Restorative yoga practice helps counter the stresses and strains of daily life by cultivating attention on ease and relaxation. Postures are often practised using props like bolsters, blankets and blocks to support the body. This physical support helps students to stay in postures comfortably without straining. The muscles can relax, heart rate lowers and the nervous system can be soothed. Restorative postures help calm the mind and open the body for pranayama.
The word pranayama is made up of two Sanskrit words. Prana means breath, energy, life force and vitality. Ayama means, control, restraint, extension or expansion. Pranayama is the practice of controlling or conditioning the breath. It lies at the heart of Patanjali’s yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras where pranayama is the fourth limb of ashtanga yoga. It consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. Pranayama is conscious breathing rather than deep breathing. It requires an approach based on self-observation.
Classically, pranayama is said to be the transition between the outer and the inner world — the vehicle through which we internalise, feel the body, and experience our inner life. It is quieter and more subtle work than asana practice.
The Iyengar tradition takes seriously Patanjali’s counsel that pranayama should be introduced only after a student is firmly grounded in asana. This is because the physical postures develop the concentration, strength and stability needed to work with the breath.
In Light on Pranayama BKS Iyengar says that the practitioner needs two essential things: a stable spine and a still and alert mind. Both of these are built up with a strong asana practice. Students should also be able to practise deep relaxation in Savasana with a calm and attentive mind without falling asleep.
Read more about restorative yoga and BKS Iyengar’s ‘Asanas for Emotional Stability’ >