Counseling through Comfort: Utilizing Restorative Yoga for Rest, Introspection, Healing, and Self-Care

By: David Lee Sexton, Jr.

Yoga
Pixabay[Yoga Zen by GDJ , 2017, CC0]
Meet Adrienne Baggs

Adrienne Baggs recently earned a Ph.D. in Counseling, but she prefers to help people process their emotions through yoga rather than dialogue. According to her website, Awaken through Rest: Restorative Yoga with Adrienne Baggs, Adrienne believes in the power of restorative yoga to offer an escape from the “mental quicksand” of everyday hassles. Her practice focuses on positioning the body in ways optimal for achieving parasympathetic dominance.

According to Brooke (2010), restorative yoga utilizes simple yoga poses in conjunction with blankets, pillows, bolsters, and various other equipment to induce rest and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system; this stimulation results in decreased blood pressure, which facilitates a variety of restorative effects on the body. Adrienne goes on to elaborate the benefits of restorative yoga, including the effect of mindful observance of one’s thoughts which allows individuals to process emotions and anxieties rather than suppressing them.

Restorative Yoga to Heal Trauma: Overcoming Memories Stored in the Body

While many approaches to treating the menace that is PTSD focus on managing cognition, or the thoughts that may keep an individual trapped in a past trauma he or she survived, Adrienne feels that this approach is often not enough. She insightfully indicates that many memories associated with trauma may be stored not only in the mind but in the body as well. The stress response is a fickle function within the body. It is not unrealistic to imagine seemingly harmless stimuli triggering a memory of a past traumatic event and returning the body to the same physical state it required in that moment for survival. In addition, many may suffer physical and emotional trauma so severe that they are unable to participate active yoga practice.

As a solution, restorative yoga offers these individuals power over their own bodies. Here, Adrienne describes three poses that aim to teach individuals to return their bodies to a state of “pre-stress”, which could prove invaluable in managing the effects of PTSD that often leave individuals feeling that they are helpless to control their own bodies.

Why Not Just Take a Nap?

In a video posted to Awaken through Rest’s Facebook page, Adrienne addresses a question that she encounters fairly often in her tutelage of restorative yoga students: why do I feel irritable during restorative yoga practice? Of course, the idea is that the practice of restorative yoga is supposed to induce feelings of rest and relaxation, or a “blissed out state”. Adrienne explains that this is simply not the goal of restorative yoga. The practice is not intended to allow individuals to reach that “blissed out state” during a session; rather, the goal is to exercise and train the “muscle of rest” in order for it to grow stronger.

Adrienne presents a useful simile comparing restorative yoga and weightlifting. Restorative yoga is like weightlifting; it takes practice to really make progress. One will not jump into the practice of weightlifting and immediately feel stronger. Similarly, one should not expect to be able to jump into restorative yoga and immediately feel relaxed. It takes time to train not only our physical muscles but our “muscles of rest” as well. In conclusion, one can think of restorative yoga as a practice that allows us to gradually become more adept at finding inner peace and relaxation between the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. While perhaps not as immediately gratifying as what many might envision restorative yoga as (*cough* adult naptime *cough*), the long-term benefits and the promise of finding a place of inner peace to retreat to when overwhelmed cannot be denied.

Want to Learn More?

Take a look at our archived webinars, Wellness Strategies, Burnout Prevention, and Mindfulness: Part 2. During these presentations, Dr. Adrienne Baggs and Dr. Isabel Thompson share other strategies for engaging in self-care and maintaining mental and physical well-being. In particular, Dr. Baggs discusses the practice and benefits of mindfulness, or being aware of one’s own thoughts, in each fleeting moment without judgment.

She cites Gertrude Stein’s famous quote, “a rose is a rose is a rose”. While open to interpretation, this is a lesson we can all stand to learn: regardless of our current mental or emotional state and personal judgments, everything is exactly as it seems. When all is said and done, this is perhaps the goal of restorative yoga: allowing the body to enter a state of rest and restoration uninhibited by the commotion of the mind.

References

Bags, A. (2018). Awaken Through Rest: Restorative Yoga with Adrienne Baggs. Retrieved from http://adriennebaggs.com/

Brooke, C. (May, 2010). Restorative yoga: The art (and science) of slowing down. Alive: Canada’s Natural Health and Wellness Magazine, 331, 54-55.