As a teacher, I spend a lot of time learning from the many different yoga styles and teachers out there.
But for my personal practice, my first love is Ashtanga – an energetic form of yoga that has a reputation for strengthening and building stamina. I’m drawn to it because I like to be challenged and work hard. I’m a little addicted to the mix of exhaustion, elation and happiness I feel at the end of each session.
So when I went along to my first Restorative yoga class in Thailand a few years ago, I didn’t expect it to be my thing.
As I sat in the thatched, beach-side open air studio on the island of Koh Samui, the teacher explained how Restorative yoga couldn’t be more different from Ashtanga.
Instead of moving continuously from pose to pose, you tend to lie down, use cushions and blocks to get comfortable, then hold gentle stretches for up to ten minutes a time.
The teacher instructed the class to sink into the sandy floor as she moved around, helping us use blocks and straps to hold our bodies in position.
Settling onto the bolster, I tried to follow her instruction to focus my mind on my breath and relax. Listening to the waves clinking back and forth over the sand and stones, it felt good to settle into such a long gentle stretch. But my mind was wandering and boredom didn’t feel far away.
Then gradually, I started to feel moments of intense calm. And soon I had slipped into a blissful state – an almost euphoric time warp where minutes felt like seconds. It felt amazing. Coming out the other side, after just five or six long, gentle stretches, I was refreshed and rejuvenated.
I had totally fallen for Restorative yoga.
For the next few weeks, I carried on doing Restorative classes in Thailand alongside my Ashtanga. Each session felt better than the last. My muscles felt supple and my joints felt more free.
When I got back to the UK, I booked on to do an intensive restorative yoga course for teachers by the brilliant Anna Ashby.
Anna helped me explore the practice more deeply. All the same yoga principles I knew applied to Restorative yoga – the types of stretches, the breathing.
But Anna taught me how Restorative yoga requires students to ‘let go’ in a different way. There’s not so much a need for the ‘gentle determinedness’ required in many yoga sessions.
It really is about giving in.
Anna taught me how to support students using props such as bolsters, blankets, straps and blocks. Great Restorative teachers like Anna know how to make sure every muscle of the body is supported in a pose so they can soften and release.
With Anna’s help and lots of research, I began to realise how to use restorative yoga to complement dynamic yoga. I’ve found it can be such a great tool to help deal with stress and anxiety, or to give ourselves space from our busy lives.
I now use Restorative yoga principles in private classes with students – and at times I introduce them to group classes. But the reality is, the yoga classes I offer have to contain a bit of everything for everyone.
So I’m going to start putting on monthly Restorative yoga workshops to introduce students to this form of yoga. As well as learning different positions, I hope students will come away from them feeling relaxed, happy and supple.
Workshops will be limited to a maximum of five students so I can help everyone use the props in the right way.
Monthly 90 minute workshops are held on the first Sunday of each month at 10.45 am. Cost – £15.
Get in touch here to book your class.