It is thanks to BKS Iyengar that we have what today is called “restorative Yoga” and the use of “props” in yoga. BKS Iyengar has been teaching and practising for over 70 years and is the authority on everything to do with yoga. He has written many books including his most famous book “Light on Yoga”.
Classically all yoga asanas (postures) are done without props. But by practising in this way most yoga students end up pushing and straining in their practise applying the western principle of “no pain no gain approach”. This is the wrong way of practising and will lead to painful injuries, stressing the nervous system and frustration. And eventually the student will give up something that should nourish, heal and distress their body, mind and soul.
In his early teaching BKS Iyengar recognised that most people really struggle in even the simplest asanas. So he experimented with “props”. In the early days he often used his own body as a “prop” to support his students in the various asanas. As his classes grew bigger he used props made out of wood, bolsters, blocks and straps. These props are used in Iyengar Yoga studios all over the world today and are used when needed. This way the students can practise each asana without strain and gain all the benefits.
There has never been a greater need for restorative yoga than in today’s world. We are ruled by time, deadlines and by our achievements no matter how we do it. Modern technology was meant to make life easier and simpler. Instead we cram our days full of things that need to be done today. And what’s happening is that people have less and less time to themselves having to be on call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In modern day life the brain and nervous system are constantly put under stress and strain. The effects of stress have reached alarming proportions and are the underlying cause of many modern day illnesses.
Restorative Yoga class – how and why does it work?
Yoga is a science in its own right and the effects of asanas (postures) on the different systems in the body can be measured by science. Again BKS Iyengar has played a pioneering role in applying the measure of science to yoga. He has conducted many studies with doctors from the western medicine system to find out what certain poses do to the heart and the lungs for example.
For example what happens when one’s body is turned upside down? The stress put on the body through gravity is at once reversed. The spine is able to rest and lengthen. The body does not have to work hard to get the blood to the brain – it just flows there by itself. The internal organs are put back into place and especially the heart is able to rest and receive an abundance of blood without having to strain to pump it there. Simple inverted asanas change hormonal levels, reduce blood pressure and fluid retention.
In restorative yoga the body is put into different positions with the help of props. This gives the body the ability to open up completely, stimulate some organs while resting others deeply and to stay there longer to get more benefits out of each pose. Restorative yoga gives you direct access to quieten the nervous system and to rest the brain. In restorative yoga ”less is more” and in the west we really need to learn this concept.
A restorative practise should be part of one’s regular yoga practise but can especially help in cases of stress, feeling weak, fatigued, menstruation, major changes in one’s life, insomnia, recovering from illness or injury and if one simply likes a more quiet and slower yoga practise.
Sources of inspiration:
B. K. S. Iyengar: Light on Yoga, The Tree of Yoga, Light on Pranyama
Judith Lasater, Ph. D., PT: Relax and Renew
Satyananda Saraswati: Yoga Nidra
“Relaxation begins from the outer layer of the body and penetrates the deep layers of our existence.”