Updated: Mar 13
Rest and Relaxation are crucial for navigating times of difficulty and change. Yoga nidra will help you recuperate and replenish.
Deep relaxation has been one of the key tools which has aided my recovery from addiction, sexual violence, exhaustion and Anorexia Nervosa. Deep relaxation may bring us into a deeply healing space called Yoganidra. Yoganidra is a Goddess described in the ancient text the Devimahatmya and this beautiful, peaceful state is named after her.
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. Ni means to draw forth and dra means void. 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. 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, a little while before winding down for bed time.
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 but recommended to make your nest.)
The teacher guides you through a gentle breathing exercise.
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.
During deep relaxation you will direct your attention around your body parts with the intention of allowing your body to relax. By relaxing your body, 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 during relaxation, you may become closer to experiencing the altered state of Yoganidra.
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.
Feel free to try these guided deep relaxation sessions on my Youtube Channel.
**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.
Update To This Post.
It has recently come to my attention that a teacher of yoga nidra was outed as a rapist. This makes my skin crawl and my blood boil because I am a survivor of sexual violence. I believe the accusations.
It is important to distinguish between the spurious work of this dodgy guru and the older yogic practices such as relaxation, meditation and pratyahara (sense withdrawal) that can lead toward the restful state named after Goddess Yoganidra. The state or possibility of yoga nidra was written about and practised hundreds of years before the disgraced teacher/guru Swami Satyananda created his set of rigid, specific instructions and scripts for what became known as the formalised technique of ‘Satyananda Yoga Nidra’. This set of instructions, methodology and scripts were later trademarked by the Bihar School of Yoga. I heard a ‘Satyananda Yoga Nidra’ script once and did not connect with it, and so I chose to listen to different types of yoga nidra practices. Following Gurus like Satyananda has never sat well with me and I do not teach ‘Satyananda Yoga Nidra'. When I chose to be a yoga nidra student and teacher, I was trained in ‘Empowered Wisdom Yoga Nidra. For me, yoga nidra goes beyond a technique prescribed by a single teacher or a script owned by a yoga institute because yoga nidra did not begin this way. Yoga nidra is not singularly a methodology, something to do, eventually packaged by Satyananda but is a state to be experienced and embodied over time.
The following is an extract from my book Shadow & Rose, exploring this issue of harm in ‘Satyananda’s Yoga Nidra’:
It is crucial for me to be transparent and state that Swami Satyananda was accused of sexual abuse in 2014. He caused harm to many people and I stand with and send love to the people he traumatised. I found out about the abuse while writing this book and feel it is crucial for me as a Yoga teacher to address this abhorrence, most importantly because of the subject of this book. I was utterly sickened and angered to learn that Satyananda who has become synonymous with the trademarked technique/methodology he dubbed ‘Satyanada Yoga Nidra,’ was exposed as an abuser. I was livid to read about his crimes and felt conflicted about standing by the practice of deep relaxation to evoke the presence of Yoganidra. He is just one on a list of male Yoga teachers including K. Pattabhi Jois (purported founder of Ashtanga Yoga), Swami Vishnudevananda (Sivananda Yoga), Yogi Bhajan (founder of Kundalini Yoga and the face of Yogi Tea) and Bikram Choudhury (founder of Bikram Yoga) who have abused power over yoga students for their own gain in cultic organisations.
I initially encountered the practice of deep relaxation and the experience of the state of yoga nidra while I was recovering from sexual violence, never in connection with Bihar or Satyananda. In this case I feel it is possible to engage in deep relaxation and to witness the altered state named after Goddess Yoganidra without being bound by Satyananda’s modernised instructions or his version of the practice, hence my choice to continue to engage with yoga nidra as a healing practice and I stand by its validity for eliciting relaxation and the healing response from deep rest. Satyananda’s method is not what I am teaching and not what I was taught. Indeed, techniques for entering this altered state of deep relaxation and awareness have been practised for centuries as explained in several ancient Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga texts such as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Hathayoga pradipika. The deep relaxation, from which the state of yoga nidra can arise has been engaged with as a meditational technique perhaps even further back than 12th century Laya yoga practices. As a Yoga teacher it is this combination of Laya yoga meditational and relaxational practices, along with reverence for the Goddess Yoganidra which inform my own teaching and practice rather than any adherence to Satyananda. I would never suggest that Satyanada’s victims continue to practice his methodology and I hope his victims are given reparations and the help to recover. As a way to boycott Satyananda I will not be purchasing any books from the guru affiliated Yoga Publications Trust or engaging in any Satyananda methodology. It is not OK for teachers or yoga studios to promote the work or methodology of an abuser. I will continue to be transparent about the violence of this guru who is so unfortunately linked to yogic relaxation techniques and erroneously associated with separate yoga nidra practices.
For more information about abuse, healing and cult dynamics in yoga institutes check out Matthew Remski's excellent book Practise And All Is Coming.