As we introduce our exclusive collaboration collection of Restorative Yoga Kits with Anna Ashby, we caught up with Anna to learn more about her teaching journey and what inspired her to build this unique collection.
Anna, tell us about your journey to becoming a Restorative Yoga teacher?
Restorative Yoga embodies slowing down, becoming still and embracing softness and rest. Sometimes, I feel the total opposite of this! I’m high energy, always on the go, and find it supremely challenging to settle into stillness. Nevertheless, it’s for this very reason that Restorative Yoga loudly calls my name and has done since that first moment I experienced this way of practising yoga 25 years ago. A deeper part of me understands this is what I need to fuel the fire! I’ve discovered a whole world of wisdom within which keeps inviting me back into the experience softness and rest as a radical act of transforming perception.
Over the years this way of practising yoga has become an indispensable part of my life and I cannot imagine living without it. Restorative invites me to explore the the layers of my body and being through a relaxed state where I can release tension and gain insight through presence. It’s a form of deep listening.
I’ve always considered myself a seeker. There is a strong pull towards asking existential questions that have no short answers. This is why I was drawn to yoga in the first place – to engage with the very meaning and purpose of my existence. I realised about halfway through my yoga journey, this can’t happen unless my nervous system enters into a state that allows subtlety of perception and depth. Restorative Yoga creates the physiological conditions that support the expanded state of awareness and sense of connection that yoga engenders.
I feel it’s part of my life’s purpose to help others discover this state and live in a such way that amplifies connection. It all starts with the nervous system!
What do you love most about sharing the practice of Restorative Yoga?
People’s faces when they come out of the last pose! I can really see them – who they are deep down inside. The mask is gone. There is a softness to the expression and a sweetness that reminds me of the wonder in a child’s eyes when they see something for the very first time. There are soft smiles. I feel the beauty shining through. And some folks just stay in the relaxation pose at the end and I feel thrilled that there is this impulse to stay and rest and touch the inner space of their being – to remain in a state of equipoise.
Tell us about the kits you have put together with Yogamatters and why props are important for a Restorative Practice?
Props are fundamental to this way of practising yoga. A principle of Restorative practice places comfort at the centre of experience in order to support the down-regulation the nervous system. If you aren’t comfortable, it’ll be very hard to relax. So creating a safe and sacred space for practice, and having the kit to fully experience the benefits are key.
Let’s briefly look at comfort as a cornerstone of Restorative practice, as I do have some caveats. This way of practicing yoga is not about having a good snooze or kip. Remember, this is yoga practice – it’s all about awakening or awareness. Skilfulness in practice translates into understanding how to best place the props to support the nervous system, along with cultivating the ability to maintain an inner focus. Understanding and acting on what you may need to be comfortable supports the state of equilibrium. It represents a kind of liberation where the end result is a happier more centred and grounded you! I often quip in class, how you place your props is how you live your life!
To be present and understand what the body and mind need by rolling the blanket in a certain way or adding another layer of props under the spine makes all the difference in being able to rest and release the tension that blocks the ability to deeply feel.
What would be your advice to someone looking to begin a Restorative Practice?
Don’t be afraid to settle inwards and feel what’s going on inside. Don’t be afraid of stillness and rest. There is so much beauty and richness in subtle experience imparted by a balanced nervous system. While the beginning of practice may be a challenge depending on how long you’ve been experiencing stress, the rewards are well worth the effort – lowered stress levels, less anxiousness, better sleep, stronger immune system just to name a few.
Remember, you’ve been ‘on the go’ your whole life and our culture doesn’t really allow for rest and recuperation. There’s a strong push to just keep going or striving or to avoid difficult feelings. To slow down, feel and rest embodies the understanding that you have everything you need within you. It’s just a matter of tapping in, being curious and trusting your inner experience.
Even if you think you are the most restless person in the world and the idea of practicing Restorative Yoga makes you want to run out the door, then it’s calling your name. At some point it could become a central part of your experience of awakening and you will wonder why you ever avoided it!
The Starter Kit is the best place to begin with the props. They can be used as part of your regular yoga practice too. Find yourself a Restorative teacher and make a commitment to a weekly or monthly practice – for yourself, for your family, for the world. Why wouldn’t you want to feel a nervous system in balance which enables the ability to connect? Restorative Yoga can become a well mapped entry point into the stillness practices that make yoga, well…yoga.
Where can we find you in 2023?
I’ll been teaching at a number of places around the UK this year. Yogakula in Leeds, Orange Yoga in Cheltenham, Mission in east London, the Life Centre and Love Supreme Projects in Notting Hill.
I’m particularly excited to be teaching at Mission – it’s a new yoga centre opening near Spitalfields on March 17. My good friend Genny Wilkinson has worked her tooshie off to get this new centre open that spotlights yoga and the power of different kinds of movement practices. The teaching team at Mission is awesome too! Their website launches this week. You can find them @mission.e1 on Instagram. All my Restorative teacher trainings will be held in person here and I’ll be teaching monthly Restorative workshops.
I also lead retreats all over the world, my own and I collaborate with the amazing Jools Sampson who runs Reclaim Yourself retreats.
You can visit my website, to find out more about the different ways you can practice with me. I am also very happy to be offering a free online class for Yogamatters on Sunday, February 26th. You can find out more about that here.
I wish you a successful Restorative Yoga practice and look forward to meeting you at some point in a class, a workshop or a retreat. Rest well!