With over 10 years of experience teaching restorative yoga Marilynn Freeman works out of Silver City, New Mexico helping her students dissolve their stress and find their way back into balance. Read Marilynn’s insightful advice for new students and restorative yoga tips for women with breast cancer. See her complete profile here.
1. Restorative yoga is a beautiful style of yoga, both powerful and gentle. How did you initially come to learn about this type of yoga?
I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in the 80’s. As a “weekend warrior”, I was unable to get better by pushing harder. My yoga teacher, Baxter Williams an Iyengar teacher, gave me a 2.5 hour series of yoga poses to do. Given that I was nearly bed-ridden, I did them religiously (but not necessarily graciously). Little by little, my strength returned. These poses not only enable me to heal, they changed my life. Nearly 20 years later (2001), Yoga Journal featured an article on HIV and restorative yoga. Many of the poses I had practiced to recover my health, were included in this article.
2. What key intentions do you share with your restorative yoga students?
1) Develop a home practice, preferably before you need it. 2) Yoga is every minute of every day, not just the hour class. 3) As a culture, we need to cultivate learning how to be still and quiet.
3. Please share any personal transformations and insights that you’ve gained through your practice of restorative yoga.
4. In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit of restorative yoga?
Bringing the body back into balance; nurturing the endocrine system; calming the nervous system.
5. If you could name one pose that has truly supported you in a way that allowed you to open, release, and restore your body and mind unlike any other pose what was that pose and why was it so empowering?
I’m challenged to choose just one pose. I had a Setu Bhanda bench made for me because of the series of poses my teacher gave me to practice, back bending off the end of this bench seemed the most useful. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart! It was empowering because I really had to surrender in order to receive the pose. It took a great deal of concentration to allow the pose in. Gradually, it became my ally and probably my greatest teacher.
6. Would you say you are a different person after practicing restorative yoga? In what ways has restorative yoga changed your life?
I always am more centered, whole, balanced and relaxed after a restorative practice. I realize how important it is to take time to “be” rather than “do”; to receive rather than to give; to be passive rather than active. It changed my life in terms of what I want to learn, teach and share. If I hadn’t gotten chronic fatigue, I’d probably still be striving to look like the (over stretched) people in the Yoga Journal magazine. Instead, I’m practicing and teaching people how to relax and slow down. I think this is an essential missing piece of most of our lives.
7. What would you recommend to students that are new to restorative yoga?
Don’t underestimate the power of the poses! I was so afraid when I had to stop all exercising for nearly a year that I was going to atrophy into a wimp. Doing restorative yoga brought me a new kind of strength and muscle tone that I didn’t know existed.
8. There has been some inquiry for restorative yoga poses for women with breast cancer. Can you suggest any poses that would be particularly helpful?
This is going to be a long answer…
One of my favorite authors is Gabor Matѐ, MD. In his book, When the Body Says No, he has much to say about cancer, and specifically breast cancer.
“Nearly four hundred women with a history of breast cancer were asked what they thought had caused their malignancy. Forty-two percent cited stress – much more than other factors such as diet, environment, genetics and lifestyle.” p. 60
“A rich body of evidence, drawn from animal studies and human experience, supports the impression of cancer patients that emotional stress is a major contributing cause of breast malignancy. Hormone production is intimately affected by psychological stress.” p. 60
“In most casers of breast cancer, the stresses are hidden and chronic. They stem from childhood experiences, early emotional programming and unconscious psychological coping styles. They accumulate over a lifetime to make someone susceptible to disease.” p. 61
“Research has suggested for decades that women are more prone to develop breast cancer if their childhoods were characterized by emotional disconnection from their parents or other disturbances in their upbringing; if they tend to repress emotions, particularly anger; if they lack nurturing social relationships in adulthood; and if they are altruistic, compulsively caregiving types. In one study, psychologists interviewed patients admitted to hospital for breast biopsy, without knowing the pathology result. Researchers were able to predict the present of cancer in up to 95 percent of the cases judging by such psychological factors alone. In a similar German study, forty women with breast cancer were matched with forty controls similar in age, general health, history and lifestyle considerations. Again, on psychological grounds the researchers were 96 per cent successful in identifying who was and who was not diagnosed with breast cancer.” p. 62
Given what Matѐ has written, I have two suggestions. First, redirect the compulsive caregiving inward, rather than outwardly to others. This would be done by stressing the importance of developing a consistent home practice. While I didn’t have a diagnosis of cancer, I’m sure that much of my healing from restorative yoga came from the fact that for the first time in my life, I was doing for me, not others.
My second suggestion is to suggest poses that help to self-nurture and self-soothe. I find that most people do not know how to self-soothe. For adults in our culture, food, alcohol, and drugs or other means of “numbing out” are substitutes for soothing. Too much “doing” is also common. Learning how to totally calm and nurture oneself is an art that needs to be cultivated. Supported child’s pose or side-lying child’s pose are very nurturing.. There may be some other pos(s) that really speaks to the student, and I would honor her choice.
9. Please share any specialties (ie. Aromatherapy, meditation, sound healing, etc) that you include in your classes and/or areas that you focus on in particular (anxiety, stress relief, chronic pain).
My classes are focused on relieving stress and I bring in other modalities to achieve that end. My number one focus is diaphragmatic breathing. When students are in the poses, I teach and have them use Coherent Breathing (a specific rate and depth that balances the sympathetic (gas pedal) and parasympathetic (brake) nervous systems). The Six Bridges are anatomical parts of the body over which we have both voluntary and involuntary control. Learning to consciously relax these helps to balance the nervous system. All of these anatomical parts are supported (literally) in some way by restorative yoga poses. I can’t think of any better combination than learning how to breathe, relax and do yoga that is supportive and healing.
10. What do you think will be the future for restorative yoga? Do you see the need increasing and in what ways will restorative yoga be able to serve people in the coming years?
Without a doubt. It may be difficult to convince people that they are actually getting benefit from lying around!