by Mari Dickerson, LMSW, RYT
As a yoga teacher and psychotherapist I am consistently reminded of the immense benefit individuals can gain from integrating simple movement and mindfulness practices with psychotherapy. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are all practices that can help people enhance emotional regulation and distress tolerance, by increasing the capacity to sit with difficult emotions, thoughts, memories or cravings with compassionate awareness. While there are many forms of yoga and meditation that can help individuals develop these skills, I find that the most therapeutic form of yoga is a restorative practice, as it emphasizes slowing the body and mind into a state of deep relaxation. From this place of rest, we are able to more readily connect with our bodies and notice our thoughts, feelings, and sensations with compassionate awareness.
Restorative yoga is a restful and calming style of yoga that is more passive or receptive than other forms of the practice. Unlike more active forms of yoga, restorative poses are held from anywhere between five to twenty minutes and practitioners are supported by props such as blankets, bolsters (pillows), or blocks. The use of props in restorative yoga has a simple aim, but is of great benefit to the body and mind. When the body is supported in a restorative pose, both mind and body can begin releasing chronic tension and stress and the practitioner is able to move into a place of deep relaxation, and inner peace. While each pose is meant to elicit this state of rest , specific postures have a variety of physical and psychological benefits. For example, supported child’s pose reduces anxiety and also relieves lower back pain and soothes digestion while, supported bridge pose can reduce feelings of depression, alleviate shoulder tension and relieve insomnia. A restorative practice generally lasts thirty to ninety minutes and can be sequenced to address specific psychological and physiological symptoms. The gentle, supportive nature of the poses makes the practice accessible to any body type or skill level.
Yoga teacher and physical therapist Judith Hanson Lasater describes the deep relaxation cultivated by restorative yoga as an “antidote” to modern day stress. By slowing the mind and body, calming the nervous system, and releasing muscle tension, a daily or weekly restorative practice provides refuge from a frenetic lifestyle. Our culture of “busyness” often sends conflicting messages– we define our self worth by how busy we are and how much we can accomplish and yet also constantly talk about the need to relax and rest, often without a clear way or designated place or time to get the rest we need. Additionally, daily stress causes our bodies to remain in a state of hyperarousal also known as “fight or flight” mode. Restorative yoga counters this by activating the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” part of our nervous system, promoting feelings of safety, relaxation and rest. With stress relief as the centerpiece of the practice, restorative yoga enables practitioners to create a space for this essential rest in their daily lives. With the guidance of a teacher and the abundance of books and online resources, individuals can easily develop a home practice and a way to relax that is an alternative to using substances, food, TV, or other habitual behaviors while feeling empowered by their ability to increase relaxation, mindful awareness, and shifts in mood on their own.
Mari Dickerson is a certified yoga instructor, psychotherapist, social worker at The Center for Optimal Living. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from New York University and has specialized training in substance misuse, trauma treatment, and mindfulness. Mari draws upon psychodynamic, dialectical, cognitive behavioral, and mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches in order to help patients strengthen their self-awareness and capacity for emotional regulation. At the center Mari leads the Holistic Wellness Group for Women which focuses on restorative yoga and group support as tools for balancing the mind and body. She also leads a group on harm reduction for young adults and offers individual psychotherapy sessions. To join one of Mari’s groups or schedule a consultation email firstname.lastname@example.org.