elevating legs for restorative yoga

Your body needs you to REST!

Can we all just chill out for a sec?

Today’s topic is one that is super-important to me, and in my opinion way under-valued in the fitness and wellness world. Sure, we’ve all heard about “self care” but usually that image of self-care looks like drinking a glass of wine in the tub – not actually working with your body. I’d like to propose that we all need to add a little more Yin and restorative work to our routine, and that is one of the greatest self-care gifts we can give ourselves.

What are Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga?

“Yin” refers to the opposite of Yang. These are the two types of energy in the Chinese Taoist philosophy. Yang is everything that is bright, external, aggressive, active, and heating. Yin is everything that is calm, dark, quiet, introspective, and cooling. Our bodies need both, but most of us have way more Yang in our lives than Yin.

Yin yoga is energetically much calmer than a typical yoga class, but still has a lot of sensation. It is long-held stretches (about 2-5 minutes) where you’re using a lot of props to support the body.

Restorative is also prop-heavy, long-held poses, but unlike Yin, there is not a lot of intense, stretching sensation. It’s meant more to calm the mind, body, and nervous system.

Why do we need Yin Yoga? Why does it matter?

I understand that especially as new moms or pregnant people – or really anyone who has a lot of body image pressure – it can feel like you need to be doing cardio all the time to be fit and healthy. 

In reality, for many of us, what our bodies need is restorative, restful work. If you are regularly exhausted, anxious, or have trouble sleeping, odds are you need to do some Yin or Restorative yoga. 

Why? Energetically, many of us are way too Yang. Our culture is expressive and aggressive. We are constantly doing a lot for others. We are competitive and goal-oriented. This gets exacerbated at certain times of the year, like the holidays, when we are entertaining, socializing, and generally doing a lot more mentally and physically.

From a physiological standpoint, there’s also a strong case to be made for more “Yin” exercise. Our nervous system has two states: our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.

Sympathetic is the fight or flight response. It’s characterized by being on alert, ready to flee or fight at a moment’s notice. Hormonally, we’re producing more adrenaline, the stress hormone, when in fight or flight. This is how you can be completely exhausted, yet be able to anxiously lie in bed awake for hours at night. As a sidenote, in birth, adrenaline is actually really incredible. Our animal instincts want to protect us from birthing and exposing ourselves and our babies to harm, so adrenaline, or fear can keep us from going into or continuing labor if we perceive a threat. On the other hand, once labor has reached the pushing stage, adrenaline shoots back up and spurs us to GET THIS BABY OUT as quickly as possible. 

Parasympathetic is the rest & digest response. Our body digests, detoxifies, and heals when we are in a parasympathetic nervous system state. That’s why there’s so much research that things like stress and sleep deprivation cause weight gain, inflammation, and disease. Getting into a parasympathetic state is even more important if we have a baby and our natural sleep cycles are routinely being disturbed. 

What does this mean for our core & pelvic floor?

Your pelvic floor heals like every other part of your body. So, if you have had trauma (e.g. tearing during birth and stitches), you want to be sure that your body has ample opportunity to recover.

Plus, if you’re in a fear state (or anxiety, stress, exhaustion, etc), muscles engage and tighten. That can mean that if our pelvic floor is weak or disengaged, we may tighten our core, hold our breath, and bear down on the pelvic floor, increasing the risk of organ prolapse. On the other hand, if the pelvic floor is hypertonic or too engaged, stress may cause us to engage MORE, increasing the severity of symptoms like pain with intercourse, urge incontinence, and pelvic pain or tightness.

Fear on the mat

So many of the prenatal and postnatal women I work with are terrified of their own bodies. They’re afraid of being injured, of wetting themselves, or of simply not being able to do what they once could. That fear can be paralyzing – literally. The more fear and stress we create, the more the body responds by locking down our mobility and freezing our muscles up. This is why it’s so important to have nurturing and opening practices like Yin Yoga. This allow the mind to calm and the muscles to open, including core and pelvic muscles as well as the rest of the body.

If you’d like to chat more about how to develop a balance of nurturing and challenging exercises, let’s chat! Schedule a free 30-minute consult call with me.

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