There are a few factors, in my opinion, that shift a Restorative class from good to great. Some of the words that come to mind when I think of a true Restorative practice are:
Letting go/letting be
As a Restorative yoga teacher, we can enhance these qualities for our students by the way we approach and, relate to, the practice. I’ve found, through both practicing and teaching Restorative yoga, that attention to detail can be the difference between a good restorative class and a great one. In fact, attention to detail is the impetus for the profound letting go that Restorative yoga is known for.
Below are three crucial factors that I believe should be incorporated into a Restorative yoga class. Prop detail, honoring the nature of the practice, and extending care are all ways you can shine as a teacher and optimally offer the benefits of this powerful practice.
(make sure to check out the bottom of this article for more resources on Restorative yoga and how to deepen your own practice!)
If the Restorative practice has taught me anything (about yoga & life) it’s that the more specific and attentive I am, the more freedom I experience. Think of it like a relationship, where clear communication and boundaries inspire a sense of freedom and ease. Same goes for this practice. Clarity and specificity in prop setup can lead to the same sense of freedom and ease. That feeling of getting something off your chest when you express your truth? That’s the feeling I’m talking about. I try to bring the same sentiment into my Restorative practice and teaching.
Props = boundaries. Props are the very thing that create the container for the student to experience relaxation within. The more time and attention put into prop setup prior to settling into the pose, the less distraction the student will experience in the time that they are holding the pose.
Bottom line: be meticulous. It may feel overboard but it’s worth it.
I like to think about symmetry and support when I’m setting up the prop. The props should work to meet the body, rather than the body working to meet the props. Build the props up to the student as much as needed so they don’t have a sense of holding their body up or unnecessarily engaging their muscles in any way. Set up the props in an even manner so the student can hold the pose symmetrically, bringing the body into balance and alignment.
Props are what encourage the body to find this balance, and therefore, settle back in to their instinctual habits. If you practice true restorative yourself, you know how important props are (the more, the better!). Which means you believe it. Which means you can teach from that place of belief, and therefore, confidence. Because…how could you not offer your students the chance to experience this same incredible feeling?
Bottom line: The student’s comfort is your number one priority. Props are the ticket to that comfort.
2. Let the practice speak for itself
Pratyahara is a great companion to the Restorative practice. Pratyahara is known as ‘sense withdrawal’. It can be thought of as limiting external stimulation or distraction (within your control) so that you may pull your senses inside to quiet your nervous system. This is the difference between jolting at the sound of a water bottle falling versus feeling little to no shock in your system when it happens. Restorative shifts us from a reactive state (being low-key shocked at a sudden noise) to a responsive one (noticing the sound without being affected too much).
It’s a sign as to the state of our nervous system - whether it is on guard (sympathetic nervous system) or relaxed (parasympathetic nervous system). Restorative yoga triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and lowering stress levels. Doesn’t that sound like just what you want and need? The practice counteracts the number of stimulants we add or set off in our bodies (coffee, stress, busyness, etc.) - shifting us from being on edge to backing away from our edge. Let the practice speak for itself. Think of ways you can create a space that will help your students slip away from the external world and sink back into their subtle awareness. Think: consistent and calming.
For me, this comes in the form of: either no music or very soft, consistent ambient-style music; little to no assists, periods of no talking on my end so that there is space and silence for the student to just be. All of these factors allow the students to be in their own experience and, over the course of the pose, fully immerse in that experience rather than being taken out of it by a sudden change in music, touch, smell, etc.
On the other side of that, there are 4 tenets of the practice that help enhance this idea of pratyahara. They are:
The more of these you can incorporate in the practice, the more your students will find that blissful relaxation they are looking for. Encourage them to add layers of clothing or more blankets for warmth; invite them to place something (eye pillow or bandana) over their eyes or a blanket hood over their head; promote quiet either through no music, quiet consistent music, and/or taking time to not talk as much, leaving room for space and for their own self-contemplation; promote stillness in the way you set up props prior to resting in the pose.
3. Care. In different ways.
Care is the most important thing you can offer as a teacher of Restorative yoga. Care can come in different forms during a class: helping a student with their setup, bringing someone a prop, telling your students to give you a silent signal (like a hand on the belly) to tell you they would like your help, reminding your students that you’re holding space for them the entire class. All of these things create a safe space. And we all know that when we feel safe, we let go. We release our tense muscles and our stressful thoughts and we r-e-l-a-x to the max.
I like to think of this as a mothering practice. When we support ourselves with props, it’s like we are being held by someone we love. We are learning, through this practice, to give back to ourselves. We are mothering ourselves. So, as a teacher, how can you think of yourself as a mother figure - one who is caring, compassionate, observant, and insistent on their student’s comfort, safety and space? Don’t be afraid to ask your students, more than once, if they feel comfortable or if they need anything. It exhibits your care and fosters a sense of trust between you and your student.
I’ll be leading a Restorative yoga teacher training in Costa Rica March 2-9, 2019! Through this training you will receive 25 hours of continued education credits and will be certified to teach Restorative yoga. This will allow you to teach Restorative to group classes & private clients as well as deepen and refine your understanding of this style of yoga through your own personal practice.