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What Happens in Yoga Nidra: Dreaming, Deep Rest, and Relaxation

I rest on a beaten down brown couch in my Los Angeles garage. I sport Adidas sweatpants, an Austin City Limits blue t-shirt, colored socks, and a zipped up green hoodie. I look up at the white ceiling. 

Lying on my back, my arms by my side, palms facing up, 

Alone, I commit to spend the next twenty minutes lying still. 

My phone is in airplane mode. With earbuds in my ears, I push play on a guided meditation track called Yoga Nidra 20 Min Practice

I close my eyes. I breathe in. Exhale, I sigh it all out.

What is yoga nidra?

Yoga nidra is also known as yogic sleep — it’s the state between being awake and asleep. 

Your body is deeply relaxed, while your mind stays awake.

Yoga nidra is an ancient meditation practice that takes you deep into your subconscious. 

It helps treat anxiety, alleviate stress, reduce PTSD, and heal trauma. 

It gives you profound feelings of calm, peace, and relaxation. 

If you feel overwhelmed by the never-ending pandemic, over-exhausted by working too much, or need new coping methods in your life, yoga nidra may be for you.

After getting diagnosed with Complex PTSD, I realized how much of my childhood got buried. Yoga nidra helps me to recover my childhood memories. It allows me to reclaim part of my past identity, moving it into the present. 

I am a different person after practicing yoga nidra meditation. I am a more authentic version of my childhood self. I feel like this is who I am supposed to be.

During yoga nidra, memories of riding my first DiamondBack dirt bike return. Memories of driving my first car, a gray Jeep Cherokee, come back. 

I recall memories of a middle school ice cream date with my girlfriend. 

I love these positive memories. During yoga nidra these recollections flash through my mind. I recall some of the happiest moments in my life, growing up in Des Moines, Iowa.

There is a certain innocence of doing something for the first time as a kid.

Yoga nidra is helping me heal my trauma. 

The mediation feels like a dream. 

I am safe.

I am a witness to my past. 

Seeing my past helps me to comfort my inner child. It completes a loop on some great memories. I sometimes recall bad memories, and leave them in the past. Whereas the positive memories, I take with me. The past moments complete my past, helping me to re-write my own personal story. 

In reclaiming my memories, I practice the saying from 12 step recovery programs: “Take what you want, and leave the rest.” 

Getting back into the practice of yoga nidra, I lie on my back. 

How to practice yoga nidra?

Setting an intention

Lying on my back, the teacher asks to create an intention. She calls it a sankalpa, which is an ancient word from the Sanskrit language, which means a heartfelt desire. 

I say: I am strong

As the session continues, I repeat my intention: I am strong three times in my head. 

I am strong. I am strong. I am strong. 

Focused breathing

My teacher asks me to breathe counting backwards from 10 to zero. She suggests that after every breath count backwards with one one number. 

  • Inhale / Exhale / 10
  • Inhale / Exhale / 9
  • Inhale / Exhale 8
  • Inhale / Exhale / 7
  • Inhale / Exhale / 6
  • Inhale / Exhale 5
  • Inhale / Exhale / 4
  • Inhale / Exhale / 3
  • Inhale / Exhale / 2
  • Inhale / Exhale / 1

Scanning the body

The teacher leads a body scan, which is a quick way for me to give attention on specific parts of my body. 

I focus a few seconds of attention on my body from my forehead to throat to each one of my toes and everywhere in between. The idea is to quickly scan the body, with each body part getting a specific energetic focus. 

I feel sensation in my jaw, mouth, ears, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, scalp, back of the neck, and throat.

I focus on my left shoulder, left arm, palm of the left hand, right shoulder, right arm, palm of the right hand and both arms and palms together. 

I give energy to the front and back of my torso, pelvis, sacrum, left hip, left leg, left foot, left foot, right hip, right leg, and right foot.

I give energy to my entire body up and down.

I relax. 

My body loosens up. 

I dream.

Intentional dreaming  in yoga nidra?

I’m off on a magic carpet ride to re-explore my past, searching for an inventory of a lost childhood. However strange it sounds to talk to yourself like this, repeating a the mantra is important to my healing. 

I am strong.

I’m a ten year-old version of myself. Riding a Diamond Back BMW bike, I cruise around my Des Moines’ neighborhood. Envisioning myself as a speed demon, I head down to my friend Jay’s house to go swimming on a summer afternoon. The bike ride is mostly down hill, and I have my towel in my backpack. With closed eyes, I imagine the freedom that I felt on these streets. Riding on the sidewalk, with the wind through my hair, I arrive at Jay’s. I am away from my home. I feel happy to jump in his pool during the humid midwest summer. 

I am strong.

I’m twelve years old, biking down Grand Ave. to Bauder’s, the local drug store. I’m wearing a Vuarnet, France t-shirt and OP shorts. Hoping to pick up the latest round of Topps’ baseball cards, I’m ready to be a kid. I also grab a stash of Now and Later sugary candies. 

I am strong.

I am sixteen years old driving my first car – a grey stick shift Jeep Cherokee. With a built-in radio, roll down windows, and a bare bones build-out, I am reminded of the freedom I felt on those sets of wheels. I love driving a manual car. I am driving again down Grand Ave. to get a Frosty at Wendy’s. I think to myself “Oh I miss the freedom of driving when I was sixteen years old.” 

I am strong.

I haven’t thought about most of these memories in twenty years. Yet these memories are some of the happiest in my life. What the f*ck? There is joy. It is remarkably beautiful to relive parts of my past, and remember these purely joyful moments.

I focus on relaxing my breath to the rhythm of natural sounds. Emotionally and mentally, my heart and mind traveled back in time to the Des Moines’ streets. I rode in a DeLorean time machine, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future.‘

By remembering the positive memories, I reclaim joy from my past life. It heals. 

As my meditation teachers have said, “Your body has wisdom.” With focus and hard work, the memories flooded back. My mind remembered my childhood. By the end of some of these sessions, I cried. I grieved for the past I left behind. Yet, after the cry, I’m grateful to recall these memories. I’ve experienced two seemingly conflicted emotions in healing: grief and joy.

How yoga nidra helps trauma

In an eight-week study conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, researchers assessed potential treatment for PTSD “among active-duty soldiers returning from the Middle East,” using iRest yoga nidra

After eight weeks, researchers found that for:

“Chronic, severe combat-related PTSD symptoms, the greatest relief from tonic states of anxiety, hypervigilance, and rage may come most easily through therapies that cultivate and sustain ‘opposite’ states of mind and body. This fits with the yogic principle of pratipaksha bhavana, which reframes ‘avoidance’ of traumatic memories as the natural gravitation toward balance, integration and health. Participants most highly valued the phases of iRest that focused on sensing physical pleasure, bliss, and essential qualities of inner strength.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy, No. 21 (2011) 

It is a surreal experience. I didn’t realize it, but I blocked out a lot of good, healthy, positive childhood memories. I had a hole in part of my heart. I filled it back in with love. Decades later, I processed my blocked out childhood. 

To recover, I practice yoga nidra smiling, acknowledging, hugging, and grieving my past self. 

A study completed by a leading teacher in Yoga nidra, Richard Miller, Ph.D., theorizes “that there’s no separation between our dream state and reality because they inform each other.” Yoga nidra is a dream-like state.

Yogis state that 45 minutes of yoga nidra is as restorative as three hours of sleep…It is a spiritual practice that through a structured and conscious movement through sleep states, takes you to realms beyond the mind and into the fourth state of consciousness beyond waking, dream, and deep sleep,” is how Kamini Desai, author of Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep” describes yoga nidra.

During these meditations, I grieve, I feel joy, yet there is pain. I feel a loss of myself. That sounds weird, yet when I address the pain, I find relief. I grieve over parts of my past that remained unresolved. It is emotionally exhausting. 

Crying helps me grieve. 

I sometimes cry during yoga nidra. I cry for my lost past life. Feeling pain for my younger self is incredible. I move onto the present. I stop wallowing in self-pity. I choose to live in the now, accepting the sadness. 

An important part of healing any childhood trauma is doing inner child work. You have to grieve for your childhood, where you were robbed. I went back in time during deep yoga nidra meditation, talking to my younger self. I’ve learned that overcoming trauma, I must grieve for my inner child. While meditating on a childhood memory from my past, I’d tell myself “I love you.” “You’re f*cking awesome.” “I love myself,” during the yoga nidra sessions. I end by reciting the words: I am strong. I am strong. I am strong.

Peeling myself off the couch, like a patient sitting up on a hospital gurney, I’m in my garage, alone, healing myself. Wiping off the tears streaming down my cheek. The entire world heals when you heal.

The Buddhist monk Mingyur Ringapoche talks about how you have to “shake hands with the negative emotions.” I not only shook hands with my past sadness, I gave myself a bear hug. I loved what I lacked as a kid. It was like going back in the past, time traveling to past events. Rather than take an airplane, I went back via my mind. Layering memories of my subconscious, I recalled nearly every major moment of my youth. 

I learned that I am strong. 

I went under the hood of the car, checking the engine of my mind. 

I cleaned the engine, checked the oil, and restarted the car battery in my brain. 

I left with a calmer mind. 

Links:

What is Yoga Nidra? Cleveland Clinic

iRest Yoga Nidra 20 Min Practice by Dr Richard Miller

Shiva Rea Yoga Nidra

Daphne Lyon Yoga Nidra

Rest as Resistance: Deep Relaxation Yoga Nidra Practice

________________________________________________________Big thanks to my Editors: Anushri Kumar, Tom White, Kyla Scanlon, Brett Friedman, Stew Fortier, Jeremiah Cohick, James McGirk, Sara Campbell, Charlene Wang, Dilan Dane, David Vargas, Ritesh, Adam Tank, Chris Angelist

 

 

 

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