Never Underestimate the Power of Lying Down

By Marcia Miller

As I prepare to teach the Restorative Teacher Training in July I have been reflecting back on over 35 years of yoga. If Ashtanga Yoga had been popular and available where I was in the 70s I likely would have been an Ashtangi. At 20, I was wild for asana and moved into advanced poses very quickly. I was the sort of student who showed up for an early morning practice of 108 sun salutations as the appetizer to a weekend workshop of advanced asana. Restorative yoga was unknown in those days; there were no props, no blankets, no blocks or straps, hey, there weren’t even any yoga mats in those days. And while the tradition that I started in included long savasanas (deep relaxations), some popular schools of yoga did not.

Life has a way of bringing balance to our lives and after about 7 years of full on practice a close family member died and I couldn’t get out of bed. I had never experienced grief before and had no idea what was happening. I had the feeling that if I could get up and do some asana I would have felt much better. But even when I crawled to my yoga space, I couldn’t seem to do anything. I lay there and cried. The few times I was able to muster up an active practice of some sort I got injured. I realized that my posture was sagging in the typical slouch of despair and loss and my body was in pain. I was sighing and exhaling a lot but not inhaling much.

At that time my bed was a mattress on the floor. It also became my first yoga prop. When I didn’t feel like getting up one morning I turned around and lay on my back with my head, shoulders and arms on the floor and the rest of my body supported by the mattress. I had invented my first supported back bend, a version of what we now call setu bandhasana. I could remain there without any effort on my part. My inhalations went deeper and my chest was not collapsed at least for the time I was there. It felt nourishing and necessary. As I moved through my grief I also used bed pillows to prop up my chest and started valuing my time of restoration. Eventually I moved back into more active poses again but never forgot the power of lying around over household furnishings.

The following year another family member died and my grief hit even harder. There were many days when I wasn’t sure I would make it out of the grief alive. Soon after this death I ended up in a week-long program with Mary Schatz, a medical doctor and Iyengar yoga teacher. She was teaching something called restorative yoga! Clearly, someone else (B. K. S. Iyengar) had invented this practice as well and I learned more sophisticated versions of poses I had already been practicing and the physiology of what we were doing. Eventually Judith Lasater published her book, Relax and Renew, and the restorative yoga revolution was off and running.

There are times in everyone’s lives when the kindest, most important thing they can do is to lie down. If they have the skill to practice specific poses that will be therapeutic for their circumstances, so much the better. From time to time we all get ill, have accidents, loss, babies, go through menopause or are just too darn tired to work any harder. These are times for restorative yoga. I know there are some people who consider restorative yoga a “lesser practice,” but this is not my experience at all. After one year of practicing restorative yoga exclusively, I returned to my more active practice without any loss of flexibility. What I gained was immeasurable: an enhanced ability to track subtle connections, increased sensitivity, openness and trust that I could know my own needs. I learned the benefits of a quiet stillness deeper than anything I had previously experienced. What little I lost in muscle strength was easily renewed, perhaps because of my enhanced ability to balance effort and relaxation.

As a yoga teacher I have found restorative yoga to be a practice that allows anyone to come to the mat and support whatever is going on. I have taught men and women with cancer who would never have been able to do sun salutations but could lie over bolsters to increase their circulation and reduce the anxiety that comes with a life-threatening disease. I have taught people with back pain who couldn’t get comfortable sleeping until we fine-tuned a side-lying restorative pose. I have taught veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who were so tired from their vigilance and anxiety that all they wanted was a chance to rest. I have supported mothers who have lost babies who just needed a few moments of comfort before returning to their grief. I have supported women who didn’t know it was necessary to care for themselves in order to care for the others in their lives. The faces that come into my awareness as I type these words are precious reminders of the power of yoga. As a teacher I want all the tools possible in my toolkit so I can meet you right where you are. If you want wild arm balances—great—I love those; if you want a place of respite and ease we can do that too.

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5 Responses to Never Underestimate the Power of Lying Down
  1. Gail Spirit Sky

    Well said Marcia. My favorite sentence is…”the kindest most important thing they can do is to lie down.”
    Namaste,
    Gail Sky

  2. Kae

    Yes, the sentence that shouts out in this lovely post:
    –There are times in everyone’s lives when the kindest, most important thing they can do is to lie down.–

  3. Loretta Zedella

    This is so lovely. What appears to be a passive pose and be quite powerful in its effectiveness. I can picture you half-on and half -ff the bed finding some solace.

    • Yuka

      The new site and logo is beautiful! The YouTube viedos make the information accessible to more people. Keep up the great work! I agree the Grief Recovery Method is a 100% successful approach. What a joy it is to help people through their painful experiences to find their hope and peace restored.

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