Steamboat is known for its active outdoor lifestyle and prolific production of Olympic athletes. People visit or move here to get their adrenaline rush—whether it derives from banking turns on a mountain bike, skiing fresh backcountry powder, skinning to Storm Peak at dawn, or kayaking the Yampa River. Especially for people who love high intensity activities, restorative yoga is important for maintaining a healthy body and a balanced lifestyle.
A lot of Type A people seek intense, dynamic workouts, and we can now scientifically recognize the power of restorative yoga to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and mitigate the effects of those workouts. Continual engagement in activities that invite the fight or flight response increases the likelihood of muscular damage and breakdown. Restorative yoga counters that effect by calming the nervous system all the way down to the cellular level.
The parasympathetic nervous system is our rest and digest system that acts as a direct counterbalance to the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight system. The parasympathetic nervous system helps our muscles relax, heart rate slow, and blood pressure drop. It also helps lower our cortisol and blood sugar levels while improving our sleep patterns and our immune and digestive systems. Increased blood circulation to the endocrine and lymphatic systems means the body can extract nutrients and eliminate toxins more effectively. In addition, activating the parasympathetic nervous system aids in weight loss because of its effect on stress hormones.
While athletes are willing to accept that strength and endurance training requires resting certain muscle groups, we tend to close the doors on yoga as an aid in recovery. We’re so eager to see the results we want that the benefits of restorative yoga are often overlooked. Restorative yoga helps us heal and recuperate physically, but it also trains our minds to remain in—or choose to remain in—a relaxed state for longer periods of time.
People who practice yoga can learn to be aware of sensations and thoughts as they enter their bodies and minds. They can identify stressful triggers and respond in ways that maintain equilibrium between the nervous systems. In this way, restorative yoga (a physical precursor to meditation), can improve our moods and overall psychological and physiological health.
By its nature, restorative yoga is a receptive practice and therefore the antithesis of our mountain culture. But when we look at restorative yoga as a complement to our other activities, we can attain a healthier state of being and achieve better results on our bikes, skis, boats, or mats.
Restorative yoga is an activity without a goal—it’s an explorative process that invites us to exist within our true selves. While it can be renounced as too passive, it’s actually an opportunity for deep healing, growth, and repair for our bodies and brains.