Restorative yoga: not your usual body twist
• Alaska’s only certified yoga instructor explains techniques for relaxing, renewing
By Naomi Klouda
HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Ramona Pearce demonstrates how she uses common, everyday items to assist her with restorative yoga techniques. Pearce is the only certified “Relax and Renew” yoga instructor in Alaska.
To create a pose for “Instant Maui” — a restorative yoga technique — Ramona Pearce places a rolled blanket under her student’s knees.
Resting on a yoga mat covered in a wool blanket, the student reclines at a 90-degree angle on wedges likewise covered. Elbows are aloft to either side of the body, resting on padding. Pearce then sets a scented pillow over the eyes to shut out light.
“We use a lot of props in restorative yoga,” the long-time instructor explained. “It’s a restful, relaxing yoga supported with props that allows you to rest your body and let it ‘open’ itself.”
Instant Maui, indeed — the position takes all the weight off.
Gravity is history.
Though Pearce has practiced and taught her “gentle” or “renewing” yoga for years in Homer, her recent certification makes her the only “Relax and Renew” yoga instructor in Alaska. Pearce trained under San Diego’s Judith Lasater, who invented the yoga techniques and came up with the philosophy of how it can be applied for physical, mental and spiritual health. Lasater is the author of six books, including “Living Your Yoga,” and “Yoga Body,” as well as “Relax and Renew,” which outlines the yoga techniques used by Pearce.
“This is different from Hatha Yoga, in that there are no standing poses,” Pearce explained. “It’s all supported by blankets, blocks, floor — and sometimes using the wall as well.” Students go through four or five poses per class, with each class lasting about an hour.
Pearce said restorative yoga teaches people to be still.
“So often, we don’t give ourselves permission to be still. Even lying there, in your head you might still be saying, ‘I should do this, I should be doing that.’ It takes practice to rest, to let the mind grow still – it is the opposite of an active life,” she said. “In the West, we think we are supposed to always be productive. That is not necessarily always healthy.”
An accountant for much of her career life, Pearce has taught yoga for 12 years, beginning in the Los Angeles area. While her life as an accountant led her to be more a “Type A” personality, she changed her life through yoga.
“Now I don’t know what type you would say I am. I’ve been told I have a calming presence,” Pearce said. “I like quiet. I like simple; no drama, no craziness.”
After moving to Homer five years ago, Pearce has taught classes weekly at both Anahata and the Bay Club. For two years in a row, she was hired by Holland America to conduct yoga classes aboard cruise ships on trips lasting three and a half months. In addition to seeing the world, she was paid to give instruction.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “I held classes for the passengers, many of them women who had lost their husbands or were at another point in their lives.”
For those who find it hard to do the exercises on the floor, Pearce developed chair positions. As an instructor, she observes each person’s body for clues to what is happening. She sees where they can achieve more flexibility, and helps them make adjustments.
Pierce has had experience on both ends of the spectrum. A broken leg on the Homer Spit trail sent her life into a transition. After undergoing hip replacement surgery, she was out of commission for three months.
HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda
Though Pearce couldn’t practice the restorative yoga for several weeks, when she could get back into it, she found the exercises helped her recover more quickly. A position with her legs elevated on the wall and hips higher than the heart became a favored pose.
“It helps with aging. Having hips higher than the heart gives your organs a break. Gravity is reversed,” she said. “There are positions that help with blood pressure, PMS, menopause, menstrual cramps.”
Those who work on their feet all day can also find remedy in the poses created especially to reverse the impacts of such work on the body. And Pearce said people who suffer from diabetes or multiple sclerosis also gain new body relief from the positions.
Each class typically begins with instructing students in poses by positioning them with blankets and blocks.
“I do hands-on adjusting to make sure they are comfortable, then gauge them for modifications,” she said.
For 10-15 minutes at a time, they relax in each pose.
From the “Instant Maui,” Pearce moves her students into the “two-blanket twist,” and then onto the “child’s pose.” Other poses can be especially helpful for pregnant or post-natal mothers, as well as the elderly. While in place, students are taught breathing exercises, beginning with a long exhale, and followed by measured breaths.
Yoga was developed to teach people how to “open” their bodies so they can sit in meditation for long periods of time. It can also move psychological things from the “back of the body to the front,” which has made people cry or express other emotions, such as anger, she said.
“They say we push stuff to the back of our bodies that we don’t want to look at. But it’s still something you have to deal with. This helps release that,” Pearce said, adding that it’s not always the heaviness that comes out. “I had a group of ladies the other night who giggled, positioned against the wall. It was really fun.”