You’re probably thinking one of two things. First, gentle yoga is boring. I only do Bikram. Or second, yoga? I don’t know about that. Okay, maybe you’re not thinking either, but for a long time I was a member of the first camp.
What you need to know about me is that I am not a gentle yoga kind of gal. In my past life, before developing CRPS, I was a wannabe gym rat, P90X fanatic, Spin instructor and finisher of a 30-day Bikram Yoga challenge. I liked my workouts fast, hot, and competitive and, prior to all of that, I was substantially overweight (which is a totally different story, but the plot line consists of a torn meniscus, two knee surgeries and a serious Panera Bread problem).
My point is, I’m not trying to persuade you because it’s my favorite thing ever; it’s not. I’ve been practicing yoga for years now, but actively avoided all classes advertised as gentle or restorative for a long time. I was more interested in the strengthening benefits of yoga and sure, practicing helped with stress but, in my mind, anything less than a 90-minute hot flow class was for the elderly and couldn’t possibly benefit me. (I was an arrogant little thing.)
A few summers ago, I reluctantly agreed to attend a restorative evening class with a friend. It was a particularly hot summer, I’d been traveling a lot, and thought what the heck, I’ll do this for my friend. When we arrived, there were students already sitting quietly on blankets, reclined on bolsters, and there wasn’t the chatty, pre-class buzz I was used to. The room smelled like lavender and the lights were dim. I recognized a few handstand experts from the vinyasa classes I’d taken but couldn’t figure out what they were doing there.
It was the longest 75 minutes of my life. I judged my way through each slow-as-molasses movement and I’m pretty sure I not-so-subtly rolled my eyes a couple of times. Where were the arm balances? The heaters? I wasn’t sweating at all. No chaturanga? It was torture. Everyone else in the room seemed content, but I was bored and uncomfortable. It was too quiet.
What I wasn’t able to admit then but can now, was that I hated the way the silent and intentional practice brought out the noise inside my mind. I was accustomed to quicker classes with no time to think and, when it was all over, I swore I’d never go back, told my husband it wasn’t worth my time, and ignored the knowing look he’s so good at giving. You know, the but maybe that’s exactly what you need one? Yeah, exactly.
I surprised myself and went back the next night. Except for the thunderstorm we could hear from our mats, and the storm I could hear within myself, the class was quiet. But this time, although flustered, I was (more) patient, breathing into poses I’d become used to rushing through for the sake of my heart rate. In the final ten minutes of Savasana, I laid there quietly, eyes closed, feeling grounded and grateful and amazed by how we’d been prepared for those still moments by the increasing stillness in the minutes preceding.
Gentle and restorative classes still aren’t my go-to year-round, but summer tends to be a busy time, full of family gatherings and get-togethers, day trips and vacations, and usually, a lot of heat. The days are longer and we typically respond by filling them.
From community pools and work barbecues to farmers’ markets and family reunions, by the end of July we can start feeling irritable, impatient, and unmotivated. Making space in our schedules for slower-paced exercise, such as gentle and restorative yoga, can provide much-needed time to detach and recover. It allows practitioners time to cool down instead of revving up, something many of us have been doing since the sunshine reappeared back in May.
So, whether you practice yoga regularly or have never tried it before, if you’re beginning to feel dizzy and spent from summer, check out your local studio’s restorative and gentle offerings. They’re like sunscreen for your insides.