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Restorative Yoga Therapy
The Yapana Way to Self-Care and Well-Being
By Leeann Carey, Wendy Saade
New World LibraryCopyright © 2015 Leeann Carey
All rights reserved.
YAPANA YOGA THERAPY
This practice meets people where they are. It is designed to encourage self-inquiry, reflection, and change, not perfection — the universe has already taken care of that part.
Yapana Yoga Therapy is a hatha yoga practice consisting of a series of simple movements to warm up the body, followed by DOING (dynamic) and BEING (relaxing) poses, held for an extended period of time with the support of yoga props, and ending with a STILL (final relaxation) pose to complete the practice.
This practice meets people where they are. It is designed to encourage self-inquiry, reflection, and change, not perfection — the universe has already taken care of that part. It is a gateway to discover how to apply its therapeutic outcome on and off the mat. The objective on the mat is to promote both balance and a positive and enduring effect while supported in both the heat-building and passive phases of the practice.
For purposes of this book, the BEING and STILL segments of the practice are deconstructed and explored. Oftentimes in a classical hatha yoga practice, yoga instructors and students value the stronger segment of the class more and, as a result, do not give ample time for the rest and relaxation phases of the practice. Because we live in a fast-paced world, restorative poses are a necessary part of our practice to help restore us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We all require recovery time, some of us more than others. Incorporating this part of our living into our yoga practice will take care of the stressors that may lie ahead.
BEING POSES (SUPPORTED PASSIVE POSES)
BEING poses are the essential core of the Yapana practice. This is where the body/mind is supported into a state of relaxation and recovery. BEING poses give the body an opportunity to stretch passively and the mind the opportunity to experience what comes from doing nothing while supported in a yoga pose to elicit body/mind relaxation.
BEING poses are unique in that they help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the "rest and digest system," which is responsible for the stimulation of bodily functions that occur while at rest. Although the body is in "rest mode," this does not always mean that the mind will settle into a quiet place. As with all other styles of yoga, however, practice and patience are the doorways into stillness and the settling of the mind.
The ample use of yoga props and their strategic placement are crucial to encouraging a peaceful experience in the BEING poses. One of the roles of the musculoskeletal system is to support the bodily organs. The better the musculoskeletal system is supported to meet you exactly where you are — stiff, flexible, or with a wandering mind — the more fully the body/mind can relax. When all urges to "do" are relieved, the body/mind can surrender and relax into doing less and feeling more.
BEING POSES ARE PERFORMED IN ALL CATEGORIES OF PRACTICE:
Twists (seated, supine, and prone variations)
Miscellaneous (seated, side lying, supine, and prone)
BEING poses are held with support anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes. Refer to the practice timetable in chapter 10 (page 167).
I often hear from yoga students that practicing BEING poses has better prepared them for DOING, or classical, poses. And yoga teachers often tell me they learn more about the DOING poses while working with students and their own bodies in the BEING poses. This happens because whoever you are in any given DOING pose — however you avoid or overwork an area — presents itself quite loudly in the BEING poses. For instance, you can practice Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) classically — standing upright in the middle of your mat. Any difficulties with front leg alignment, femur rotation, hamstring flexibility, or perhaps a neutral pelvis position will show up in the BEING version of the pose. But in the BEING version, you will have to address the challenges. The floor beneath you will prevent you from doing anything other than facing yourself, and so it goes with all BEING poses.
The support that is required in the BEING variation sheds light on what is or isn't happening when practicing the pose classically and can skillfully guide the outcome of any change necessary. BEING poses require little or no effort, meaning that they do not recruit the same level of muscle effort as DOING poses, other than getting into the pose and maintaining limb alignment. They are generally considered cooling poses.
STILL POSE (SAVASANA: CORPSE POSE FOR FINAL RELAXATION)
Savasana (Corpse Pose) is crucial to all styles of asana practices but especially to the completion of a Yapana practice. Because BEING poses have prepared the body for final relaxation, shortening or altogether ignoring this part of the practice would leave the student feeling incomplete. Savasana is a pose for integrating all that has come before. When we stop planning, organizing, and managing, we are able — if only momentarily — to experience the death of our doing. When this occurs, the full experience of a present moment's dying is only a breath away. Death teaches us that time and space are temporary and that clinging to life is an aversion to change. Savasana acts as fertile ground that creates an opening for the passing and going of all that keeps us bound.
In a Yapana practice, we allow a minimum of 15 minutes for final relaxation. Studies show that within that time, many people can drop into a state of deep relaxation, or what's considered the alpha state of mind, in which time and space become irrelevant to, or rather nonexistent in, your consciousness. As in all other yoga poses, levels of experience occur and change with time spent in Savasana.
Disturbances in this pose are not unlikely, even after a complete practice; they can surface from physical, mental, or emotional agitations. Everyone responds differently to a practice; however, both thoughtful and skillful sequencing of the Yapana BEING and STILL segments will encourage the greatest amount of rest with the least amount of effort.
How Would You Like Your Savasana?
There are many ways to take rest in Savasana, with or without support. Savasana does not have to be practiced the exact same way every time. Determining the kind of Savasana for the practice is based on what kinds of poses were practiced before Savasana. For instance, if the asana sequence addressed a stiff lower back, a logical choice may be to offer a Savasana that gives support to the lower back. If this is the case, consider practicing Savasana with either the legs elevated or weight on the top thighs to release the lower back into gravity. Or, if the sequence focused on opening the chest and shoulders, a logical choice may be to offer a Savasana that includes an eye pillow to support going inside.
Savasana as Preparation for a Pranayama (Breathing) Practice
Perhaps you offer a pranayama practice toward the end of the asana practice. If so, you may have taught poses that focus on opening the front, back, and sides of the waist and the chest and shoulders. Practicing a "mini"-Savasana (approximately 3 minutes) is recommended before a pranayama practice. This can help further mentally prepare for pranayama. Of course, after pranayama practice is completed, a full Savasana is recommended.
YOGA THERAPY — IT IS WHAT IT IS
Like so many others, I became interested in therapeutic yoga because at some point I understood that the value of an asana practice goes far beyond that of a physical workout. Yoga therapy is the new buzzword in the yoga community, but what does it mean? After all, isn't all yoga considered therapeutic? Yes, but in varying degrees.
All yoga is therapeutic, whether it is practiced passively or dynamically. What makes an intelligent yoga practice therapeutic is not one approach or the other, but whether the approach addresses the needs of the practitioners. Yoga therapy is not solely about practicing a relaxing yoga pose. It is about rightness: using the right pose at the right time, in the right way for the right purpose. It fulfills an intention, a purpose, and a direction. And it is a process and a road map for discovering what works for you while giving you the tools to integrate a vigilant understanding of how you do life on and off the mat.
After all, yoga (yug = to yolk, unite) is trying to teach us that its practice is not just about "me" (the ego) or what I'm trying to achieve (the pose, breathing practice, life skill, etc.). It is about joining the two in a way that is mindful, is meaningful, and extends well beyond the yoga mat. Simply stated, therapeutic yoga is about skillfully reconciling differences specific to your needs while drawing from the rooftop of your awareness to what is happening, while it is happening.
OVERVIEW — WHY USE YOGA PROPS?
B. K. S. Iyengar introduced props into the modern practice of yoga to allow all practitioners access to the benefits of the postures regardless of physical condition, age, or length of study. The central purpose for using yoga props is to address a need for support. Some people like to rename yoga props to sound more appealing, like yoga "toys" or "tools." I am not opposed to doing this, although personally I've never found the need. A "prop" is just that. It is supportive and helpful when facing obstacles on the mat because it helps to meet us where we are. That's the job it is intended to do. A prop is a prop. No amount of calling it something other than what it is will change the purpose. What will change is our understanding of props and their popularity, with intelligent, creative, and confident use.
Props help practitioners at all levels gain the sensitivity of a pose while receiving the benefits over time without overextending themselves. It allows students to practice asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control) with greater effectiveness, ease, and stability. Still, some may be resistant to receiving support from yoga props because relying on props somehow diminishes their sense of success. If you have a negative attitude toward prop support, you may feel as though you are "cheating" in your practice and may generally oppose support in other areas of your life. Or perhaps requiring additional support shines a light on a shadow that you would prefer not to reveal. This I know for sure: if yoga instructors do not value using props, their students won't either. My experience over decades of teaching is that those instructors only lack the knowledge of how to intelligently and creatively use props. I wrote this book to help students and educate yoga instructors in how to use yoga props, to demystify them, and to inspire yoga enthusiasts everywhere to play and soften their edges on the mat with strategic and creative prop support.
We're ready to move forward.
WHO BENEFITS FROM PROPS?
Don't believe anyone who says using yoga props on the mat is cheating. One of my yoga teachers taught that asana practice is more about subtraction than addition (thank you, Richard C. Miller), and using yoga props can help every sincere student drop into that understanding.
It's perfectly fine to practice without the support of yoga props. It's just that in all the years I have shared yoga with different people at different levels of practice, I have yet to find one person who didn't benefit from using a yoga prop in one or more yoga poses. For everyone from the most flexible and strong practitioner to the least, a strategically placed yoga prop can elevate the physical and spiritual trajectory of the yoga practice.
In case you're not sure how this is so, I've highlighted how prop support can benefit yoga practitioners. Perhaps you'll recognize yourself in one of the groups below.
If you are new to yoga, this book will help ease your way into the restorative journey. It will prepare you for practicing in a full-service yoga studio where use of yoga props is commonplace. Beginning students have much to learn. Prop support encourages students to investigate and organize themselves mindfully rather than following hard-and-fast rules of destination and time. This kind of learning fosters patience, acceptance, and self-reflection. These are the cornerstones of a mindful practice and one that has room to grow for a lifetime.
Let's say you're a yoga practitioner who practices a minimum of once or twice a week. Whether you are currently using yoga props or not, this book will help to refine your practice and develop your "inner" teacher. This book will help you to explore your physical and mental edges in a thoughtful way and can even inspire you to begin a home practice. Start by working with your favorite yoga pose, one that feels comfortable to you. Next, determine how long you can stay in the pose maintaining that level of comfort. Once discomfort surfaces, take note of the part of you that begins to tire. Feel your way into what's happening, and identify your greatest sensations.
Now try coming into the pose with prop support that allows you to maintain the pose a little longer, perhaps extending its comfort and shelf life for twice the time you had originally practiced the pose without support. Play around with the support until you are certain that it provides a level of experience that allows you to breathe smoothly and maintain safe alignment skills and a calm mind. Part of developing your "inner teacher" is to have a curiosity about what's happening "now" and to listen and follow your intuition. Your body/mind is brilliant. Your practice will speak to you in both quiet and loud voices. You only need to observe, listen, adjust, and wait. You'll be exercising the mind of your inner yoga teacher, an invaluable tool whether practicing by yourself or in a group class.
Being of service through yoga is a rewarding experience. As an ambassador for yoga, you have signed up to practice, continue your studies, and spread the heart of yoga with others. This book will teach you how to see and teach your students, not just lead poses. Learning how to intelligently, skillfully, and creatively advise and adjust your students with prop support will enhance the overall quality of your teaching and their practice. Many students fail to discover the benefits of passive restorative yoga because their teacher may not be trained in that style. Learning how to use yoga props will open your students to experience a whole and balanced practice. A teacher who values the restorative side of yoga understands what lies beneath what's so obvious in a practice — that timing is valued over timeliness and process is valued over progress. These are just some of the rich lessons I have learned from my teachers.
You, too, can be this kind of teacher. The more you educate yourself on how to work individually with your students, the more yoga they will experience and the less ego they will fuel. Observing your students without yoga prop support paints a picture of where they can build and let go. Using yoga props to guide your students is a path to work within their limitations and safely maximize the benefits of a pose. This style of teaching clears the way for reconciling differences — yoga's ultimate path to freedom.
Weekend Warriors and Professional Athletes
More and more sport enthusiasts and professional athletes are integrating yoga into their fitness routine. Weekend warriors and professional athletes require considerable active recovery to balance the effects of intense workouts. Unfortunately, they don't always welcome a quieter practice. What is required after an intense workout is a slowing down from sweating and endorphin chasing, as well as a kind of mind that seeks stillness from doing nothing except feeling and breathing. Achieving this stillness is difficult for most of us but promising for all.
The BEING poses are particularly helpful to stretch, lengthen, and open areas that are typically overworked. A yoga practice that includes BEING poses promotes flexibility, an important element of injury prevention. Flexibility helps you to tap into your strength. Strength and flexibility go hand in hand. One without the other is like a table missing a leg — simply out of balance. In addition, a pranayama practice is an extremely helpful tool that fosters a stable, calm, and present state of mind and can translate into improving your athletic performance and sharpening your ability to focus.
Excerpted from Restorative Yoga Therapy by Leeann Carey, Wendy Saade. Copyright © 2015 Leeann Carey. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Yapana Yoga Therapy 1
Chapter 2 Meet Your Yoga Props 11
Chapter 3 Awakening: Back Bends 35
Chapter 4 Unwinding: Twists 61
Chapter 5 Decompressing: Inversions 75
Chapter 6 Calming: Forward Bends 85
Chapter 7 Other Pose Options 97
Seated Poses 97
Side-Lying Poses 102
Supine Standing Poses 107
Supine Poses for Legs 116
Supine Pose for Shoulders 130
Prone Poses 132
Chapter 8 Still Poses: Final Relaxation the Yapana Way 143
Chapter 9 Being and Breathing: The Yapana Way to Mindfulness 151
Chapter 10 Purposeful Practices 165
Timetable: Minutes Spent in Poses 167
Powerful Peace 168
Stiff Shoulders 170
Lower Back Luck 172
Happy Hipsters 174
Active Recovery for Athletes 176
Tension Tamer 178
Immunity Enhancer 180
PMS Relief 182
Menopause Makeover 184
Chapter 11 Prenatal Practice 187
Pose Index 203
About the Author 207