The Science Behind Restorative Yoga + Why We Should All Be Practicing It
We live in a culture of speed. One which connects our very self worth to our productivity. So the thought of doing absolutely nothing for an hour may send some of us into a full on panic. However, if we look around, this culture of speed, productivity and distractions may eventually lead to a feeling of trying to put toothpaste back into the tube.
Through my yoga training, I’ve seen that a fine line can be drawn between gratifying work versus chronic stress, and how the value of slowing down should not be treated as a luxury, but a necessity.
Restorative yoga, which restores and consciously rests our bodies, is actually active work, and can help to restore our lives. Essentially, in order for us to all speed up, and keep up, we must first slow down and embrace that we are all human-beings to our cores, not human-doings.
The science behind Restorative Yoga also supports the theme of “active” work. From the beginning, during cavewomen days, the dominant Autonomic Nervous System was the Parasympathetic Nervous System (“PNS”), a/k/a “Rest and Digest”. Only when our ancestors would encounter a savage beast would their Sympathetic Nervous System (“SNS”) step in, a/k/a “Fight or Flight”. During this “Fight or Flight” stage a cascade of chemicals and physical reactions occur to prepare the body for the fight, or the flight.
A few of the things that kick in during “fight or flight” are an adrenaline surge, heart rate increase (resulting in more blood flow to muscles and oxygen to lungs), eyes dilating for clear focus, and the liver increasing glucose for production of energy. The body in return will also shut down anything which is not a priority for the fight or flight - like digestion, elimination, growth, repair and reproduction, to name a few. Historically, not until after the fight or flight is over does the nervous system bring the body back into balance to create happy hormones, incorporating back in the rest and digest elements. These events can put a heavy load on our systems.
The “Rest and Digest” system should be our dominate system still today, like it was during caveman/women days. However, technology and industry have overstimulated the “Fight or Flight” system to the point of living in a state of chronic stress during non-life threatening situations. When in reality, it should only be active during emergency situations when someone is hurt or about to get hurt. Our nervous systems lean towards what is familiar. So while it’s used to a stressed out environment, it will lean that way during downtime, creating a vicious cycle of chronic stress. Essentially creating a chronic state of “fight or flight” in our everyday lives.
Chronic stress makes a person more vulnerable to anything from the common cold, to cancer. It can change the body and brain’s functions beyond the cellular level. It suppresses the immune system, upsets the digestive and reproductive system, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speeds up the aging process.
This is where Restorative Yoga can help heal. It’s important to rest and relax so that the body can heal, and rebuild, actually making us sharper, more intuitive and healthier in order to not only keep up with our environment, but to excel and not become burnt out. Restorative Yoga creates a space that allows for people to activate their Rest and Digest system on a regular basis so that the nervous system can begin to lean towards a more familiar calm. Ultimately, this can have massive effects not only on the health of individuals, but on our entire healthcare system.