How Restorative Yoga Works

by Scott Davis

Health is a by-product of the pulsation between challenge and recovery, the dynamic dance of life that is the hallmark of all living things. This alive balance is also known as pendulation. Stress in and of itself is neither positive or negative, it is simply a trigger in response to stimulus. The trigger produces an automatic physiological response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) in which cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are secreted as the body prepares to “fight, flight or freeze.” This measurable change in in our biological state is a vital part of our survival system and is known as the Stress Response, a term coined in the 1920’s by the physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon. It is also known hyperarousal.


Restorative yoga pose

Whether the stressor is physiological or psychological, external or internal, the result is that the body recognizes a threat and releases chemicals and electrical impulses that are intended to be used as a response to stress through action. If repeated and unresolved over time, the result is a habitual pattern of chronic distress, and ultimately affects the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems in harmful ways, such as inflammation, premature aging and degenerative decline. Prolonged unresolved stress (aka distress) occurs when the stressor produces the release of chemicals and electrical impulses throughout the system, but the body is unable to discharge properly . This slowly depletes optimal body functioning by constricting the smooth muscle tissues located in our air passages, blood vessels, stomach and bladder without our conscious control.

The goal of Restorative Yoga is to develop and nurture the counter-balance to the highly overused stress response and activate the bodies innate recovery system. The opposite of the stress response is known as the relaxation response and is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), also know as the “rest and digest” system. In addition to controlling the functions of salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation (SLUDD), the PSNS produces a host of immune and endocrine responses in counter balance to the Stress Response coined the Relaxation Response by researcher and medical doctor Herbert Benson in 1975.

The Relaxation Response is also known as the love-growth-connect system and is essential for our health and well-being. It is responsible for lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and bringing the body back into balance allowing for processing, assimilation, integration and healing after the flurry of the Stress Response. When stress and challenge is followed by rest and recovery, the healthy balance transforms the original stress into a beneficial type of stress known as “Eustress,” resulting in greater adaptability, anti-fragility, and resilience. The resulting integration is a more alive and complete vision of wellbeing with pendulation and homeostasis as basis for optimal health and vitality.


Next course starts in October 2022, click here to view the dates to join!



Scott Davis has been sharing his passion for health as a doctor of Integrative Medicine, movement therapist, yoga teacher and health educator for the past two decades. He integrates therapeutic traditions, contemporary approaches to health and the latest research in biomechanics and human movement in ways that are clear, accessible and results-based.

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