Yoga Nidra – Dreaming of Yogic Sleep

Yoga Nidra – Dreaming of Yogic Sleep

“Yoga Nidra can be understood as a total practice of yoga itself… a state of ‘awakened sleep’ … in this state (we encounter) auto-suggestive experience of the power of the unconscious mind and its linkage with the soul.” – Sri Ram Sharam Acharya.

What is Yoga Nidra?

The word ‘nidra’ translates as ‘sleep’, hence the term ‘yogic sleep’. Put simply, Yoga Nidra can be described as a form of meditation, though it is not so much a practice or technique as a state of being. It can be seen as an altered state of consciousness – neither being asleep or awake, but a state in-between. Sometimes, Yoga Nidra is referred to as ‘conscious sleep’ as the physical body is resting, but the mind remains awake and aware. Yoga Nidra brings about total physical, emotional and mental relaxation. Just a few of the reported benefits include reduced stress, improved sleep and a greater sense of wellbeing but Yoga Nidra can also be used as a means to help heal emotional and physiological wounds. For instance, the work of Richard Miller with US Army veterans with PTSD has produced impressive results. As one US Marine veteran comments on Richard Miller’s iRest (‘integrative-Restoration’ Yoga Nidra) website,

I truly believe that iRest helps to save my life every day. It has given me the hope and strength I needed to reconnect myself to the world again.” 

For my own personal experience of Yoga Nidra, it has helped (and continues to help) me find self-acceptance. As Rod Stryker (teacher, founder of ParaYoga and author of The Four Desires) describes, Yoga Nidra,  “…opens a doorway to a place where we can see ourselves and our lives in the most positive light.”

As a student I have experienced Yoga Nidras across a range of traditions – Himalayan, Satyananda and iRest (Richard Miller) – and experienced different benefits from all of them, and so when I wanted to deepen my studies in this area in order to share Yoga Nidra with more people, I trained with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, Nirlipta Tuil and Ben Woolf in Total Yoga Nidra. Total Yoga Nidra delves into all these different lineages and shows us that there is no one ‘right way’.

How do I ‘do’ Yoga Nidra?

One of the great beauties of this is that you don’t have to do yoga or meditate in order to experience Yoga Nidra, making it accessible to almost anyone. As a practitioner, all that is required of you is to lie down (or sit) in a comfortable position, listen and be willing to become effortless, or in other words, enter an effortless state of being. Restorative Yoga poses such as a Basic Relaxation Pose (Supported Savasana) or Supported Reclining Pose are ideal positions for Yoga Nidra as the body is completely supported and comfortable, thus creating the conditions for both body and mind to let go more easily. If you have classes available in your area then it can be wonderful to experience live ‘in person’ Yoga Nidra, but you can also listen to recordings meaning that you can access Yoga Nidra whenever you need it at the times which work best for you.

I have recorded short 10-15 minute practices which are available through my website here. I will be regularly adding more Yoga Nidra and meditation recordings to this page. I have been asked by many people over the past couple of years for recordings, so I hope you will enjoy them.

If you are based in London I teach a weekly Friday Flow & Restore class at Embody Wellness Vauxhall. This class concludes with a 15 minute yoga nidra. 

And don’t forget, if you sign up to my mailing list through www.ucanyoga.co.uk you will receive a complimentary 15 minute Yoga Nidra too.

My Gift to You – A 15 minute Guided Relaxation

My Gift to You – A 15 minute Guided Relaxation

If you’ve had a look around the U Can Yoga website recently you might have noticed a few changes. One of those is that you can now receive a free 15 minute Yoga Nidra (‘yogic’ sleep) Meditation.

To receive your recording all you need to do is sign up to my mailing list here or via the Home page at www.ucanyoga.co.uk by entering your email address and following the instructions.

This is my Gift to You. I hope you enjoy it.

I’m planning to offer more recordings in the future and you can be the first to hear about them by being on the U Can Yoga mailing list.

(NB – A note for existing Subscribers – you received a link to this 15 minute relaxation recording direct to your email inbox in late September. If it is not in your inbox please check your spam folder.)

 

Rest is Good for You

Rest is Good for You

“We really need to challenge the assumption that if you take more rest, you are more lazy. The fact that people who are more rested seem to have better well-being is an endorsement for the need for the rest.” – Prof Felicity Callard of Durham University, director of Hubbub

Yes, rest is good for you. It sounds obvious, but how many of us consciously take time to properly rest?

Nowadays, it is very common to feel that we don’t have enough time to rest or relax. Surely, we are all too busy with more important things to do. And does it even matter if you don’t take time to rest when you can easily plough on?

Possibly.

According to a recent study on the subject of rest by *Hubbub – the largest study of its kind involving 18,000 people from 134 countries – it was found that people who had fewer hours of rest scored lower on a wellbeing scale.

It seems that if we don’t feel rested our wellbeing is lower.

What constitutes rest will not be the same for all of us. For a small percentage of people in this study, tiring out the body through vigorous exercise allowed the mind (if not the body) to rest. For the majority though, time alone is what they craved with 64.8% of people saying they would like more rest. The most highly rated restful activities were often done alone, including reading, being in nature and doing nothing in particular. Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra (yoga sleep), both of which I teach, are excellent tools for facilitating proper rest and relaxation for both body and mind.

In the study it was also noted that when asked which words they associated with rest, almost 9% of people chose the words “guilty” or “stress-inducing”.

In these busy times we live in, it seems that resting causes some people to worry about what the things they are not doing, yet feel they should be. I felt the same, so in September 2014 I embarked on a year of daily relaxation practice which I called The 365 Savasana Project. This involved lying down for 20 minutes a day, every day in Savasana (Corpse Pose). Savasana is the foundation pose of Restorative Yoga and anyone can do it, as we can all lie down. That said, while it is very simple to do, it is not necessarily easy, precisely for some of the reasons Hubbub highlights. It is amazing how many times I felt guilty, or that I was too busy, believing didn’t have enough time to practise. However, I never once regretted taking this time to rest because I can truly say I always felt better afterwards. My sleep quality improved dramatically and my stress levels reduced.

This overlap between busyness and guilt over resting links with the underlying chronic stress that many of us experience.

Why stress reduction is important

In our modern existence we are often in living in a state of chronic stress. In other words, we are often in a ‘sympathetic nervous system state’. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of our autonomic nervous system that activates what is called our ‘fight flight’ response. For our cave-dwelling ancestors this would have been brought about by an immediate threat – say, running away from a predator. Our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension increase as we prepare to flee, while the systems that are non-essential in that moment (such as digestion, growth and repair) are shut down.

Nowadays, we are more likely to be contending with issues such as health concerns, job losses or money worries, but for our nervous system these things are still perceived as threats. On top of this, add living busy lives with near constant overstimulation from our surroundings (never mind our smartphones) and is it any wonder many of us feel frazzled? As explained in the book Relax and Renew by preeminent teacher, physical therapist (and the teacher I studied Restorative Yoga with), Judith Hanson Lasater, for our ancestors stressful situations resolved themselves quickly. For instance, if we escaped that predator, our adrenal glands would stop producing stress hormones and the systems in our bodies that temporarily shut down would go back into operation. Unfortunately, we are unable to resolve our stress so quickly. The result is that our adrenals continue pumping stress hormones around our bodies, hence we remain in a near constant sympathetic nervous system state.

Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that stress related illnesses continue to rise. Carrying on regardless is not a viable long-term option. Even the most resilient person deprived of proper rest will break eventually.

For the sake of our wellbeing, let’s prioritise rest as part of our self-care. Taking some time to seek out and enjoy the activities that you find restful could reap rewards.

If you are interested in private Restorative Yoga sessions with postures tailored to your individual needs or Yoga Nidra sessions (in SW London only) please message me. You can download a complimentary Yoga Nidra by signing up to my mailing list here.

Find out more about The 365 Savasana Project and how you can give it a try for yourself here.

*Hubbub is an international group of academics, artists, poets, mental health experts and social scientists. A full analysis of the data from Hubbub’s study on rest will be published within the next year. In the meantime, their other work on rest, The Restless Compendium, is available to download here

What Makes an Effective Teacher?

What Makes an Effective Teacher?

This article was originally published in the July/Aug 2013 issue of OM Yoga Magazine. You can read a selection of my past columns and a preview of the current issue of the magazine by clicking here.

Recently, I overheard some yoga students discussing different teachers’ classes. The consensus was that those who provided strong hands-on adjustments and physically challenging classes were more effective teachers and therefore more advanced. Of one teacher’s handstand demo, a young woman wistfully commented that was where her own practice “should” be. Aside from feeling that this lady’s practice is perfect as it is whether those handstands come along or not, I think these comments stemmed from their personal preferences for strong classes. It raised a few thoughts though, most notably: What makes an effective teacher and what is ‘advanced’?

It can be easy to think that the ability to perform physically challenging, visually impressive poses equals a good teacher; particularly as so many of the yoga images we now see feature aesthetically pleasing people in awe-inspiring asanas. Sometimes the people who can do all those things are undoubtedly brilliant teachers but in my experience it has not been because they can do those things.

After eleven years so far as a yoga student, my feeling is that the most important quality of any teacher is not the ability to do Scorpion, but the ability to create a safe space.

In creating a safe space, the adjustments question is an interesting one. I tend to adjust verbally when I am guiding a class and occasionally use a light touch. For a while I felt very bad about not doing hands-on adjustments in class, but my own experiences of being hurt as a result of being adjusted made me wary. My view changed when I trained with Judith Hanson Lasater and she mentioned that the longer she has taught over the last forty or so years, the less she physically adjusts, instead mostly using words and always asking permission before touching anyone, borne out of her own experiences. I feel this comes back to teaching from the heart.

Many of the best experiences I’ve had as a student are with teachers who can’t do the fancy poses themselves but by their presence create a safe space for everyone in the room to explore their practice.  To me, that’s the sign of a really good (dare I say, ‘advanced’) teacher.

As I continue to grow as a teacher, still new on this journey, I hope I’m able to do the same. Even if I can’t demo Scorpion for you.

Love Yoga? Teach Yoga losartan online. Check out Sally Parkes 200hr Teacher Training with the Brand New Mentoring Program to help you succeed in your chosen career as a yoga teacher. I’m privileged to be part of the teaching faculty on this course teaching Restorative Yoga and Back Care Yoga. For full details and course dates in London and Spain visit http://sallyparkesyoga.com/teacher-training/

See you at the OM Yoga Show this Month

See you at the OM Yoga Show this Month

FREE Flow & Restore Class at the Yoga Show – Sat 22nd Oct 4.30-5pm

This year I will be teaching at the OM Yoga Show for the first time.

If you’re coming along to Show this year, then come and wind down from your busy Saturday at Alexandra Palace with my FREE Flow & Restore class at the ‘Hero Open Class’ area.

In the first half of this class I’ll guide you through a series of flowing postures. The pace then slows for the second half, with a focus on Yin poses to leave you feeling balanced and uplifted.

For full details of this year’s OM Yoga Show (which looks set to be bigger and better than ever) and to book tickets visit their website here.

Can’t make it to the Yoga Show? Come along to my weekly Flow & Restore classes at Embody Wellness and Create.