NIDRA IN A HAYSTACK
THE KEY TO REAL REST AND RELAXATION MAY BE FOUND IN YOUR NEXT YOGA SESSION
Are you craving calm in an overstressed world? Do you want to feel more centered or more relaxed? You might want to give Yoga Nidra a try. Don't be fooled by the name, you won't be doing down dog and you don't need a mantra. Yoga Nidra is guided meditation made easy.
While the intention of the practice is to stay awake—“Yoga Nidra” means “conscious sleep.” Current studies show it can help you relax and sleep better, and it also helps with headaches, chronic pain, anxiety, depression and even PTSD. The U.S. Army Surgeon General has listed Yoga Nidra (based on research with iRest, a variety of Yoga Nidra) as “a Tier 1 approach for addressing pain management in military care.”
Yoga Nidra has roots in ancient India and the teachings of yoga. In the mid-20th century, Swami Satyananda Saraswati revived Yoga Nidra and designed a systematic, step-by-step relaxation practice based on its teachings.
Over 40 years ago, Richard Miller, PhD, a clinical psychologist, author, researcher, yogic scholar and spiritual teacher, integrated the teachings of Yoga Nidra with other spiritual philosophies, Western psychology and neuroscience to modernize the practice of Yoga Nidra for our time and the Western mind. He named his spin-off iRest, short for “Integrative Restoration.” It is practiced by thousands of people worldwide in yoga studios, health centers, schools, correctional facilities and military hospitals.
“iRest is transformative, restorative and it's a meditation practice that anyone can do,” says Jill C. Peterson, Psy.D. clinical psychologist and senior iRest trainer. “Whether you fall asleep or stay awake, you will feel rested, relaxed and a sense of ease.”
iRest shares many basic principles and techniques with other forms of Yoga Nidra, but differs in various ways. For example, iRest uses opposite emotions or beliefs--such as expansion and contraction—to access the part of the brain responsible for insights, creativity and “aha” moments.
“The mind can only process one thought at a time so the process of holding opposite thoughts short circuits the brain, making it easy to control our attention and what we focus on,” Peterson says. “
A typical iRest session or class begins with breathing exercises, followed by gentle stretching and then a 35-minute meditation practice. The instructor may incorporate the duality of opposites in a timely message or story. You take stock of how you feel as well as your energy level at the start of your meditation practice. You set an intention for your practice, something you would like to actualize in your practice or in your life.
Another step in the iRest process that might differ from other meditations is you turn your attention to your inner resource, a safe
haven within your body where you experience a feeling of security, calm and wellbeing. Or you may imagine a place, person or experience that helps you feel secure and at ease. Identifying your inner resource allows you to return to this feeling at any time during your practice if your thoughts or emotions feel too intense, or in your daily life when you feel overwhelmed.
Then you listen. Guided by the instructor's voice, you release tension throughout your body by rotating your attention through your fingers, your limbs, your jaw, the crown of your head and so on. As you scan your body, you feel, observe and relax your body and mind. As you listen to the instructor's voice, you will engage with whatever comes up in your meditation and focus on the awareness, rather than blocking it out with a mantra or focusing only on your breath like in other varieties of mediation.
A wiggling of fingers and toes, some gentle stretching, and you open your eyes to a fresh perspective. You then take a moment post-iRest for emotional, physical and energy level inventory. The meditation part of this type of Yoga Nidra usually lasts 35 minutes, but it may seem as if time stood still. An important step is to reflect on your experience so it may impart some wisdom for future use.
Peterson adds, “iRest is easy. No experience with yoga or meditation is required. Simply show up, lie down and experience the positive benefits of the practice immediately, as well as into your day, week and the rest of your life. It is an opportunity to experience the wellbeing and joy that is in all of us but covered up by life,” says Peterson.
While here in Honolulu, try iRest or Yoga Nidra at Sun Yoga Hawaii (sunyogahawaii.com), Open Space Yoga (yogaopenspace.com) or Aloha Yoga Kula (alohayogakula.com)