We could all use retreat time. When most of our days are filled with activities and responsibilities, taking a five-minute break—let alone a 20-minute one—can seem out of reach. Not to mention that it often seems a waste to “do nothing”
We in the West tend to believe that the busier we are, the more value there is to our lives. Accomplishing things feels good. How we spend our days is important. But taking time to rest is equally important. Lizzie Lasater, daughter of Judith Hanson Lasater (author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times), explains the importance of taking rest:
“For the average person, it takes the body 15 minutes to relax or to reach the state of Pratayahara [cessation of our addiction to sensations]. The next stage, Asunia, is when we move into our body clock—our body time—allowing for re-programming of our parasympathetic nervous system. This shift into the parasympathetic system is important because it helps stabilize and improve our long-term functions, such as our immune system, our circulatory system, our digestive system and our hormones, including fertility. After 20 minutes of rest, your mind goes into an empty state, similar to wiping a chalkboard clean, giving you the ability to think more clearly and reframe our focus.”
The Power of Restorative Yoga
Whether your regular retreat is bodywork, yoga, hot baths, getting lost in great fiction or sauntering in nature, keep at least one of these on your list. In addition, I’d like to add one more thing: Restorative Yoga.
The beauty—and the power—of Restorative Yoga is at least partly that we can stay a long time in the poses. While our Western exercise paradigm assesses the “power” of a physical practice by its speed, how hard we breathe, the amount of sweat it induces, and amount of pain we feel during and after, the paradigm from which yoga has evolved sees it quite differently.
According to the yogic model, we are all amalgams of five koshas, or bodies. The koshas are rather like Russian nesting dolls; each successive kosha nests inside the last. Starting from the outermost, here are the koshas: Annamaya, the physical body; Pranamaya, the energy body; Manomaya, the body of emotion and intellect (mind stuff); Vijnanamaya, the body of higher intelligence; and Anandamaya, the body of bliss. The purpose of yoga practice is to bring all levels of being into balance.
In order for a yoga pose to reach the deeper koshas, we need to give it time. Rushing through a few quick Sun Salutations may loosen some muscles and release a few endorphins, but if we really want to feel restored and balanced on all levels—physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual—we need to slow down and allow time for our yoga to sink into the deepest layers of being.
An Instant Retreat
I can’t say I’ve ever met a Restorative pose I don’t like, but one of my favorites in recent years has been an invention of Restorative guru Judith Hanson Lasater’s that she calls “Instant Maui.” A slight inversion, Instant Maui is cooling, calming and stimulates the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) side of the autonomic nervous system. Practiced 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, practicing Instant Maui can ward off insomnia. It’s a 20-minute beach vacation for your body, mind and heart.
Instant Maui is a variation of Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall). For many Instant Maui is easier to sustain for a longer period of time than Viparita Karani. Legs can become fatigued when they’re extending straight up the wall. In Instant Maui, the legs are completely supported.
I prefer to practice with my pelvis slightly elevated while my legs rest on the chair. Elevating the pelvis creates a gentle inversion that I find more calming than lying flat. If you find you prefer lying level on the floor, by all means, practice Instant Maui that way. Comfort makes for effective practice. If you are experiencing any of the contraindications to inversions—your menstrual period, high blood pressure, or eye problems such as glaucoma or detached retina—lying level is probably best.
How to Practice Instant Maui
- Gather two or three yoga blankets, a yoga mat, a Standard Yoga Bolster, a folding chair and an eyebag if you have one.
- Spread your yoga mat out onto the floor. Place your chair on top of your mat with the seat facing you. a Standard Yoga Bolster in front of and parallel to the legs of the chair. You might want to start with the bolster 6 inches or so away from the chair, but you will probably need to adjust your distance once you get into the pose.
- Lie down, resting your pelvis on the bolster. Make sure that the fleshiest part of your rear is slightly off the blanket toward the chair so that your torso, from your pelvis to the bottom of your chest, is horizontal. If your torso slants toward your head, Instant Maui will not be very relaxing. If your legs don’t feel comfortable on the chair, you can move it closer or farther away.
- Our bodies naturally cool down in restorative yoga, so you may want to have another blanket handy to place over your entire body, or at least over your torso. Stay as long as you like. Set aside your to-do list. Do nothing.
- When it’s time to come out, fold your legs in toward your torso, roll onto your side and relax for a few breaths before sitting up.
Restorative yoga is not about stretching. It is about settling and opening. If you feel any discomfort, including a strong stretch, in Instant Maui, you may want to experiment with your props. While using a bolster in this pose feels great for some, it is too much for others. You can always switch to a blanket folded to approximately the size of a bolster, or to lying flat on the floor with your legs on the chair. The ideal restorative pose yields little physical sensation.
If your schedule will allow it, 20 minutes In Instant Maui is ideal. But if it’s five minutes on a given day, enjoy that five minutes. Don’t stress out about not practicing long enough. Remember that restorative yoga is a gift to yourself, not another thing you have to get done.
Restorative practice is about replenishing vital energy on all levels. When we are constantly exhausted it is hard to access our joy. Restorative yoga allows the benefits of practice to reach down deep, not just stretching muscles, but nourishing our entire being.