The Art Of Relaxation
Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., a celebrated yoga expert and educator for over 30 years, has written extensively about the benefits of yoga and relaxation. Her book, Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times promotes better health through relaxation by teaching a gentle application of calming and healing poses called "restorative yoga." Her recent publication, Living Your Yoga, takes yoga to the next step by teaching how to integrate the lessons from yoga practice into our daily lives. Together, Judith's work teaches that by reducing stress through focused relaxation and by applying principles of yoga to our lives, we can achieve a broader and more fulfilling existence.
Why is it so hard for us to relax?
It's not built into our culture. We are action-oriented. It's in our blood. We had to "win" the West. And we consequently were taught nothing about just being. Restorative poses are about being, not doing, not achieving. They are the gateway to meditation. They teach us how to be present, how to pay attention and how to listen.
Can you explain the range of physical benefits?
Relaxation induces what Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard calls "the relaxation response," which in turn reduces all the indexes of stress: high blood pressure, irregular heart and respiratory rates, abnormal sweat levels. When your body is under stress, it has no choice, all your blood and energy goes to reaction. It doesn't have time to repair and restore itself, to build the immune system.
What is restorative yoga? Is it different from other types of yoga?
Very simply, it's taking the Basic Relaxation Pose, which is done lying on your back, and using props to vary it to induce deep states of relaxation, improve the function of the immune system and create specific effects on the organs and organ systems. I wouldn't call it a different type of yoga, just therapeutic variations of Basic Relaxation Pose.
Where did the concept of restorative yoga come from?
Restorative yoga sprang from the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar. The practice has since been adapted in the West by me and other teachers to offer people tools to relax and reduce stress. Some of the restorative poses have an overall benefit, while others target an individual part of the body, such as the lungs or heart. All create specific physiological responses that are beneficial to health and can reduce the effects of stress-related disease.
How can we integrate restorative yoga into our lives?
First, we have to decide that relaxation is important. Next, we have to pay attention to the times when we feel ourselves getting tense-waiting in traffic, talking about an emotionally-charged topic, dealing with a teenager's demands. When we become more aware of these moments of stress, we can use that awareness to let go of the tension in the belly and breathe slowly and deeply. The next step after this is to find 10 or 15 minutes each day to practice the restorative poses.
What props and experience does one need in order to start restorative yoga? Can anyone practice it?
Anyone can practice restorative yoga. As far as props go, you can use couch cushions, books, bed pillows, blankets and other items you have around the house. Props produce certain actions in the spine. More than that, when your body is supported, you can totally let go.
What are the most beneficial poses in the book?
Basic Relaxation, by far. It is the first restorative pose and all the variations build on it. With it you achieve the most important level of relaxation, which begins the minute you lie down and stop fidgeting. It is a simple conscious awareness of your tension. And with that you can release it. It's not something you do, it's something you undo. It begins to teach you what you are feeling when you are feeling it. It is the beginning of enlightenment. If you can take that understanding with you off the mat, you realize that there is no other spiritual practice than the life you have chosen.
You talk about "living your yoga" in your book and workshops. What does this mean and how can we practice it on a daily basis?
Another way to explain this is what I call "yoga off the mat." In other words, how do you live your life? What lessons from the formal practice of yoga do you take with you into the rest of what you do? We all can learn from yoga the important lesson of paying attention. When we create the "habit" of awareness through yoga training, we have a better chance of maintaining that awareness in our daily life. And when we are aware of what we are feeling and thinking, we then have a new option: Instead of being caught in our old patterns, we can choose a new way of being and acting. This process is called learning, and it's at the heart of any yoga practice.
Gaiam's team of writers brings together more than 60 years of combined experience and numerous published works on healthy, eco-conscious living. Their work has included in-depth articles, research and a rich variety of other projects in mind-body fitness, health and wellness, eco-living, alternative medicine, nutrition and related topics. Each of our writers brings an insight and passion to their work rooted in a personal interest in living a healthier, more eco-sensitive lifestyle.
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