Rest and Relaxation are crucial for navigating times of difficulty and change. Yoga Nidra will help you recuperate and replenish.
Yoga Nidra has been one of the key tools which has aided my recovery from addiction, sexual violence, exhaustion and Anorexia Nervosa. This soothing, nourishing practise has become part of my life and I am confident that this will help you too. In Sanskrit Yoga means to yoke/bring together/ union. Nidra means sleep. In Yoga Nidra you will practise bringing your body, mind and consciousness into union through cultivating a deeply relaxed state. If you have never stepped onto a Yoga mat in your life or you have not tried any type of Yoga before, that literally does not matter because Yoga Nidra is done while lying down in a position in which you feel very comfortable**. Usually you will be lying down on your back, but if this does not feel good than lie on your side or move into a different relaxed position during the practice. Some teachers will say you must stay in one position for the whole duration of session, usually about thirty minutes, but I say go ahead and adjust yourself if you wish to. The beauty of Yoga Nidra is that you can do this practice at home at your leisure. If you have been having trouble sleeping then I suggest settling down for a Yoga Nidra in the evening.
What Happens In A Yoga Nidra Session?
You lie down on your back and do yourself the kindness of getting very comfortable (blankets and pillows are optional).
The teacher guides you through a gentle breathing exercise and invites you to mentally set a resolve (a strong intention) for your session.
You listen to the teacher instructing you to let your mind notice parts of your body. They might suggest that you visualise an image or symbol too.
You are reminded to stay awake, but it does not matter if you fall asleep.
The session ends after about thirty minutes.
We allow our bodies to fully relax bit by bit in a precise order. The order in which you will learn to relax your body mirrors the order in which awareness of these body parts feature on a kind of map within the brain. Of course we do not have an illustrated anatomical map of the body literally existing inside the brain, but rather a neuronal map on the brain’s precentral gyrus which is located in the cerebral white brain matter. During Yoga Nidra you will direct your attention around your body parts with the intention of allowing your body to relax. By relaxing your body in Yoga Nidra you will also relax your mind without trying to focus or concentrate on trying to relax your mind. Have you ever been told to clear, empty or relax your mind? Usually it does not work because while we are going about our daily lives, our brains have way too much stuff to think about to even have space to relax. In this typical waking state, the mind cannot actually experience relaxation, but will end up thinking about a memory of relaxation or perhaps analysing why relaxation seems impossible, rather than having a chance to dip below its busy state into a place of genuine stillness. When you train your mind to eventually become more still with a technique like Yoga Nidra, the more you will be able to guide yourself into relaxation as you listen to the teacher’s Yoga Nidra instructions.
Our body, mind and spirit can only heal when we have the chance to enter a less frazzled state than the one in which humans typically live. When people are feeling frazzled or overwhelmed by being busy, brainwaves are short and frequent. If we want to induce deep relaxation, we need to give the brain a chance to produce longer, less frequent waves. To give our brains the opportunity to produce these longer brainwaves, we need to reduce the stimuli which it is given, reducing the amount of external information for the brain to process. Humans are very overstimulated creatures. I certainly used to keep my brain very overstimulated and definitely had a tendency to pressure myself to cram lots into my days, all while keeping an eye on my emails and trying to resist the temptation of quick gratification on social media. I still struggle with this habit. However, my tendency for anxiety spiked after I was sexually assaulted, and so my brain was in overdrive, scanning around for danger and frenziedly trying to problem solve. If I had kept myself as busy as I used to be, I would not have been letting myself have the chance to slow down and access the deep relaxation which my body craved.
Our bodies want to heal, but we must gift them the right conditions. These conditions are conscious rest, body relaxation and replenishing our energy reserves. As a Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master, these are the practices that I care most about gently encouraging students and clients to weave into their daily lives. Rest is not a luxury but a priority, and if you are recovering from traumatic events, like being swung around the emotional roller coaster of adapting to some very new and challenging ways of life during this 2020 ‘pandemic year’, good rest and sleep are even more crucial.
I hope your Yoga Nidra practice blossoms and brings you much needed rest and recovery.
**I want to address the fact that NOBODY needs to be good at/ experienced/ fit or spiritual to reap the benefits of Yoga. There are various types of Yoga and over time people find the right style that suits them well. I teach Hatha Yoga and Yoga Nidra, with a bit of Vinyasa Yoga and Restorative Yoga too. Hatha classes have more stillness in the physical shapes than Vinyasa classes which can be quicker in pace and have more flowing movements. Restorative Yoga incorporates different shapes in which the body tissues can relax and involves lots of getting comfy and supported with blankets and pillows.
Typically when people think about Yoga classes, they envisage a group of people each on their own yoga mat, making various poses or shapes guided by a teacher. This is an accurate perception of a yoga class because typically yoga classes focus on the physical aspect of Yoga, which in the ancient language of Sanskrit is called Asana. Yoga actually has seven other ‘limbs’ or aspects which include meditation, concentration, withdrawal of the senses (in Yoga Nidra, we only have to listen to the teacher’s voice while the rest of our senses remain unstimulated) along with other aspects including suggested ways of behaving that encourage us to be kind to ourselves and others. You do not need to be strong or flexible or fit or coordinated to try the physical aspect of Yoga (Asana). I suggest to people who attend my Yoga classes that these are the bonus prizes of a physical Yoga practice.