Monday, August 1, 2011
Popular Yoga Largely Blind To The Value Of Restorative Practice
THE FOLLOWING QUOTE may represent a common, yet facile [too easy] view of restorative yoga among practitioners:
Restorative hatha is a somewhat passive form of asana practice. This method is generally geared toward people with low energy or ability. It is appropriate for those rehabilitating from illness or injury. It is quite relaxing and therefore good form even fit people to practice to learn how to relieve stress. 
Kathy Lee Kappmeier and Diane M. Ambrosini, Instructing Hatha Yoga,
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006
In modern yoga certification training, restorative yoga (if noted at all, and typically not taught) references either a form of compensation—a “doing less” for persons with physical limitations [rather than as optimization] or generalized stress relief.
A popular image of a yogic adept is associated with extreme flexibility and strength and breath restriction. And yet, these aspects may be equaled and even surpassed by contortionists and acrobats and magicians who have no exposure to yoga. In modern life, there are now international asana flow “competitions.”
Such perceptions can reflect a modern emphasis upon yoga as a fitness of biomechanics, with training concentrated on this remarkable facet. The yoga that people come seeking is typically a practice that is active—a form of exercise that is appealing that fits the limited time available for fitness. But there is also a rather effusive quality in all yoga practice that draws people to practice. Sensed in the final pose—savasana, this quality might be more strongly present in the quietness and calmness of restorative practice. However, “doing less” physically becomes secondary when a person seems to have limited time available. But such views and time limits miss profound “high” practice elements inherent in restorative practice.
First, for those interested primarily in uber-fitness, restorative practice offers deep, physiological relaxation training as critical for high performance training. This deep relaxation training may be more obscured in yoga practice that flows form one pose to the next. Utilized for this purpose, restorative practice is very “active,” and optimal high practice for the subtle aspects of yoga that are associated with listening to the body and simply becoming more acutely aware of body physiology.
Second, the recognition of the potential for sustained restorative poses to modify connective tissue is largely unacknowledged.
Finally and perhaps most important, restorative practice offers a profound gateway to the deep heart of yoga practice that finds wellness to be far more than physical fitness.
Fortunately, far beyond the “branch” of body-mind that is yoga, interest in “wellness” itself is beginning to change popular perception of the very nature of “health.” There is more interest body-mind-spirit that is enlarging the landscape of health. Why? There is a growing understanding that health—especially optimal health—is primarily psycho-spiritual rather than physical, as Viktor Frankl admonished in Man’s Search For Meaning. And new terms, such as “thriving,” are beginning to emerge, and yet, are only poorly described. We are still very young in our vocabulary with regard to attributes such as “thriving,” and “thriving”—while a remarkable transformative leap from “surviving,” is likely a beginning point in new visions of “health” and “wellness.” “Health” has been closely associated with a dominant medical disease/disorder model, and strongly associated with physical fitness.
In our medical models of health, we are very good at describing that which is “wrong,” but still quite deficient in describing, in any detail, that which is “not wrong.” We tend to miss our inherent health, and have come to believe that health is something that we must invent, rather than something that is not only inherent, even in illness, but also profoundly powerful.
In a 6,000 year old tradition that aspires toward a goal such as Samadhi, and that acknowledges that the subtle energies of the highest chakras are likely to be actualized only in either a seated meditative pose or savasana, it is remarkable that the optimal values for restorative practice are largely unrecognized. Because of our limitations, it may still take decades of body-mind practice to begin to see that the heart of these practices lies in opening gateways of calmness.
In the calmness of restorative practice, the grace of each pose and each breath are opened, and that grace, in turn, is a key of sorts to unlock and enter a deep place within the heart-mind that is seldom attainable. Breath is not forgotten, as in the roller-coater ride of physical flow. In restorative yoga and yin yoga practice, breath and holding a pose move to center stage, and may provoke emotional responses that are not simply enhancing strength and flexibility [that do improve, but that ultimately will be lost]. These quiet, gentle practices can be “transformative” [dramatically changing everyday life as it is to be richer], and perhaps evoke a sense of eloquence that is far beyond compensation or rehabilitation or stress relief. And this eloquence may make us look at each other, and at the sun and moon, and leaves and the movements of ants with dramatic differences that are not simply aesthetic but real and, ultimately, practical in a way that contributes to human life as an expression of the Earth and cosmos.