Yoga: What, Why, and When
We offer two styles of Yoga at Performance360. Midweek, we do Restorative for an hour and on Sunday (#sundayfunday) we Flow for an hour. They’re both completely free to members by the way, and benefit you greatly in many ways both physically and mentally. Just like the Daily Challenge or whatever your Specialty class of choice.
So what is the difference between the two styles, and why should you set aside an hour or two a week to come to a completely FREE and beneficial class at the gym you love?
I’m glad that I asked for you so I can answer.
Wednesday Restorative Yoga
Restorative is a broad term that largely includes most of the slow paced, more relaxing styles of practice. On Wednesday nights at 8, bring a foam roller for some support, and be ready to lay around holding poses for lengthier periods of time (3-5 minutes typically). Usually half of the class is done supinated (belly up) and the other half prone (belly down), with a focus on releasing the muscle and tissue that are largely contribute to lower back discomfort, or shoulder/upper back discomfort. By staying close to the floor, and using support props, we are able to utilize the weight of our bodies, and the effects of gravity to either deepen/intensify or back off of sensation. It may not be the most comfortable hour, as we move through areas of tightness and resistance, but we have some tools at our disposal to help with that and I guarantee a good night’s sleep will follow!
Our greatest tool in Restorative (well, any yoga really) is the breath. By putting your mental attention into something as simple and natural as a controlled, deeper, even-paced breath the moment slows down. It allows you to be more introspective and leave behind the external distractions if even just for seconds at a time.
We spend almost the entirety of our lives in a fight-or-flight stress response state. This is your Sympathetic Nervous System, which serves the purpose of responding to perceived threat. Existing in that state non-stop is truly detrimental to not only your mental, but your physiological well-being (I could write an entire blog on this topic alone). Muscles tense up, heart rate quickens, and adrenaline is released, amongst other things. For tons of folks, this is just life. Stressed out, anxious, mentally exhausted from brain chatter, tricking their bodies into a constant state of “perceived threat” (by the way this system also orginates in the thoracic and lumbar spine…hmmm….), and can lead to even more anxiety, digestion problems, adrenal fatigue, etc.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the counter balance of the Sympathetic. This is the system responsible for what is called “rest and digest” and returns us to a state of calm. The heart rate slows, muscles release, and a state of overall relaxation can take over. The breath can ease, lack of stress creates homeostasis in digestion, and hormone levels return to “normal”.
So, to sum up my point on the Nervous System, Restorative Yoga is a very easy way to access that state of calm and rest, and to literally “Restore” your body to reset away from mental or physical “threats” of day to day stressors and life. Not only do you get the physical benefit of long, slow and steady stretching of the muscles and tissue, but also learn to use your own controlled breathing to shift into a state of relaxation and get a great night of sleep directly after.
Sunday Flow Yoga
Flow is a very basic term for a portion of the class being dedicated to movement linked with breath. As a teacher, I tend to describe “flow” as our active style of practice. We spend an hour doing some simple, longer duration stretching (typically no more than 1-2 minutes) mixed with building a sequence of a few postures together to flow through. With the breath still #1, flowing through postures helps build internal heat, and allows the joints to articulate through a specific range of motion repetitively without outside force or resistance. This alone will increase a joint’s mobility and create space within the structure.
When we practice active, standing poses within our flow class, with both feet on the ground for example in Warrior 2 we are holding isometrically, engaging from the feet all the way to the crown of the head. Firing and holding muscle contractions for longer durations builds muscle endurance, and body awareness to a new level. When we hold a posture, for example Airplane, with only one foot grounded, we are now focused on isometrically building single leg strength, increasing our awareness of balance and space, along with greater stability of our ankles, knees, and hips. Oh yea, and abs. Core work is a different animal here, and applies to bracing more than your standard ab work.
One of the greatest benefits of Flow Yoga is the amount of time spent on backbends, or increasing the extension of our spine, which will lengthen and help release the hip flexors and quads simultaneously. Yes, we spend about five minutes towards the middle or end of each class solely practicing backbends, but also in Flow there is an abundance of Upward Facing Dog. This pose requires almost full spinal extension, with total leg engagement and awareness of hips and shoulder alignment. It is essentially THE pose for people who do what we do every day in the gym. This posture will increase strength, flexibility, and mobility of almost the entire body with repetitive and progressive practice. Probably why most people experience quite the love/hate relationship with it.
Although we aren’t looking to access the Parasympathetic Nervous System quite as fully here in Flow as in Restorative, there are still the important elements of breath and time to relax. The last portion of practice is dedicated to achieving a sense of space, and calm so that the body may relax and return to that place of “rest and digest”, hopefully maintaining at least a piece of it when moving forward out of the hour, and off of the mat.
It’s not rocket science, folks. Yoga will make you better. Better at lifting. Better at running, paddling, surfing, hiking, biking, shred, muscle, kettlebells, recovery. Better at conversations, listening, being human. Better at sleeping. Who doesn’t want to be better at sleeping?