Kate Bailey, PT, DPT, MS, E-RYT 500, YACEP, Y4C, CPI curated and instructs the remote course on Restorative Yoga for Physical Therapists, which is scheduled for September 11-12, 2021. Kate brings over 15 years of teaching movement experience to her physical therapy practice with specialties in Pilates and yoga with a focus on alignment and embodiment. Kate’s pilates background was unusual as it followed a multi-lineage price apprenticeship model that included the study of complementary movement methodologies such as the Franklin Method, Feldenkrais, and Gyrotonics®. Building on her Pilates teaching experience, Kate began an in-depth study of yoga, training with renown teachers of the vinyasa and Iyengar traditions. She held a private practice teaching movement prior to transitioning into physical therapy and relocating to Seattle.
Without a doubt, these past couple of years have been tough with this global pandemic of a virus that caused major shifts in how we work, play, learn and socialize. Wherever you live on this planet, it is nearly impossible not to have been affected by the stress and trauma that the Covid-19 virus has created. Just like with any other stressor, the first step of management is recognition. Check, done.
Step two involves making conscious choices about how we want to live. This is where we have some options, including self-care. “Self-care” is one of my least favorite phrases. Not because at its core, self-care is not important. But because it's another thing on an overflowing to-do list and can create even more of a sense of imbalance, lack of accomplishment, and self-defeat. Yet, learning how to manage stress is a skill we all need: individually and communally.
However, there is a step before stress management that we need to address first. Interoception, defined by Porges, Ph.D., is the process that describes both conscious feelings and unconscious monitoring of bodily processes by the nervous system. As a clinician, this is a key aspect of every single patient care plan. I am a big fan of embodied decision making, and yet our somatic intelligence (or interoceptive skills) is widely underdeveloped.
Just as emotional intelligence is getting some wonderful development, through the work of researchers and educators like Marc Brackett, Ph.D. of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, our wellbeing and access to wellness are dependent on our ability to understand the sensations and signals throughout our body and then make a choice. This is important since you can’t make an embodied choice (step 2) before you have the data (step 1 - interoception). An example would be to imagine if you never felt the sensation of hunger, or the ‘hangry’ feeling when it’s been too long since the last boost of nourishment…how would you determine that you are hungry?
So, what to do? Many of us (clinicians and patients alike) live in a world full of overstimulation, productivity requirements, and constant stress. To develop interoception, finding little periods of stillness can be really useful. In yoga, there is a dedicated practice called pratyahara. Translated from Sanskrit to English as ‘withdrawal of the senses.’ The senses, in this case, includes all the sense organs: sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, movement (vestibular), and spatial placement (proprioception). Traditionally this is an aspect of meditation.
In my experience as a yoga teacher and physical therapist, I find this practice more accessible in the restorative yoga practice. It can take some graded exposure, but at the heart of the restorative yoga practice is stillness, darkness, silence, and support from props so that the body doesn’t have to do anything. These are also the essential components described by Herbert Benson, MD in his work on the Relaxation Response. In his work, he showed the relaxation response to be effective in decreasing heart and respiration rate triggering the benefits of the vagal nerve; which we are learning has so much to do with our ability to neuroregulate and participate in individual and communal stress management.
Restorative yoga is a practice of wakefully resting. Immordino-Yang et al, studied the brain in functional MRI when individuals were wakefully resting. The study found that during wakeful rest (without a meditative component where the brain has a task of concentration) the brain goes into a mode of neural processing called default mode. In default mode, the brain supports memory recall, imagining the future, and developing socio-emotional intelligence. In relationship to stress management, this is so important because it re-centers us, and allows for connection for even more neuroregulation.
For my patients, I often joke about lying on the floor. Really, it is not a joke at all. Lying on the floor for 15 minutes is savasana. Savasana is a wakeful resting and a practice of relaxation response. It seems easy: you always have access to a floor. You don’t need anything fancy. Aside from the neuroregulatory benefits of rest, savasana also gives the postural muscles a break. It allows the hip flexors to re-lengthen and the cervicothoracic junction to realign.
It is pretty great, and really accessible for most people. For those who are not comfortable flat, that’s where the props used in restorative yoga come into play. As physical and occupational therapists, we are so well primed to help people learn how to support their bodies in rest to get the benefits of rest.
Burnout, the Secret to unlocking the stress cycle by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, DMA
Polyvagal Theory, Stephen W Porges, PhD
Immordino-Yang et al. - Perspectives on Psychological Science - 2012
The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, MD, and Miriam Z Klipper