Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice
March 1, 2010
Restorative Yoga at Soni Yoga Studio
For my Mid-Term project I decided to attend a Restorative Yoga class at Soni Yoga. Soni Yoga is located on Concord Avenue in Cambridge. When choosing a studio to visit, I needed somewhere that was easily accessible due to my busy schedule. I researched yoga studies in the area online and decided to go with Soni Yoga not only because of its location, but also because the website seemed professional and contained a lot of essential and helpful information.
Soni Yoga was started in 2007 by a married couple named Soni and David. According to the website, Soni began practicing yoga before she learned to walk and it has always been a central theme in her life. David, however, did not take part in yoga practice until 9 years ago, but today it is a very important part of his life. Through Soni Yoga, they try to bring the practice of yoga, the belief of living in harmony with nature, and many of the other yogic lifestyles Soni grew up with, to the people living in the Cambridge area (Soni Yoga, n.d.).
The overarching theory that Soni Yoga prescribes to is Ayurveda, which is an ancient way of living or system of healthcare that originated in India 5,000 years ago. By practicing Ayuveda, one can, “restore the balance and harmony of the individual, resulting in self-healing, good health and longevity.” It involves the balance of three doshas, vata (air), pitta (fire), and Kapha (water), in your everyday life (Soni Yoga, n.d.). Much of Ayurveda focuses on living a healthy physical life, which, as I have learned throughout this course, is only one part of living a yogic lifestyle. However, according to Ayurveda, there is no difference between the mind and the body so the practice is links mind and body together at all times. So, instead of just focusing on the mind or the body at one particular time, Ayurveda tries to focus on both at the same time (Ayurveda, 2007).
The main focus of Soni Yoga is Hatha Yoga, which is the most well know and widely accepted practice of yoga in the West. Within the scheme of Hatha yoga however, there are a number of different classes offered. With such a wide range of classes this yoga studio can cater to a wide range of people. The website even says that classes can be built to meet people’s specific needs which can be very helpful for people who have special medical needs or injuries (Soni Yoga, n.d.).
There is a class called Hatha Basics which slows down regular Hatha Yoga to focus more on the breathing. This class is best for beginners and people with injuries. There are also classes called, Hatha, Hatha Flow (which is more challenging), and Yoga Stretch. The Yoga Stretch class is open to all levels and is a more relax practice of yoga. Furthermore, there is a Hatha Yoga class only for women that is based on the teacher’s research done through, “doctors, massage therapists, beauticians, self help and self image consultants, other master yoga teachers, other business women … to construct something I hope is quite special and unique” (Soni Yoga, n.d.).
In addition to the regular Hatha Yoga classes, there are classes that are Anusara Inspired. The Soni Yoga website explains, “Anusara Yoga is a school of hatha yoga which unifies a lie-affirming Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness with Universal Principles of Alignment.” From the description of this class, it sounds like this class goes beyond the basic Hatha yoga that is so popular in the Western world and takes a deeper look into the theory and mental aspect of yoga. There are also Kundalini classes and Yin & Yang yoga classes (Soni Yoga, n.d.).
The final type of class that is offered is the class that I took. This class is called restorative yoga. I had never heard of restorative yoga before, but the description says that it is focused on reconnecting your mind and your body and that it is beneficial for people of any age. I particularly liked the sound of this yoga class because this is one of the reasons I wish to explore yoga more. I am interested in relaxing and reinvigorating my body while, at the same time, helping my mind to focus. Restorative yoga seems to be a good way to reach this goal because the poses particular to this practice help to encourage a habit of focus and attention so that it becomes a regular part of life (What is Restorative yoga?, n.d.).
Taking this restorative yoga class was very interesting to me because I had never taken a yoga class quite like it. First of all, I had never used props in a yoga class, but this class in particular relied quite heavily on them. We used bolsters, blocks, straps, and blankets throughout the class. In each of the poses we could use the props to extend the stretch or to make it more relaxing. Also, throughout the hour and a half class, we did very few poses, but we held each of them for a very long time. There was a lot of time spent being still, holding a particular position. At times I found this very comfortable and relaxing, but other times I found it hard to keep my mind focused on what we were doing because there was not enough happening to keeping me interested; I was easily distracted by the room itself, or the sounds coming from outside of the studio.
While I found relying so heavily on props to be strange during the yoga practice, I found upon further research following the class, the use of props such as blankets and blocks are quite common in restorative yoga classes. An article in Yoga Journal written by Claudia Cummins explains that the purpose of restorative yoga is to leave us nourished and well rested. The props help people to reach that state of relaxation because the more supported your body is, the deeper your relaxation will be (Cummins, 2010). The props add to the fuller environment of support (What is Restorative yoga?, n.d.).
This article further helped me in my understanding of restorative yoga because it stated that it could be challenging for beginners to become as quite and still as is required to have a fully rewarding restorative practice. While this form of yoga may not be as challenging physically as some other forms, it can be quite challenging mentally to reach the desired state of relaxation that is the goal of restorative yoga. As Cummins states, “This is what yoga is all about, after all: stilling our fidgety bodies and calming our rambling minds so that we may rest quietly in the present moment and see clearly the peace that resides within” (Cummins, 2010). I did indeed find it quite difficult to reach that stat of mental relaxation. Reading about this eased my frustration about not being able to settle my mind. I now know that this is a common problem that is faced in restorative yoga and that it is something practicing restorative yoga on a regular basis will help you work through.
In the future, if I take a restorative yoga class again, I will try to focus more on my breathing. I know from prior classes that breathing is an important aspect of all yoga practices, but it would have been helpful if the yoga instructor offered more reminders about focusing on breathing. In restorative yoga, like all other yoga practices, breathing helps the wandering mind refocus. Had I focused more on my breathing throughout the class, I think I would have been able to get more out of the class as a whole.
Another source on restorative yoga I found focused a little more on the importance of prana in the practice of restorative yoga. Throughout the class I did notice that the teacher used the term “chest-opening poses” quite a bit, but I didn’t think much of it. It turns out that the chest-opening poses that we did were to increase the flow of prana and breath through the body. This makes sense because based on readings from Hatha Yoga Pradapika prana influences our entire body and helps us reach our higher state of consciousness. (Hatha Yoga Pradapika, 1993). Through my research I also learned that restorative yoga poses are supposed to held for ten minutes or longer, and this explains why there were so few poses involved in the class I took (What is Restorative yoga?, n.d.).
While the Ayurveda theory of yoga is thousands of years old and based on tradition, the practice of restorative yoga has become popular within the last 60 years (What is Restorative yoga?, n.d.). Since it is such a recent development in the world of yoga, it has inevitably been influence by modern culture. Many recommend restorative yoga after being stressed by daily life. Perhaps with modern society’s focus on the working life and being successful in the past 60 years has caused people so much additional stress that restorative yoga was a necessary step to take. It seems that having to de-stress after a regular day is a fairly modern development.
I also think that the fact that Soni Yoga offers classes just for women based on medical research shows how this studio has been affected by modern times. This is blending more modern reliance on medical data and the ancient practice of yoga together. Some may see this as negative, but I believe that this can be a very positive way of approaching yoga. Yoga is all about being able to balance the mind and body, but I think that the focus on balance can carry over to lifestyles as well. A balance of life in the more modern western culture and in the ancient practice of yoga seems to be a healthy way to approach life. If this can be achieved you are not so absorbed in the modern world that you lose focus on your self and what is most important in life, but you are also not so far removed from society that you can’t enjoy all of the positive things modern life has to offer.
Now that I have a fuller understanding of the practice of restorative yoga, the theory of Ayurveda, and of Soni Yoga studio itself, I look forward to going back. There is still a lot I can learn from this studio about the Ayurveda lifestyle and the practices of yoga that are offered. I am also glad that I decided to take the restorative yoga class. Although I found it rather strange while I was taking the class, I think that this kind of yoga could be extremely beneficial in my life based on my interest of expanding my focus and attention through the practice of yoga.
Ayurveda. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.holisticonline.com/ayurveda/ayv-introduction.htm
Cummins, Claudia. (2010). Restorative yoga. Retrieved from http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/991
Owen, Liz. (n.d.). Restorative yoga for body and mind. Retrieved from http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/Emotional-Health/Bipolar/Restorative-Yoga-for-Body-and-Mind.aspx
Muktibodhananada, S. (1993). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga. Chapter Two: Shatkarma & Pranayma.
Restorative yoga poses - the art of active relaxation. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.yogatohealth.com/Restorative_Yoga_Poses_-_The_Art_of_Active_Relaxation.html
Soni Yoga. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://soniyoga.com/cm/Home.html
What is Restorative yoga?. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dorestorativeyoga.com/