The title of your book is Restorative Yoga Therapy. What is the difference between restorative yoga and restorative yoga therapy?
The difference between restorative yoga and restorative yoga therapy is simple: Restorative yoga is a wonderful practice with a goal of using supported poses to elicit a deep body/mind relaxation. Restorative yoga therapy uses supported poses to elicit a deep body/mind relaxation and is tailored to meet unique needs such as injuries and common ailments. Each class is carefully sequenced to address those needs within the framework of a theme-based practice.
The subtitle is The Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being. What is the Yapana Way?
The Yapana Way is a teaching style developed over years of studies with master teachers and my own personal practice. A complete Yapana yoga class includes movements in all planes, DOING (dynamic) poses, BEING (passive) poses, held for an extended period of time with the support of yoga props. The BEING poses makes up the restorative yoga therapy portion of the practice.
More importantly, a Yapana Way practice meets students where they are. It is the way for self-reflection, change and ultimately, acceptance.
How would you respond to someone who says they aren’t flexible enough to practice yoga?
You don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga. This is particularly true with restorative yoga therapy. Every single pose can be smartly adapted to meet hyper-flexibility, rigidity and a host of other needs. Yoga props are strategically placed to bring the pose to the student as opposed to forcing the student into a predetermined shape. Restorative yoga therapy is a perfect introduction into a yoga practice due to its gentle approach. All that is required is interest.
In a culture where sweat is valued over mindfulness, what would you say to someone who thinks restorative yoga therapy does little to improve one’s health?
Stress negatively impacts our well-being. According to the Huffington Post, a recent article in Popular Science reported that 30 percent of U.S. adults say stress affects their physical health and 33 percent say it has an impact on their mental health. On the other hand, Columbia University researchers found that those who sat in expansive positions with their arms and legs spread out for two minutes saw lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, than those in more tighter poses, according to Popular Science.
An intelligent restorative yoga therapy practice is designed to expand the bodies habitual closed or compressed position (historic poor postural habits whether sitting or standing) in supported yoga poses. One can experience an outer opening, inner calm and overall tranquil feeling. With the proper support, students can relax into the pose’s shape for a minimum of two minutes.
Living in the 21st century is crowded with responsibilities, commitments and complications. A restorative yoga therapy practice is an excellent healthy option for coping, managing and decreasing stress levels in order to live a fuller and more joyful life.
The style of yoga you write about uses a lot of props. Why?
Yoga props help bring the pose to the student. Bringing the pose to the student prevents overreaching physically and mentally. It fosters balance and acceptance. And it allows for the student to spend longer than five or so breaths in a pose. The time is used for self-reflection into what’s happening now and is followed by an adjustment if needed. Sometimes the nature of a pose only requires presence and breathing. Each person’s experience is different because everyone’s needs are different. But this I know for sure: When the pose is strategically propped whether it is to awaken or soothe an area, the props are instrumental in extending the length of time possible in each pose. A little more time in each pose means a little more time to practice skills of all kinds.
What if someone doesn’t want to invest in the expense of yoga props — can they still practice this style?
It is not necessary to invest in the expense of yoga props in order to practice this style. You can typically find items around your house or office that will do the trick. You can also make your own props. My husband bought wood from the local hardware store and made all of my wooden blocks and dowels to my specifications. We saved hundreds of dollars. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can make your own yoga belts, pillows and even bolsters. Standard prop measurements are listed in the book as well as suggestions for other things you can use for yoga props.
If someone only had time to do a 3 poses from the book, which ones would you recommend and why?
Matysyasana (Fish Pose): Backbends are so important for keeping the spine supple. Many of us spend so much time with forward shoulders, sunken chests and rounded mid-backs. As a result, our back, shoulders and neck become stiff and rigid. This is the go-to pose that helps to reverse those effects. Backbends open the chest, thereby widening the diaphragmatic band just underneath the chest. This promotes better access to the breath and is a good pose to practice Three-Part Breathing, a simple breathing technique that can settle the mind and support a meditative experience used to cope with stress.
Parivrtta Pavanmuktasana (Revolved Knee Squeeze Pose)
Many of us spend most of our time during the day bent over and rarely get the chance to safely rotate our spine. Twists are a great way to unwind tension built throughout the day while opening the shoulders, chest and hips. There are prone twists and supine twists. The prone twists are a bit quieter on the nervous system than the prone ones. Although I like twists of all kinds, the prone twists by nature are ones you can really melt into. They require less rotation of the spine than the supine ones and when well-supported, feel absolutely divine. People have been known to drool on their bolster. It’s true!
Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose)
This pose can be practiced with or without support underneath the pelvis. Either way, I recommend practicing it every day; I do. Think of the saying, “take a load off your feet”. That’s exactly what this pose does. It turns the body’s typical standing or sitting position upside down and draws the fluids from the legs into the lower abdomen. This is a perfect panacea for those that spend long hours of sitting or standing, experience leg swelling, or suffer from an achy lower back. It’s also a great pose to practice after airplane travel. You’re guaranteed to feel refreshed and renewed afterward.
What do you think the most common misconception people have about yoga is? and what is the actual truth?
I think the current misconception about yoga is that it is a workout. Hatha Yoga or asanas (poses) seems to be the most popular branch of yoga in the U.S. It is a wonderful thing that a reported 21 million Americans are practicing yoga. However, like all things that have grown exponentially, it has been watered down from its original purpose.
These days, many practitioners use the poses solely as exercise – to sweat, get a better butt, or lose weight. While none of these reasons are negative, yoga’s roots go much deeper. And if acknowledged, can be stepping stones to deeply taking charge of our self-care and well-being. However, many people walk into the doors of yoga due to a desire for a physical experience. Over time, they may come to find other benefits and that’s a good thing.
The truth is, yoga is a practice, not a workout. It was designed to address way more than our physical needs. A yoga practice can tone the physical body, but it also tunes-up the mental body and delivers the skills that are needed to cope with the daily stressors we all face. The real workout is what happens when we step off the mat. The kind of mind we bring to our time on the mat is a direct pointer to the kind of mind we bring into the world.
Those that think yoga is about getting the best workout they can, miss yoga’s intention: To learn skills that develop presence and self-acceptance throughout all aspects of life. That’s why it makes no difference whether you are sweating in dynamic poses or relaxing in passive ones. The opportunity for meeting your thoughts and feelings whether you are in “doing” or “being” mode is always there. Now. And now.
Tell us about your yoga journey. How/when did you first start practicing and what inspired you to want to go on to teach?
There are two experiences that started me on my yoga journey. In the late 70’s while I was visiting my brother in college, I went for a walk and passed a house with a sign in front that read: FREE Sunday Dinner. It was Sunday and I was hungry, so I walked into the open front door. Everyone was dressed the same and playing instruments and singing the same words over and over again. Afterward, they welcomed me and gave me a bowl and utensils and told me to stand in line to get fed. Everyone seemed genuinely nice and happy to have me at their dinner table. I never thought much about it until a year or so later when I was dating a guy who got up early each morning to “breathe”. He was a cyclist and claimed it helped him to focus and stay calm in the face of his challenging rides. He taught me how to manage my breath. From then on, I had a dedicated daily pranayama practice before I ever struck a pose. It made my head feel so clear — it was undeniable and indescribable. Those two experiences started me on my journey. Once I let yoga in I never looked back.
Circumstances came before inspiration. I was attending classes regularly and one day my teacher didn’t show up to teach the class. I was encouraged by other students to “lead” the class. Begrudgingly, I did. Although it was not a positive experience for me (I trembled when demonstrating the poses and stumbled over my words), others continued to ask me to share with them what had transformed my life. Years later, co-workers from the company we all worked for said to me, “clearly, you should not be working for this company.” So, I quit and studied to become an official yoga instructor so someone could hire me to teach them. Witnessing the countless transformation in others inspired me to continue to share the principles and practice with others.
Restorative Yoga Therapy by Leeann Carey
June 15, 2015 • Yoga/Health & Wellness • Trade Pback & eBook
224 pages w/ B&W illustrations • Price: $17.95 • ISBN 978-1-60868-359-8