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Restorative yoga = some serious relaxation

When I first started doing yoga, I think I probably just figured that there was ‘yoga’ and that was that.  Little did I realise that there was ashtanga yoga, bikram yoga, ananda, hatha, iyengar, kundalini, power, and on and on and on.  Recently, after not having done anything yoga-wise for too long time and spending too much time at my desk instead, I came across Carol Trevor, a Herts practitioner and teacher of restorative yoga who teaches one-to-one rather than in classes – and restorative yoga sounded just like what I needed for my sore (and sorely-neglected) bod.

Restorative yoga is about putting your body into a series of poses, supported by bolsters, blankets, and so on, and then letting your muscles relax.  It’s a seriously deep form of rest and relaxation, where the supports take the weight and you just, well, you just lie there.

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I’ll admit that while one-to-one yoga sounded brilliant – no peeking to see what the person next to you is doing or worrying about how big your bum looks when you’re doing a forward bend – I was actually nervous before my session with Carol.  Turns out, though, that yoga was originally taught to individual students, rather than in the large classes we’re more used to now.  The whole idea was – and is with Carol – that your practice is safer and more accessible when you have your teacher’s undivided attention, and that the empathy between teacher and student makes the yoga more effective.

That said, I was still worrying about what it would feel like having someone focusing solely on me.  No hiding at the back of a room full of other people – just me and her, and all my attempts at the poses right there for all (well, for her) to see.  What I soon realised, though, with Carol working through the poses alongside me, was that there was something very encouraging about having all that attention, and the little tweaks she made to what I was doing – “can I move your elbow a little?” – made a real difference.  I felt, with some of the poses in particular, that I was finally doing them right.

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And then Carol helped me get into the right poses for the restorative yoga.  They felt a bit strange at first – and it sort of felt like cheating having all the supports – but once I relaxed into them, they were incredible.  The support meant I wasn’t straining to keep in one position, and Carol had adjusted my arms and legs so that I could stop worrying whether I was doing it right or not.  She describes the relaxation as a ‘quietening of the senses’ – or pratyhara – in which you’re calm and relaxed, but still engaged and aware.  And it was amazing.  I could have stayed there for hours, and could practically feel all those tight knots in my neck and shoulders breathing little sighs of relief at being able to relax properly.

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Carol has a background in dance – as well in senior management and fundraising – but decided to train as a yoga teacher, as well as in meditation and sports massage.  She’s genuinely someone who incorporates the philosophies of yoga and meditation into her everyday life – something I find hard to do, what with juggling all sorts of other things.  It’s all about stepping out of the flow of busy-ness around you – she’s very clear about that – and calming everything down a bit.

So, when I started going on about not having enough time to do yoga or even to relax properly, she suggested three things that I could do every day that would just take five minutes but make a real difference.  I’ve been trying to do at least one of these every day since, and it does make a difference.  I’m particularly a fan of number 2, although not if anyone’s watching….

1.   Bend over.

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You may know the pose ‘downward dog.’  This is a variation of downward dog, but you’ll need a wall or door to lean against.  Place your palms flat against the door – then walk your hands down and your feet out until you’re bending at the hips in a place that’s comfortable for you.  Rest there while taking 5 or 10 breaths in and out.  It’s a great way to loosen up your back and shoulders – just don’t tense them up!

2.   Get your legs in the air.

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Lie on the floor, and scoot your bottom up against the wall with your legs in the air, resting against the wall.  And then just lie there, breathing calmly, for five minutes.  Roll over onto your side when you’re done, and stand up carefully.  You’ll really notice a difference in how you feel when you do this.

3.   Lie down.

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If you’ve done any yoga before, you’ll recognise the ‘corpse’ pose.  It’s a form of relaxation, often coming at the end of a class, and it’s a useful way to slow down and let go of the tension that’s built up in your body.  Lie on your back, resting comfortably and letting your arms and legs rest gently outwards on the floor.  Let your breathing settle, and try to focus on what’s happening in your body – rather than the thoughts going through your mind.  Roll over onto your side when you’re done, and come up to a seated position before you stand up carefully.


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