Happy New Year! I hope that your 2016 is off to a great start. :)
I have been a student of Yoga since the late 90's (it is hard for me to believe it has been that long!) and a teacher for nearly 10 years now. Over the years I have studied many different forms of the practice including the physical, energetic, spiritual, anatomical, philosophical, academic, and meditative. Even though I teach a lot, I am always a student first and there is always more for me to learn in the practice. There are countless physical postures that can challenge my strength, flexibility, mental focus, and patience but for me the most difficult part of the practice is the not moving, the "just being", the mediating. I have always been a good student in the academic sense - well-read, studious, focused, organized and prepared - but as a student of meditation I would certainly not be at the top of the class. There is of course no actual comparative ranking but I am always aware that meditation is not something that comes easily to me. My thoughts on it first shifted when I began to study with my mentor, Mona Anand, and to deeply immerse myself in the practice of Yoga Nidra. Mona and incorporating Yoga Nidra into my Yoga practice truly changed my life.
I like to tell students that Yoga Nidra is a great entry point to the practice of meditation, it eliminates the need to find that elusive "comfortable" seat, and it is more accessible approach for the Always-Busy-Can't-Sit-Still-Type-A-New-Yorker. Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation that is usually practiced in Savasana (that means reclined comfortably on your back for Sanskrit newbies). It can be used to deeply relax, to go to sleep, in the place of sleep, or to purge energetic blocks from the subconscious and unconscious mind.
In Sanskrit nidra means sleep. In Yoga Nidra we bring ourselves into the state between sleeping and dreaming, known as the hypnagogic state, marked by alpha brain waves. This state does not usually last for more than five minutes when we go to sleep at night but in Yoga Nidra we can train ourselves to lengthen the amount of time we spend there. We are able to hold our consciousness between wakefulness and sleep for an extended period of time. By remaining alert in the alpha state we experience total relaxation and are able to tap into the subconscious and unconscious mind.
Yoga Nidra promotes deep relaxation of the physical, mental, and emotional bodies, and releases tension in all three of these realms. Twenty minutes of Yoga Nidra can compare to four to six hours of sleep. (Mona is always telling me how practicing Yoga Nidra got her through late-night studying during college better than any cup of coffee could. Personally, I find I still need to study during the day, practice Yoga whenever I can, and to go sleep at night.) When we sleep at night we are not always relaxed or refreshed when we wake up. One of the reasons this happens is we have not spent enough time in alpha wave state, in Yoga Nidra we are lengthening the time spent there. If you practice in bed right before sleep you can improve the quality of sleep experienced. Mona has made a great recording that is available on iTunes to do this at home.
I studied with Mona and assisted her classes and workshops for many years, not only learning to practice this method of meditation, but also learning to teach it to others. When I first started to bring it into my classes I was surprised at how immediately receptive my students were to the practice, especially those who previously had trouble even being still in Savasana. I now incorporate an abbreviated version of the practice into several of my group classes and most of my sessions with private clients.
A couple of times a year I teach a Yoga Nidra workshop to offer the full practice to my students. This coming Sunday, January 17th, 2016 will be my 5th annual Bliss and Beyond workshop at Yoga People which will include a full 30-minute Yoga Nidra practice focused on letting go of what happened in 2015 and embracing what 2016 has to offer. We will start off with a centering exercise to set our intentions for the new year and then move on to gentle asana and pranayama (movement and breath exercises) to release tension from the physical and energetic bodies. Next we will shift further into deep relaxation with several restorative postures supported by props and enhanced by the application of essential oils and hands-on adjustments. The practice will culminate in a full, guided Yoga Nidra practice. It will truly be a calming and transformative experience. There are still a few spots left in the workshop if you would like to join me. Below is the flyer. Let me know if you have any questions and I hope to see you soon, if not there!