Yoga Pose of the Month

November 29, 2014

Charlotte Bell

Instant Maui—your 20-minute vacation.
by Charlotte Bell

It’s the season of short days, long nights and monumental to-do lists. Pot lucks, parties, concerts and gifting take us out of our usual routines. At a time when our schedules are stuffed to capacity, often the first things to get knocked off our to-do list are those things we do to take care of ourselves.

I’m writing this month to suggest —strongly—that you leave at least one of your self-nurturing habits on your list. I’m making this suggestion for myself as much as I am for you. Maybe if I make a public declaration, I will feel more compelled to “walk my talk.”

Whether your regular retreat is bodywork, yoga, hot baths, getting lost in great fiction or seeing an absorbing film, keep at least one of these on your list. In addition, I’d like to add one more thing: restorative yoga.

The beauty—and the power—of restorative yoga is at least partly that we can stay a long time in the poses. While our Western exercise paradigm assesses the “power” of a physical practice by its speed, how hard we breathe, the amount of sweat it induces, and amount of pain we feel during and after, the paradigm from which yoga has evolved sees it quite differently.

According to yoga, we are all amalgams of five koshas, or bodies. The koshas are rather like Russian nesting dolls; each successive kosha nests inside the last. Starting from the outermost: Annamaya, the physical body; Pranamaya, the energy body; Manomaya, the body of emotion and intellect (mind stuff); Vijnanamaya, the body of higher intelligence; and Anandamaya, the body of bliss. The purpose of yoga practice is to bring all levels of being into balance.

For a yoga pose to reach the deeper koshas, we need to give it time. Rushing through a few quick sun salutations may loosen some muscles and release a few endorphins, but if we really want to feel restored and balanced on all levels—physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual—we need to slow down and allow time for our yoga to sink into the deepest layers of being.

I can’t say I’ve ever met a restorative pose I don’t like, but one of my favorites in recent years has been an invention of restorative guru Judith Hanson Lasater’s that she calls “Instant Maui.” A slight inversion, Instant Maui is cooling, calming and stimulates the parasympathetic (rest and digest) side of the autonomic nervous system. Practiced 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, Instant Maui can ward off insomnia. It’s a 20-minute beach vacation for your body, mind and heart.

I prefer to practice with my pelvis slightly elevated while my legs rest on the chair. Elevating the pelvis creates a gentle inversion that I find more calming than lying flat. If you find you prefer lying level on the floor, by all means, practice Instant Maui that way. Comfort makes for effective practice. If you are experiencing any of the contraindications to inversions—menstrual period, high blood pressure, or eye problems such as glaucoma or detached retina—lying level is probably best.

Setup and pose:

Gather two or three blankets, a chair and an eyebag if you have one. Spread one blanket out on the floor. You can place it on a yoga mat if you want some extra padding, but it’s not necessary to use a mat.

Place your chair on top of the blanket with the seat facing you. Fold another blanket so that it’s about 12 inches across and 2-3 inches thick. You may need more than one blanket to achieve that height. Place the folded blanket in front of and parallel to the chair.

Lie down, resting your pelvis on the horizontal blanket. Make sure that the fleshiest part of your rear is slightly off the blanket toward the chair so that your torso is horizontal. If your torso slants toward your head, Instant Maui will not be very relaxing. If your legs don’t feel comfortable on the chair, you can move it closer or farther away.

Our bodies naturally cool down in restorative yoga, so you may want to have another blanket handy to place over your entire body, or at least over your torso. Stay as long as you like. Set aside your to-do list. Do nothing.

When it’s time to come out, fold your legs in toward your torso, roll onto your side and relax for a few breaths before sitting up.

Restorative yoga is not about stretching. It is about settling and opening. If you feel any discomfort, including a strong stretch, in Instant Maui, you may want to experiment with your props. The ideal restorative pose yields little physical sensation.

Practice for as long as your schedule will allow—20 minutes is ideal. If it’s five minutes on a given day, enjoy that five minutes. Don’t stress out about not practicing long enough. Remember that restorative yoga is a gift to yourself, not another thing you have to get done.

Restorative practice replenishes vital energy on all levels. When we are constantly exhausted, it is hard to access our joy. Restorative yoga allows the benefits of practice to reach down deep, not just stretching muscles, but nourishing our entire being. So, take an Instant Maui vacation every day for the next month. I’ll see you at the beach.

Charlotte Bell is a yoga teacher at Mindful Yoga Collective, an author of two books, and plays oboe with the Salt Lake Symphony and Red Rock Rondo. She lives in Salt Lake City.