The shortest day of the year is fast approaching. It is also one of the busiest times of the year for many of us. As darkness reigns here in the Northern Hemisphere, our natural tendency is to draw inward. But for most of us, that’s just not an option.
On top of that, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can dampen holiday spirits. SAD is a form of depression that coincides with the change of seasons. The most common form begins in fall or early winter. According to the National Institutes of Health, the following are symptoms specific to fall/winter SAD include:
- Low energy
- Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness)
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
Restorative yoga is the perfect counterforce to December’s busyness. Restorative practice allows us to move inward, in harmony with the season’s natural flow. Restorative Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Restorative Bridge Pose) is a perfect counterpose to the malaise of SAD. It allows us to enjoy a much-needed respite from December’s busyness. At the same time, its heart-expanding qualities can renew our energies.
Many of us are conditioned to believe that only fast-paced, kick-butt yoga can reap benefits. From the outside restorative practice might look like just lying around on bolsters and blankets, but the truth is that it changes us at profound and subtle levels of being that a hurried practice cannot reach. A vigorous practice does yield benefits, but restorative yoga gives us access to deeper levels of being, the gateways to a quiet mind.
Restorative Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is a backbend. As a backbend, it expands the front body, a counteractive position to that of depression, the main symptom of SAD. The head position—neck flexed and head below the heart—activates the baro reflex, a reaction that suppresses the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system and moves us into the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) side. In the parasympathetic side, we restore and replenish our prana.
How to Practice Restorative Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
- To practice Restorative Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, gather five firm blankets or two Yoga bolsters and one firm blanket. You can also use a combination of one Standard Yoga Bolster and three firm blankets.
- If you are using blankets, fold four of them, each one into a bolster size (about 12 inches wide by 36 to 40 inches long). Make two stacks of two folded blankets each. Place one stack about a foot or more from the head end of a yoga mat. Place the other stack perpendicular to the first stack, parallel to the lengthwise sides of your mat, forming a “T” shape.
- If you are using bolsters, simply make a “T” shape with your bolsters with the top of the “T” a foot or more from the head end of your mat. Roll the other blanket into a roll that’s approximately six to eight inches in diameter and place it at the bottom of the “T.”
- Sit on the stem of the “T” and lie back. Scoot back toward the top of the “T” until your shoulders come off the edge and the tops of your shoulders touch the floor. You should feel as if your ribcage is spilling off the edge of the blankets or bolster.
- Your head and neck should be relaxed and level. Now stretch your legs out and allow your ankles to rest on the blanket roll. Rest your arms at your sides in whatever position is comfortable. You may want to cover your eyes with an eyebag.
- Settle in. Relax your breath. Allow your body to breathe naturally. Release the weight of your body into the pull of gravity. Do nothing.
- You can stay in Restorative Bridge for as little as five minutes or as long as 30 minutes or more. When you are ready to leave the pose, roll gently onto your side and rest for a while. Then push yourself up to a sitting position. Check in with your body/mind. How do you feel?
Georgia O’Keefe famously said, “Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small. It takes time. We haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” It is almost impossible to connect with the present when we are continually running. Slow down. Make a friend of your body. Give it time to replenish and restore itself.
Updated article from December 11, 2012.