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I need more restorative yoga. I have had a regular a restorative yoga practice for 30 years, but it has diminished over the last few months, and I have noticed! The reduced practice has been to my detriment and as a result I am not weathering the ups and downs of life as well as I should. I feel a bit torn down and worn out.

Restorative yoga allows me to let go of harsh or unkind experiences, as well as the often demoralizing and devastating news of the day. Restorative yoga is a progressive energetic restful practice that brings a calm to the nervous system, it softens the muscular system and allows the mind to unwind and let go. My clients and students will tell you my views that one must practice movement AND stillness as a key to health and balance. My personal movement practices are sport and activities with friends in nature, climbing, somatics, and yoga. Stillness is rest, yoga nidra, restorative yoga, and meditation. There is another important aspect of balance. It is helping others.

Simple kindness, lending a hand, or gifting a smile. Our hormones are balanced when we help others. Therefore, kindness is a superpower. Weeks ago, while I was travelling, I met an individual who was late for a long awaited post covid conference due to extreme travel delays and transfers. They were missing a chance to speak to parliament with their colleagues. I offered and I then drove them to their conference so there was no added delay in their day. I was so happy to help.

This little post is a reminder to me and to all of us to move, to smile and be kind, to restore and find a time to calm and become still. It is now time for me to increase my restore and still time so off to the mat I go to replenish. Want to create greater balance for yourself? Get in touch anytime.

We spend our days doing, doing and well, doing some more. We are champs at achievement and of accomplishment. We give ourselves permission and reward others for blind effort and society rewards us for breakneck speed and achievement regardless of the costs. In yoga, we often hear that we are human “beings” not human “doings”. This is where the concepts of yoga brilliantly provides us with perspective.

In yoga, there is the concept of Abhyasa. This translates to practice or effort. This term is seen in the sutra texts of Patanjali starting at Sutra 1.12. Patanjali further defines the qualities of practice where the practice must be sustained for a long time with devotion, or the appreciation of the benefit. Sound reasonable? If you are looking for change this is the way to do it. Where then is the balance to check the rajasic striving, the do anything beyond all costs type of effort which most of us subscribe to or perhaps the only way we know? Patanjali couples Abhyasa with the concept of Vairagya. Vairagya is a practice of non-attachment.

Practice and non-attachment are a marriage of sorts; a beautiful balancing of effort and release. The union and juxtaposition of these concepts will forever intrigue me. It has a push and pull, a tension that makes me curious and at the same time both comfortable and ill at ease. After being introduced, studying and practicing the concepts of Abhyasa and Vairagya, my competitive athlete brain was utterly mystified by the concept of non-attachment in the face of effort and striving with any kind of success. And after years of practice, I have experienced the benefits. I find comfort in Vairagya, yet there are many times, I confess, when the finer details of non-attachment elude me.

The working title of this article was originally The Yoga of Doing Nothing, since most people believe that non-attachment is the opposite of doing something. I thought it was catchy, but it was also wholly inaccurate as non-attachment is a very active practice. So I ditched it. While most agree that non-attachment is yogic and also a “good thing”, as Martha Stewart would say, we are inundated and encouraged with the opposite. We are attached to our outcomes and our successes, and we are especially attached to failure and the possibility of failure. So much so that we might not even begin the “practice”. Perhaps cultivating non-attachment would also help us tear down the walls of our perceived abilities.

I recall watching Olympic coverage on television where the U.S. ski athletes were talking about how they trusted in their ski training program. They added that they had faith that practice would bring them to their peak performance. They also noted how trust in their training plan allowed them to enjoy the experience. More importantly, they felt they were at their best when they did not be worry about the results. The U.S. ski team had a very yogic thinking approach to their coaching. Perhaps that is why they were so successful. This is the practice of Abyhasa and Vairagya. I recall my joy for the athletes experience, considering how hard it is to compete at that level.

When you look at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, etc. we see posts that encourage achievement. Even in yoga, we see individuals pictured in social media, in crazy poses, with retweets and accolades that come from the awe of these achievements. We all get swept up in the hype and begin to find ourselves competing with others both on and off the yoga mat. We relish the praise we receive for the number of hours we worked, the fact that we did a 15 minute headstand. This is not unlike the praise we receive when we proudly say we can work with little sleep.

This only encourages further one dimensional striving and less awareness. For those who engage in seemingly inhuman yoga poses, we cannot tell if their life is happier for achieving this feat, or even if they were injured doing this. I, for one, would love to see more experiences of “being” in the yoga world and media, but this doesn’t seem to capture the public as a whole. I am open to finding ways to do this and will support all means to this end.

Imagine, the brilliance of the experience, whether it is a yoga pose, a meditation, making dinner or doing volunteer work with greater awareness of journey and the non-attachment of the outcomes. The gem is being unattached to the accolades and being of aware of our inner life. What would happen if we did the work but were unattached to the outcome, praise, and criticism associated with the goal?

I have a disclaimer that practicing non-attachment is not for the faint of heart, and this introduction is intended only to let your toe dip into the big pool of the concept of Vairagya. Vairagya has many layers. A good place to start to explore this concept is in savasana. The side benefit of exploring in savasana is the restorative and healing benefits that comes from this active adventure in non-attachment.

Savasana as an opportunity to explore non-attachment

For 20 minutes each day find time to practice letting go, and explore the concept of non-attachment. Position yourself lying comfortably on your back. Ensure you are well supported, warm and place your head shoulders and hips on the same level. Lessen any physical discomfort with the use of props, such as blankets and rolls. It is important that you feel well supported.

Once comfortable, close your eyes. As you move from seeing to not seeing, notice your awareness changing. One of the senses now is withdrawn. Let the mind rest within the body and breath. This is where we look to be the “human being” and not the “human doing”. Take a few minutes to allow your body to settle. You can actively be aware of tight areas and take the time to let them settle into the support you have provided yourself.

Next take your attention back to your breath. You may notice that you want to change the breath. Be curious. You may feel the need to adjust, or even feel emotionally uncomfortable with the breath. That need to judge and to change is in each of us. This is where we begin our practice of non-attachment.

At this point, we often automatically look to control the breath, to force it to what we think is correct. We consider making it longer, employing the belly breath, or the 3 part breath, grasping to remember what the last yoga teacher said. We want to control the breath and the body to what we perceive as correct or right. Here is your turning point. Consider doing less. Consider not being attached to a technique. Consider just being.

Become an explorer, as curious watcher of the body and breath. You have no stakes in the results; you are unattached to what you need or expect. With each need to change or judgement of your experience that comes up, you let go of it and again you bring the mind back to becoming a humble witness.

As we practice non-attachment and letting go, we slowly become aware of all the layers of fluctuations. We are cognizant of all the holding in the body, mind and breath. Some of these sensations might be familiar or foreign to us. Continue not to change or attach judgement to the awareness. Continue to come back to being, not doing or judging.

The beginning practice in Vairagya is powerful. Permit yourself to take some time each day to not be attached to the sensations or thoughts, or outcomes.

What is something we vitally need but often don’t get? What is basic and elusive? What is something that is vital to both mental and physical health, but we often spend the least amount of time in practice or support of it?

Rest. We require rest to be our best selves. Simply put REST = QUALITY OF LIFE

The rest I am speaking of is a practice far beyond flopping in front of the screen at the end of the day. This rest is a concentrated deep and healing rest. I am referring to sleep, the supportive practice of focused relaxation, and yoga nidra.

Many of us are moving through our day with mental fog and physical fatigue. We rush, we worry. We concern ourselves with the past and the future. Everything must be moving, or something feels amiss. Have you ever heard “I will rest when I am dead”, or “things should calm down soon, and then I can rest?” One will certainly rest when they are dead but if the life was spent with a foggy tired mind, frazzle emotions, and sluggish body, how can we interpret this as a fully joyful and meaningful life? Of course, sometimes life is busy. We have loved ones that need help, or a deadline which is internally or externally imposed. We can push yourselves for a time, but months and years of a lack of balanced rest, we will suffer, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

What does this amazing and vital rest look like? Constructive rest must be a regular endeavor, in a place that allows you to feel as safe and supported as possible, and for an amount of time required in the moment and overtime. The body should be comfortable and at ease. This could mean that you have extra blankets and pillows to support the legs, arms, shoulders, and head. Consider when, and where you can rest to bring about balance and vitality? How can this practice fit into your day?

Ultimately, the gem of this practice ultimately leads to the absence of movement and patterns in the body, mind, and emotions. The changes can be profound when you rest in savasana or yoga nidra. Physically, studies using a PET scanner have shown a significant dopamine increase. Other physical benefits of relaxation are that blood pressure decreases, blood sugar is regulated, the immune system strengthens, heart rate regulates. Rest and the awareness that arises can also increase proprioception and interception. In other words, we can become more embodied. We become more patient and kinder towards ourselves and others. Muscle holding patterns change in the body, and there is an increased understanding of sensations and emotions of the present lived experience and beyond. We understand more.

Why is relaxation and nidra different than laying in front of the TV and relaxing? The aim is to remove external information and stimulation. In relaxation, one is absorbed and focused beyond the senses. You are interacting with yourself, and you are learning. As the practice deepens you begin to explore the inner world where you can graciously move beyond your conscious experience. There is no anxiety, fear, and anger at these deeper states. Here, one can rest in the questions of “Who am I”. This is a place of both connectedness and of expansion. It is a place of receptive relaxation. It is a beautiful unravelling from ties that bind us.

“I don’t think I am doing it right” is a question I am asked. If you are practicing with the intent to rest and relax, you cannot do wrong. Being there with intent to soften and turn toward the inner experience is the practice. Practice letting go of the achievement and ego mind and settle into the practice as if you were wandering on a path in nature. Take in the feelings, thoughts, and sights. As you practice, you first notice more and then you may notice less. Each time you practice is unique, and the feelings and sensations are numerous. Take it in and let it go.

You have a right to rest. In fact, it is vital. The time taken to unwind the body and experience the moment is always valuable. Enjoy filling up your cup and nurturing your body, mind, and soul with the magic of rest.

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