restorative 101 Workshop at Jivamukti Yoga Sydney on May 19th. We'll look at the why and how of intelligently supporting the body with props to explore the powerful art of deep relaxation (that I am such a massive nerd for.)