"Receive the breath,
receive the weight of the body,
receive the moment.
Give up ambition,
give up movement,
give up fear...
- Judith Hanson Lasater
Clarissa Boggess, owner and instructor at Painted Lotus Yoga and Wellness, shares a bit about her experience and perspective as as avid practitioner of Restorative Yoga.
Photo Credit of Clarissa: Audrey Morgaine, 2021
My first Restorative Yoga experience happened during Restorative Yoga Teacher Training in 2013. At that time, Restorative Yoga was not the phenomenon that it has now become. There were no classes of this type being offered where I was and, until seeing the announcement for the teacher training, I had never even heard of “Restorative Yoga”. Naturally, I was eager for the experience and to develop this new skill-set to offer to our community. Entering the class, I was expecting some gentle stretching, slow flows, to incorporate the use of more props, possibly with an extended Savasana at the end. The facilitator was an experienced and gifted teacher and is likely the only reason I didn’t panic once I realized what was actually going to happen.
You see, I came to yoga asana (the physical practice) as many folks do in our culture; red-lining everyday, incapable of sitting still, forcing challenging situations and emotions to the back-burner to be dealt with at some undetermined future date, in dire need of relaxation but having no idea of how to get there. Final Relaxation Pose, or Savasana, often the finishing pose of an otherwise active asana class, was torture for me. To be certain I had come a long way since first rolling out a yoga mat but the practice of meditation or being still with whatever lay within was still supremely difficult for me.
I would lay there with my eyes open…then shut….then open…then I’d look around to see if I was the only one not “dropping in”, certain that I must be doing it wrong. I’d go quiet, close my eyes and then be seized with the anxiety of thinking that somehow I had missed the cue to sit up only to jerk my eyes open, sit up halfway and see that everyone else was seemingly blissfully unaware of my discomfort. Yep, I was that person, and here I was about to participate in what would essentially be 60-90 minutes of Savasana followed by something that sounded even more intimidating... “Yoga Nidra”.
During the course of the teacher training, there would be no slow flows, few gentle stretches, but I would learn to support myself with all sorts of props, discovering a deep muscular, emotional, and mental release that I could not have imagined possible for someone like me. I would encounter discomfort during the practice, physically and emotionally, learning how to adjust my supports and how to utilize breath and visualization to process all that was being released as my muscles and mind surrendered to the practice. In time, I found the sweet Yogic Sleep of Nidra to be sublime. This transformation didn’t occur in one 4-day weekend training or with one class, but like most things required consistent practice and time.
So, what do you envision when you hear the term “Restorative Yoga”? Does the term conjure images of a softly lit room, soothing fragrances, ambient music, your body gently supported by bolsters, pillows, and blankets, your mind at ease and able to release the tension and stress of everyday life? A respite from obligations, responsibilities, and challenging emotional states? Or, like me, did you envision something more akin to a gentle stretching practice, with or without props?
As with my own experience, for those new to Restorative, the reality often does not live up to the ideal. The mental and physical health benefits of Restorative are numerous and well-documented by researchers, so how do we avail ourselves of these benefits, cultivating ease and relaxation in what, for many, can be a stress-inducing experience?
Let’s start by defining exactly what we mean by “Restorative Yoga”. A Restorative practice, as introduced by BKS Iyengar and expanded on by Judith Hanson Lasater, is an advanced meditation while resting in yoga postures, completely supported by props. The physical practice in a Restorative class is purely passive. The body is meant to be in a state of deep relaxation while in various yoga postures. The use of props to completely support the practitioner while in yoga poses allows for the release of nearly all muscular effort. By resolving muscular tension, the the mind is encouraged to quiet and let go of random chatter, slipping into a state of meditation or deep relaxation. The poses are held in this way anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes each, depending both on the posture and the experience of the student.
A Restorative practice may be an hour long with as little as 4-5 postures being explored during that time, usually ending with an extended Savasana or Nidra. One needs little to no experience with yoga poses when beginning this practice. The challenge usually comes from having to lie still and quiet with yourself for an extended period of time. For those without any meditation or mindfulness experience, this can prove to be stressful and challenging. If you have ever been in a more active yoga asana class and found Savasana to be challenging (as most of us have at one time or other), then you already have an idea of what Restorative may initially be like for you.
Thinking that Restorative sounds wonderful in theory but may not be accessible for you? Do not despair!
Below are some ways to work toward cultivating a relationship with Restorative yoga and by extension, beginning to develop a Meditation practice. The results of perseverance with Restorative Yoga are undeniably beneficial to your mental, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing.
Clarissa Boggess: E-RYT200/RYT500, YACEP, HMCCP, Reiki
Clarissa has been teaching and practicing Restorative Yoga since 2013. She is the owner of, and an instructor at, Painted Lotus Yoga & Wellness in Tuscaloosa, AL.
A Tuscaloosa native, Clarissa brings over a decade of teaching experience to her classes. A student of the practice since the early 90's, Clarissa received Yoga Alliance certification as a Registered Yoga Teacher at the 200 hour level through Yoga Bliss Studio (with Jennifer Wofsey) in March 2008 and achieved 500 hour Yoga Alliance certification through the Rolf Gates 300hr. Advanced Vinyasa Teacher Training (Augusta Kantra and Rolf Gates) in August 2016. Over the years Clarissa has received on-going training in various aspects and styles of Yoga and movement-based healing modalities including Restorative Yoga, Yoga for Kids, Hannah Somatics, is an Accessible Yoga Ambassador and Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider.
Clarissa has an extensive knowledge of herbal plant allies, is a Reiki practitioner, and has an in-depth understanding of the use of crystals for balancing energy, earning the designation of Certified Crystal Practitioner from the Hibiscus Moon Crystal Academy, in March 2016. Clarissa is a fierce and tireless child advocate within Tuscaloosa City Schools and serves the LGBTQ+ community as a founding member of PFLAG Tuscaloosa. For more information about classes, visit paintedlotusyoga.com.