RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Hidden Intensity In Restorative-Yin Yoga

Lance Kinseth, 2013

A VERY EARLY Islands of Grace Post  [3/3/2011] sketches a restorative-yin yoga sequence.  But just doing the poses may still mask an essence that is occurring in the sequences.  And understanding this essence can be a meta-motivator to regularly do this type of practice.

At the end of such a sequence, there is likely to be a feeling of deep relaxation.  But it might be interpreted as the result of simply doing less—almost “nothing”—rather than doing something.  And this “doing nothing” seems to have its primary benefit as passive stress relief.

One of the missing aspects in describing the poses in the sequence is the absence of the sensory experience of “flipping a switch” in human physiology.  A pratitoner may experience as sense of relaxation and calmness but may miss a hidden intensity in this practice.

If done appropriately, “doing nothing” actually does a lot.  Done appropriately, there are major shifts in cardio/vascular, neuro-endocrine, lymphatic, Eastern energy that are POWERFUL.  Physiology can open to the micro-cellular level, and the chemicals produced to open vessels and transform endocrine response are extremely complex.  Such sequences, if done appropriately, are, in a very real way, “hard” in the power of their impact rather than beings so soft as to be little more than a respite from stressful life.  Such sequences are extremely active and approximate the higher ends of yoga and meditation.  They are not just “meditative” or “esoteric” or “aesthetic” or “spiritual,” or some sort of generic physiological “relaxation respite,” but rather may be concretely physical/physiological, specifically therapeutic/restorative to specific body parts, and optimal health.

And so, the essence is not the body pose or “technique,” but rather, the unfelt changes [albeit measurable on CT scans and in blood chemistry, HR, BP, EEG, EKG, down to micro measures, such as opening micro vessels on blood vessels or optimized oxygenation of the outer reaches of brain tissue/appendages [vs. contraction to the the body core in intense exercise], or the reduction of demands on the neural-endocrine systems to allow more attention to monitoring subtle process such balancing/regulating salt levels in billions of cells and blood.

And so, when doing restorative-yin sequences, it can be helpful to realize the ultimate objectives are not simply finding tome to relax or to do ease poses.  When done appropriately, restorative-yin yoga is profoundly complex, profoundly active [i.e., flipping a switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the more stress-reducing para-sympathetic system]. And this, in turn, may not only serve optima physiological health, but also open a gateway into the esoteric/aesthetic/spiritual dimensions of human experience that may be tasted, but are never attained in a more active process.

This restorative-yin yoga process can be extended into most other yoga poses, if those poses are done slowly, holding the poses, breathing deeply, and doing sequences of related poses. In fact, it is possible that modern yoga may evolve into a process of slow, deep comprehensive stretching and, thus, escape the limits of a fitness model.

Globally, almost no one is doing restorative-yin yoga.  If it is to be effective, the modern world has rationalized that yoga must essentially be a fitness/workout model.  More active yoga, while not “wrong,” can counter such optimal, restorative dimensions.
While a “workout” approach to yoga is not wrong, it is narrow and often does not accomplish many of the objectives that it seeks to attain, such as weight loss, aerobic conditioning or healing/physical therapy [in fact, frequently producing injury].  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013



“FLEXIBILITY” IS PERHAPS the most common physical aspect that is associated with yoga.  It is a quality to which practitioners aspire, as well as a quality that discourages and drives potential participants away. 

Our sense of “health” is evolving and changing, and so too, the concept of “flexibility.”   In this evolving sense of health, flexibility involves more than being able to touch one’s toes or head to knees.  Health is evolving from “fitness” through a more comprehensive “wellness” (that includes nutrition and stress reduction, and may stress functionality more than fitness’ strength/power) to an “optimal health” or “thriving” (vs. “surviving’). 

[For a look at the evolution of health, see Islands Of Grace post, “Thriving: Toward The Cutting Edge of Health, 4/18/13.] 

In optimal health/thriving, there is a transformation from an emphasis on “skeletal flexibility” to a more holistic suppleness of the body.

The term suppleness expands “flexing” to describe a process of opening the entire body rather than emphasize stretching and strengthening muscle and connective tissue. Attention to suppleness directs actions to
  • Muscle and connective tissue, and
  • the internal organs of the central body,
  • and the micro-structures of all cell tissue (with special attention to opening the fringes of the body—the outer edges of the brain and appendages—).to open cardio- and neuro-endocrine- and, lymphatic- and Eastern energy channels.
[Example shows the difficulty of trying to illustrate the gross complexity of the chest/shoulder (with no regard to the complexity of the micro-anatomy of this body region).  The lymph system is not illustrated yet present, nor is the more visible muscular/ligament structure that tends to be the most conscious aspect.  The density of tissue [bone, muscular, vascular, nervous] illuminates the need for suppleness as crucial to allow openness in such density.]

Traditional fitness flexibility may either miss or even encumber efforts toward suppleness.  Suppleness leads to activities that release body tension by “flipping a switch” to engage the parasympathetic nervous system.  Real “hip openers” and opening the “floating bones “ of the upper back/shoulders and the lower back and neck aspire to free the body—softening the body—to optimize the flow of body physiology rather than lengthen and strengthen muscle and connective tissue.  Strong muscles may be hard and impeded and even injured.

micro anatomy example

In suppleness, the “vitality” of blood vessels and nerve tissue and lymph channels would become crucial loci for intervention with a goal of vitalizing these tissues, by reducing restriction not only in the joints (where muscle and connective tissue require attention) but also in the central body and fringes—down to micro structures such as capillaries and even further into the regulation of optimal sodium levels in the body) and by making them more responsive by enhancing relaxation skills.

The slow, deep comprehensive stretching of restorative yoga, yin yoga and soft power yoga fit well with this evolving sense of health that emphasizes suppleness. These practices are quite different from the flexibility orientation of traditional fitness models that optimize sports performance.