Is Restorative Yoga Good for Anxiety?
I’ve been seeing quite a few things lately on the internet which promote restorative yoga as a treatment for anxiety and I’ve been asked in the past this very question, is restorative yoga good for anxiety? My answer is, yes, no, maybe, it depends! We are unique, so the answer is never going to be, “yes it’s good 100% of the time for EVERYONE”! Has it always been helpful for me if I’m anxious? No!
For those of you who aren’t aware of what restorative yoga is, I’ll quote one of the most highly respected restorative yoga teachers in the world in how she describes it:
‘’Restorative yoga is the use of props to create positions of ease and comfort that facilitate relaxation and health.’’ Judith Hanson Lasater (Restore and Rebalance – Yoga for Deep Relaxation).
Restorative yoga is similar to yin in that the pace of the class is slow as the postures are held for long period of time (sometime 30 minutes for 1 posture)!
So now imagine, you’re extremely anxious and have just suffered a panic attack and a friend says to you, “I have the perfect fix to help you feel better, I’m going to take you to a 75 minute restorative class (most restorative classes are over an hour sometimes 2) where you will lie back in positions of comfort, not talk and just be still and silent and learn to relax!”
Can you even contemplate being still when you’ve just suffered a panic attack and are barely managing to hold it together? I know I wouldn’t be able to if I was that anxious as I would feel anxious at the thought of just trying to be still and not focus on all the things that are currently causing me anxiety! So maybe in this situation, a restorative yoga class could actually make things worse. Has this happened to me? Yes! I’ve gone to a class under these circumstances and I struggled during the whole class, I was restless and I couldn’t wait for it to be over as I simply was too anxious and up tight to be settled for a restorative class.
It yogic terms this can be classed as Rajas, the emotional quality of energy, movement and awakeness. Rajas can be broken down further though:
Rajasic Tamas which is an energised lethargy. The body is exhausted, but the mind is active. This person may be able to cope with a restorative class, as long as the mind is given a bone and has something to concentrate on to stay centred.
Rajasic Rajas however is the yogic description of frenetic energy, where a panic attack may occurred or a person suffered from OCD or an anxiety disorder. This is when the person also has a lot of physical energy, too much energy that will prevent him or her from being still in the body. This person first needs to burn this energy off, for example with some exercise or sun salutations.
Sattvic Rajas a person who has an energised balance, being on a high after an exercise session.
One of the many things that I love about the LifeForce Yoga protocol is the fact that it is recognises that we must first meet our (if It’s a self practice) or our client’s mood (current energetic state) before we balance our or their mood back into a state of Sattva (balance). For example, if a person is Rajasic Rajas then a restorative yoga class is not going to meet their mood, as they first need to burn off the excess energy before they can slow down. The same can be said for the depressed mood (in extreme cases Tamasic Tamas). When a person is in this state, they feel numb and every movement is a huge effort, so much so that people who become very depressed often struggle to get out of bed! So what do you think their response would be if you said to a very depressed person who was half asleep in bed would be to “let’s get up and go to a hot power yoga class to lift your mood?” It would most probably be overwhelming and seem impossible, you would need to meet their mood first with something slow like stair step breath in bed to even get them energised enough to get out of bed and up to start their day off, a hot power yoga class may not be on the cards that day.
So, this explains why my answer is not a simple yes. We humans, are not simple, we are unique. So if you’re considering a restorative class, practice some svadhyaya (self study) first and make sure you aren’t in such a rajasic state that being still will become agitating and make you feel worse. Or perhaps if you think that is the case, you may need to burn off this physical energy first before the class.