Restorative Yoga as an Antidote to Chronic Stress

This blog is written by Carina Terra 500HR EYRT, teacher at Spira Power Yoga.


restorative 5In this fast-paced world, we are continually being bombarded by so much information and filling our time with so many activities that it becomes very challenging to witness each passing moment and to see things clearly. As a result, we feel overwhelmed by our congested schedules.  Modern living also fosters loneliness, fear, insecurity, and emotional instability. We feel powerless to deal with our inability to make unrealistic deadlines, constant fear of losing our jobs and not being able to provide for our families, pressure to perform according to what’s socially acceptable, ongoing wars, violence etc.

When humans and other animals are faced with an imminent threat, an involuntary response increases our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, blood flow to the muscles, and metabolism — preparing us for conflict or escape. This reaction, triggered by the Sympathetic Nervous System, is called the Fight-or-Flight Response.

For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the successful use of the fight-or-flight response was a matter of life and death. Those with the most highly developed fight-or-flight reactions had a better chance of surviving long enough to produce offspring. The stressful situations faced by our ancestors were usually resolved somewhat quickly, and life went back to normal. The problem for modern-day humans is that many of our current stressors are ongoing and intangible, often rendering us unable to resolve the stressful situation. As a result, the fight-or-flight response is elicited repeatedly and goes into overdrive. This leads to chronic stress and compromises the body’s ability to heal itself, either by inhibiting recovery from an existing injury or illness, or by creating a new one.

The antidote to stress is deep relaxation of both body and mind. All humans possess an innate protective mechanism against overstress. Just as the body elicits a fight-or-flight response when we are under stress, it can elicit the opposite reaction when we slow down and relax. Deep relaxation stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which in turn triggers the so- called Relaxation Response. This response lowers metabolism, decreases heart rate and the rate of breathing, and brings the body back into balance.

restorative 4Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten how to relax. We have been so deeply conditioned to be constantly doing something that we have lost our ability to slow down and just be. Many people try to minimize the effects of chronic stress by resorting to tranquilizers, alcohol, comfort foods etc. However, these are only temporary solutions that can also produce undesired side effects, and may end up increasing our stress levels in the long run. A balanced practice of yoga, involving a combination of active practice and a more restorative or passive practice, may be a more effective and kinder approach for getting rid of the negative effects of stress on our bodies and minds.

Yoga teaches us to space out our thoughts and be at peace with what is. The more space we create in our minds, the greater the possibility for stillness and inner peace. By paying attention to the breath in yoga, we are able to stay in the present moment and witness changes as they occur in our bodies and in our lives. This conscious awareness of breath teaches us to be more fluid in the midst of constant change and chaos.

The long holds and ample use of props in a Restorative Yoga class naturally stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System and trigger a Relaxation Response, helping to mitigate the effects of our habitual fight-or-flight stress responses that can be damaging to both our physiological and psychological well-being. The overall calming effect on the nervous system sets a deeply relaxing tone for this kind of practice that comforts your mind and body down to the cellular level.

A well-rounded Restorative Yoga sequence:

  • Balances and slows down a fast lifestyle
  • Is a wonderful practice when you are physically, emotionally or mentally tired
  • Balances the nervous system and helps to relieve the effects of chronic stress
  • Boosts the immune system and improves the capacity for healing
  • Alternately stimulates and soothes the internal organs
  • Cultivates heightened body awareness
  • Enhances mood states and may help to overcome depression and relieve anxiety
  • Helps with insomnia

Other forms of yoga can also provide many of the benefits listed above, of course. However, the main intention of Restorative Yoga is to deeply relax the central nervous system. Consequently, Restorative Yoga usually produces deeper relaxation and stress-relieving results more efficiently and in a much shorter period of time. For this reason, I highly recommend practicing it at least once a week — as a complement to your regular Vinyasa practice — to reset your nervous system. Spira Power Yoga offers an ongoing Restorative Yoga class with Brenda every Sunday at 5:45pm. It is a great way to begin your week!

And for a totally luscious Restorative Yoga immersion, join us in May for our Restorative Yoga Workshop, which is open to students of all levels.




Spira has yin and restorative yoga on schedule weekly.

We also offer an extended Restorative Yoga Workshop or Restorative Yoga Teacher Training