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The depth of Yoga Nidra

In my opinion, Yoga Nidra is one of the biggest gifts to the modern world. It is a systematical approach that relaxes the entire being. In a fast paced society, the need for effective relaxation is huge. Yoga Nidra can be done anywhere, anytime. The same practice never leads to the same experience. In this post, I will explain a bit further what happens during Yoga Nidra, and why it is such an effective technique. As every Yoga practice, it develops over time & benefits from regularity & sincerity. I hope you are curious by now.

The Yoga Nidra technique works its way systematically through the different layers of our being. In Yoga, we call these layers or sheaths “Koshas”. The body is a gross layer, whereas the breath & the mind are more subtle. Yoga Nidra relaxes the physical body (Annamaya Kosha), recharges the energy body (Pranamaya Kosha) & helps release tension from the mind (Manomaya Kosha) & psyche or subconscious (Vijnanamaya Kosha). Eventually we experience bliss (Anandamaya Kosha) & pure presence. Just as tension is stored & experienced on different levels of our being, so is relaxation & tension release. Do you remember when you last were in a stressful emotional situation? Very likely you experienced emotional distress, worrying thoughts & tight shoulders or an upset stomach. Take any situation really to see how intertwined the layers of our being are. Relaxation ideally targets multiple layers of our being in order to be most efficient.

One reason why everybody loves Yoga Nidra is because it requires zero effort. The technique is done in Shavasana, lying on the back. Cushions & blankets are allowed to be comfortable throughout. The practice takes 20 – 25 minutes. Everything under 20 minutes is not considered a Yoga Nidra but a guided relaxation. The Yoga Nidra technique follows systematical stages that each serve a purpose. The Yoga Nidra book from Swami Satyananda Saraswati looks in depth at the specific purpose for each stage. Again, many modern guided relaxations randomly mix different cues & layers. This is not necessarily wrong, but less safe in its effects, often following preferences of the teacher & very likely less effective. I learned to appreciate the clarity, simplicity & beauty of a traditional Yogic system that works to the core of my being.

Yoga Nidra develops over time. In the beginning, people often fall asleep as their bodies need deep rest. That is ok. As with other Yoga practices, we don’t always get what we expect but we always get what we need. Staying aware & awake throughout is the intention but takes practice. When done regularly, the technique can develop more toward meditation & unfold various benefits for the deeper layers of our being. In yogic terms, Samskaras are released when we are in this deep state between wakefulness & sleep. Samskaras are impressions that we carry with us. Impressions from our childhood & from everyday life. They are stored within us. Yoga Nidra cuts through the different layers (Koshas) of our personality & clears impressions out. This brings relief & “clears the canvas”, bringing us more into presence.

I can honestly say that the daily practice of Yoga Nidra has changed my life. It has become a healthy routine, an invitation really, to rest. It is recommended to do Yoga Nidra daily, ideally in the late afternoon or before lunch. I find it ideal as a transition after work. When done before sleeping it increases the quality & depth of our sleep. 25 minutes of Yoga Nidra according to research are equal to 2 to 3 hours of deep sleep. This is exactly how it feels when coming back. Not only is it a recharge for the nervous system, but it also increases the ability to be present with myself & others, having cleared the mind, the emotions, the psyche from impressions that would otherwise consume energy.

I recommend Yoga Nidra to everyone. Yoga Nidra is one of the most profound & effective techniques. It is great to see that research is catching up on the multiple benefits of Yoga Nidra. It is beneficial for conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, obesity, chronic fatigue, burnout, PMS & many more. The Yoga Nidra Network provides academic research results. Visit their homepage to read more.

Last but not least, I would like to highlight the importance to practice Yoga Nidra under the guidance of a qualified & experienced Yoga Teacher who can advise you & help you understand the experiences made in this deep state. The practice evolves & changes over time, & only a qualified Teacher can guide you & help you derive the most from it. There are a lot of guided relaxation techniques out there that call themselves “Yoga Nidra”, following a trend, but without a Yogic System. If you would like to read more about Yoga Nidra, visit Satyam Yoga Prasad, the website of the Bihar School of Yoga with free books & audio resources. I have completed 150 hours of Advanced Yoga Teacher Training in Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga & feel grateful for the depth, guidance & clarity of teaching that I have received. There are recordings on my soundcloud profile for you to enjoy.

The three simple biggest things for your wellbeing

Breaking out of a downward spiral takes conscious decision making and discipline. Yet, once you target the right spot it becomes surprisingly easy. Let me explain the connection between the nervous system, the gut and the brain in the post below.

Our nervous system undergoes a lot of stress on a daily basis in today’s society; social media, instant responding to messages on our phones, advertising through various channels, noise in the city and sharing space with many people can be overstimulating for the senses and leave us exhausted and stressed. The nervous system influences just everything: the digestion, the function of our organs, the production of hormones, our sleep cycles. If we give our nervous system opportunities to rest, the quality of our life will automatically improve on all levels.

Firstly: do nothing!

Doing nothing is easier said than done. What does it mean to rest and why has it become so hard for us? To start with, it needs a conscious choice. Allow yourself to rest. If your nervous system is already overstimulated, it is hard at first to rest. Most people exhaust their nervous system to the point they fall asleep, often in front of the tv or computer. The rest you get is not quality rest or sleep but being deeply exhausted. Quality rest needs a bit of practice. Once you switch off the phone or tv or computer and try to sit with yourself, the mind will very likely go crazy at first. Don’t give up straight away! The mind absorbs endless impressions through all sensory channels during the day. Once you try to meditate or sit still, a storm will break out in the mind. It is as if you reverse the direction of your vacuum cleaner; instead of absorbing impressions, it all of a sudden starts blowing dirt out all over the place! If you know that this will happen at first, it helps. Also know that the mind will become more quiet after a while. Impressions need to be cleared out. Emotions want to be acknowledged. This takes practice. You can learn to clear impressions out and let them go. A spacious feeling of calm will be the reward. You will feel much lighter. Your sleep will improve and you will be able to enjoy new experiences more.

Sounds good? So how do you start?

  1. Allow yourself to rest. If you feel resistance or discomfort when even thinking about resting, it is a sign that resting was very likely nothing positive in your childhood. Brainstorm what makes you think that you should be busy all the time. Explore your inner resistance. And then let that go. “I allow myself to rest.” – write that sentence down 10 times. Write it. Believe it.
  2. Make rest a daily habit. Start small; set yourself a timer everyday for 10 minutes. Sit or lay down for 10 minutes. It will take discipline for about two to three weeks, then it will become a healthy habbit.
  3. Don’t judge what happens during these 10 minutes! Most important point! If you judge your mind for being busy or your emotions for being not so positive, you undermine the whole purpose of rest. Allow what ever comes up to be there. Breathe and let it go.
  4. Journal about it. Note down questions. Focus on your process. Notice changes. And again: don’t judge.
  5. You can incorporate music in your time of rest. However I suggest to have some silence during this time, too. Make it a nourishing ritual. Maybe light an incense or a candle every time you rest or give yourself a face massage first. Involve the senses.

A practical tool that I recommend is a daily Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a guided relaxation that involves all of the above. It can be easier to practice these skills under the guidance of a teacher. You are welcome to attend my classes or use my online recordings. Please give yourself time to rest. It will influence your overall wellbeing and mental and physical health enormously.

Secondly: choose a healthy diet

The second biggest thing to influence your wellbeing positively is changing your diet. No, I’m not talking about going on a fashion diet or going hungry. Not at all. These practices are not sustainable. I am talking about making some simple changes with a big impact. The gut is our second brain. The gut is connected to our brain. If the bad gut bacteria take over, we suffer from inflammation, obesity, flatulence and feeling sluggish, unmotivated, pessimistic and often depressed. The gut influences our mind, our thoughts and our mental state of wellbeing way more than we acknowledge! If we find simple yet powerful ways to create a healthy gut flora, our wellbeing is supported in multiple ways.

I suggest the following steps to start with:

  1. Cut out refined sugar from your diet! This has been a game changer for me. Sugar makes our energy level spike and then fall rapidly. This influences our mood heavily and creates craving for sugar. Remind yourself that sugar is not good for you. Sugar feed the bad gut bacteria. Sugar is addictive. Have a healthy alternative ready during the first 3 weeks, a snack that you allow yourself while going off refined sugar. For example: dried apple rings (no added sugar, read the ingredients) or banana or dates or raisins or a nut – raisin mixture. It’s ok to snack and to give your body some energy – make a healthy choice. Observe your mood swings during the first week. I promise it will become so much easier in week two and take almost no effort in week 3. If you want to sweeten something, use coconut sugar instead or black strap molasses (contains iron). Dark chocolate has little sugar and is much more healthy than other chocolate. I wrote a whole blog post here about quitting sugar.
  2. Reduce your meat consumption. Become aware when you eat dead animal and make a conscious choice. There is no such thing as meat. Meat and all the different names for meat are all dead animals. Make the connection, and appreciate eating meat or chicken or fish. There are high levels of antibiotics (killing good gut bacteria!) and hormones in farmed animals. Also meat is heavy on the digestive system. Reduce your meat consumption for a month and see how you feel!
  3. Reduce your dairy consumption. There is no such thing as being lactose intolerant – you are just not a baby cow! It’s one of my favorite vegan slogans because it is so true! Don’t wonder if your body has trouble digesting dairy. Dairy is from another animal and actually not intended for the human body. Especially the dairy industry today is far from healthy and the practices cause immense suffering for the animals. The animals thus produce stress and fear hormones that end up in the milk. Give it a go – reduce dairy for a month and see how you feel!
  4. Eat more simply: steamed greens, salads, smoothies, fruit. Cook more at home and reduce processed foods. It’s good for the environment (less plastic and packaging) and great for your health. You give the body a chance to detox and you will feed the good gut bacteria! Very important; fermented foods such as coconut yoghurt, miso paste, Kombucha, sourkraut, kimchi, tofu support a healthy gut.

Maybe think about going vegetarian or vegan. It doesn’t have to be overnight. Every small step will give the body a break and support detoxification. There are countless great resources if you choose to go on a vegan diet and the vegan community is usually very supportive. Maybe join a facebook group or sign up for Veganuary. It can be so easy. I am passionate about animal rights, animal suffering and the influence of animal farming on the environment. If you are willing to do some research, here is a great resource: www.vegansociety.com

Thirdly: move

The good news here is that it doesn’t matter what kind of movement or how much. Just to take the pressure off to start with. It is not about developing a time consuming, irrealistic fitness programme that won’t survive week three of January! It is all about bringing some movement back into everyday life. Choose a type of movement that you enjoy! Choose something that requires minimal effort or discipline. 20 minutes per day of gentle yoga will make such a difference, believe me! Going for a 15 minutes walk in the morning or evening. Movement is the third point on the wellbeing list because rest is more important. Once you rested well and caught up on sleep, the need for movement comes automatically. Don’t feel bad if movement drops away on some days. Just keep reminding yourself that movement is powerful and keeps the body healthy. It gets Prana, life energy, flowing. With non-spiritual jargon: it gets your heart pumping, blood circulating, oxygen distributed. Simple. 20 minutes per day will make a big difference, especially in combination with rest and conscious diet choices!

And last but not least: stick to it! The body is grateful for healthy choices and it will take a while for changes to become visible. Very likely you will loose weight, the body shape might change, your energy levels will increase and your overall vitality and wellbeing will be higher. Give it time! Stick to the healthy habits and know that they will pay off. Don’t fall into the trap of expectations or certain outcomes – let the body regulate itself. Remember how many years of unhealthy habits need to be compensated for! Be gentle to yourself in thoughts and in actions.

The beauty of yoga

You breathe and you move, you follow the postures … and you’re connected. To your body and the breath. Spirituality in a nutshell. You breathe and you are present with each moment. Present with yourself, your emotions, your thoughts. You work through the layers with every round of sun salutation. Each breath is consciously cherished, welcomed. Yoga makes us self-aware and allows us to turn inwards. In a fast paced world where our senses get easily overstimulated we need the permission to go inwards, to be still, to be present only with ourselves – not our phones, not our friends at the other end of the world, not with our boss, not with the to do list for tomorrow. It is a skill that needs to be trained: being present with oneself. Watching the mind rather than running after each thought. It is a skill that needs entrainment – just as any other skill. It is the gift of yoga, the permission to be in the moment.

And then it becomes an inner experience. It is no longer about the body’s need for movement. It is no longer the goal to become flexible. It doesn’t matter anymore if my body can hold the balance today – because it has become an inner experience. It is no longer about achieving anything else than pure being, connectedness to the moment, to myself. Yoga builds this inner world that we need so desperately to be safe. To stay grounded in times when everything around us is spinning. Yoga builds our inner world. It’s the place where I trust, where I believe, where I have been found and where I am loved. It’s the only place where I can draw safety and confidence from. It’s a place of being and not doing. It’s a place to find rest and a place to express, a place to feel and a place to stay as long as I need to. It’s home. Inside of us. It’s the embrace of God, it’s peace. Bliss. And this is the beauty of Yoga – that it brings us home.

Yoga offers us profound spirituality by connecting body and mind through the bridge of the breath. The breath is Prana, the life force within us. Cultivating our connection with the breath is cultivating our connection with life itself. It energizes and purifies our system when we breathe. Breathing deeply. Every inhale is presence, every exhale is letting go. It affects our mind and our emotions. It heals our body. Breathe. Breath is Spirit. Yoga offers simple techniques that are not in need of a fancy make up or a complicated philosophy around it. It is not religion either. It is a set of practices that help us to unify the different layers of our being. After decades of separating the mind from the body and the spirit from the two it is much needed that we become one again. That we are no longer fighting against ourselves and left exhausted from the dictatorship of the mind. Blessed are those who learned to manage their mind. This brings true freedom and peace. – Take a first step. Start somewhere. Find a teacher you trust. There’s no need for expensive equipment or much time. A simple breathing technique followed by 3-5 postures takes 20 minutes and can change your life. I wish you the courage to start.

The beauty of Yoga is … building our inner world.

Aum shanti, Ceremony

Image: Cadby Kong

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Yoga is awareness.

What distiguishes my yoga practice from stretching exercises is the awareness. In yoga we cultivate awareness in everything we do, not just during the physical exercise. We direct our awareness into different body parts to connect mind and body. We bring awareness to the breath and have profound realizations about this gift of life. Gratitude and self-acceptance often come with awareness; becoming aware of physical limitations during the yoga practice can bring up all sorts of thoughts, from frustration over pushing myself hard to self-compassion. Yoga is awareness. It is observing yourself, your mind, while moving. Cultivating the witness, the observer, is key when we practice meditation. It brings peace of mind to be able to observe emotions, thoughts & stories & to be able to not identify with them anymore. It is empowering. And it is an expansive practice. Awareness doesn’t end on the mat. It expands into everyday life, into moments of tension at our work place & in our relationships. Yoga helps us to connect with ourselves through physical practices & stillness & gives us tools to work through challenges, to clear them out, to remove blockages. Once we start to peel back the layers of the mind & discover what shaped our belief systems, we discover more & more inner freedom. We can decide what we want to believe, we get chances to rewrite & change our story. We are less & less victims of our past & become more & more masters of the presence. This is why yoga is a life long journey. Because it takes time to uncover habits & to replace them with new ways of thinking & acting. It is a journey inwards & forward. It is a journey that connects us, first with ourselves & then with every being & with nature around us.

Yoga is awareness. It is something that needs to be pointed out in a world where yoga is often associated with physical exercise. Yoga is not a spiritually looking fitness practice. It is so much more. Physical exercise is a need in today’s society & does much good. By all means, do yoga Asana (the postures)! But don’t stop there. As yoga teachers I feel we have the responsibility to make other dimensions of yoga accessible & visible to people. We stand for yoga. My teacher pointed that out the other day & it made me think. Where do I embody yoga, and if I embody yoga, what do people think that yoga is? It is ok to be a student of yoga while teaching others. But I truly feel that we should not limit yoga as a practice, it should be our lifestyle. This is the heartfelt message of Swami Niranjananda (Bihar School of Yoga) that he conveys over & over again. Yoga is not a practice, it is a lifestyle. The physical aspects of yoga (originally Hatha yoga) are part of a whole yogic system. The different branches of traditional yoga offer yoga practices for the emotions (Bhakit yoga), for everyday life (Karma yoga), for mind-management (Jnana yoga) & an all-encompassing philosophy (Raja yoga) that lead us towards an experience of union & bliss (Samadhi).

Yoga is awareness. Awareness of the present moment. There lies healing for our fast-paced society. Becoming present & being present with ourselves is vital. The present moment is where life takes place. Not in stories about others, not in fears about the future, not in opinions of the mind. Being present with our emotions, listening to our body & allowing ourselves to simply be for an hour a day can change our lifes. And it will. This is why I love yoga so much. Trust the process; yoga works.

Love, Ceremony

PS: Visit my blog Hippie Goes Lucky for more posts about spirituality, living in a community, mental health & awareness.