The Restorative Time of the Year

Namaste couch 2Restorative yoga is difficult for me. I am a mover, a shaker, always thinking and takin-care-of-business kind of gal. But this time of year, I feel my mood slipping from bright sunshiny to more of a middle finger response. I have always been restless in my winter blues. Although I have the unmistakable urge to hide under the covers, I’m more likely to fidget, worry, and stay up past my bedtime obsessively rearranging things around the house. And while it does feel more productive than hibernating, it mostly just contributes to my growing sense of twitchy dissatisfaction with everything.

I don’t usually succumb to the desire to build a blanket fort and ignore the outside world. Partly because the fort is too quiet, too still, which makes it all too easy to hear my inner critic whispering disparaging and exaggerated comments about what is lacking in my life. So I keep moving.

Restorative yoga can be a scary prospect when you’re feeling like I do this time of year. It usually involves really easy poses supported by lots of props in which you chill out for several minutes. For me, slow movement and quiet reflection just sounds like a recipe for more twitchy dissatisfaction.

But I do it anyway. Why? Because there is no better time of year than the dark, cold, months to slow down a little, check in with your body and heal any injuries or tweaks that popped up over the past year. Because any minute now the holiday insanity will start, and once it does, a glorified power nap may help you to stay sane. Because January will be full of new promises and fitness resolutions, so you might as well indulge in the urge to rest while you still can. And because with the right attitude, the constructive hibernation of restorative yoga will soothe and comfort your body and mind, even as mother nature turns threatening outside.

There are three things I need to get into the restorative zone. First, I need to do a little movement. For me, a short video, or a quick walk around the block gets my muscles warmed and ready to relax. Second, I need the right space. In order to stay relaxed it must be warm and cozy, so I turn up the heat and pile on the blankets. I sometimes like to hear soothing music, but other times I prefer silence. A distraction-free space is best if you can find one. Turn off your phone, the tv, and any other noisemaking device. (That being said, sometimes I set an alarm for the end of my practice in case I fall asleep).

Finally, I need the right attitude. How do I shut off the bossy inner voice telling me all the things I’m doing wrong? I like to bait and switch with some candle staring (traditionally known as Trataka). Quite simply, all I do is stare at an open flame and invite my brain to shut up. Humans love fire, especially when it’s cold and dark, so it’s a natural distraction. Turn the lights down, spark a candle, and stare at that flame. Stare at it until everything in background starts to fade. Stare at it til your eyes start to water. Watch the light twinkle through your tears, and have a little cry if you need one. And then stare some more. Use your imagination to visualize the heat and light absorbing into your body, and the fire burning up all your negative thoughts. You can even do this while in some restorative poses. I also find it helpful to practice a 1:2 breath, in which you make your exhale twice as long as your inhale. It’s easy and incredibly soothing.

Then it’s time for some poses. Check out my personal favourites here, or check out this sequence from Yoga Journal. That’s it. Warm up your body, chill out your mind. Breathe, rest, repeat, enjoy!


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