When I talk about healing, what do I mean? I think there are a number of layers of healing. With something clearly broken, like an arm bone, healing will involve many layers of different tissues coming back into place, growing healthy, building strength, and resuming normal function. With less obvious ills, it can be harder to define healing. Think about having a lingering cold, after the initial awfulness resolves and you are left with sniffles and malaise. Or a general sense of unease and cloudiness, not specific enough to root out a cause. In these cases, healing can be the shift on the seesaw from below par to above par. It can be the returning to equilibrium after illness or a life event knocks you down. I think restorative yoga is a useful practice for healing all these states.
Healing can be physical, mental, or emotional, but is usually some blend of all three. The practice of restorative yoga is a positive healing force on all these levels of being. We take postures that offer a gentle opening to the physical body, and can shift the blood flow to the organs and glands, helping to bring the physical body into a healthier state. Postures also influence the endocrine system which regulates hormones, key components in healing. Also, we don’t do a lot—of postures, of moving, of thinking. To paraphrase what her teacher said to a friend of mine, it’s not how much you can do that counts, it’s how much you can integrate. In a restorative practice, we prioritize time and space for integration.
During the practice, the mind has time and space to rest, unwinding the tight spirals of the stories we tell ourselves and shifting into witnessing, observing mode. As we make this gentle swing into the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system, we activate our own inbuilt healing system. The immune system functions are suppressed when we are in stress response mode, when the sympathetic nervous system is more active, and flourish in parasympathetic mode.
I believe we all share the understanding now that when we feel an emotion deeply, it affects some part of the physical body. It’s also true that the way my body behaves affects my emotional states. Angry or sad, I hunch and tense. Calm or happy, I open my chest and lift my gaze. The opposite works too: hunched shoulders and downcast eyes with tightly closed fists make me feel close, tight, restricted, sad, hurt, angry. A gently lifted chest, widened collarbones, and forward-looking eyes make me feel open, calm, resilient, happier, peaceful. Emotions accompany the healing state and affect the immune system too. It’s common to feel love, warmth, gentleness, peace, faith, joy, tranquility, or compassion in a healing state of parasympathetic nervous system activation.
So when I talk about healing through restorative yoga, I am not talking about miracle cures and instant fixes. I am talking about increasing the healing energy of the parasympathetic nervous system and the immune response, regulating a healthy hormonal system, supporting organ health through optimal blood flow, giving the mind time and space to quiet and shift into witnessing mode, and encouraging an open, relaxed physical state in the whole body. Over time and through practice, healing will occur, often in unexpected places and ways. I hope you enjoy the journey!