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Yoga Nidra: modern science meets ancient wisdom

Updated: Jan 18

We live in an incredibly fast-paced world where it has become exceptionally more challenging to connect, not just to ourselves but also to each other in meaningful and fulfilling ways. As we find ourselves overworked, stressed, unmotivated and running on autopilot, we ultimately, yet unintentionally, end up training ourselves to rely on the parts of ourselves that emerge from these dysregulated states of being in order to cope with the goings-on of day-to-day life. Before we even notice it, we find ourselves identified more with these defensive and protective parts rather than connecting to and expressing from who we are underneath all the layers of defensiveness and protection. Thus, it has and will likely continue to be ever more important to find moments where we can sense into places of inner calm, peace, and safety to restore and remember an innate sense of well-being.

One practice that I have found to offer such an experience is Yoga Nidra, or “yogic sleep.” This is a guided practice and a unique journey that can expand and reestablish one's experience and intimate or sacred relationship with their physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual or energetic layers.

Scientifically, Yoga Nidra has been shown to induce a state of deep relaxation that positively impacts human physiology. The practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, resets brainwave states, reduces stress hormones, and rebalances dopamine and cerebral blood flow. All of which help people become reacquainted with the feeling of deep relaxation, calm, and an inner sense of safety. Sensationally, this can be felt as an internal sense of SLOW, SOFT, and WARM pulsing or wave-like motion. Sustained attention is this state restores the mind and body into optimal state of restoration and health.

Yoga Nidra also acts as a powerful tool for mental clarity and focus, as well as emotional rebalancing. As the mind enters the state between wakefulness and sleep, it experiences a heightened state of awareness. This heightened awareness, which can feel like an effortless effort, or alert dream-like state, allows individuals to create a witness consciousness. This witness consciousness gives people a window through which they can observe themselves in reflective states of thought and action with curiosity and eventually compassion rather than judgment and criticism. In other words, it starts to dissolve any layers of attachment we may have to our belief, thought, or behavior towards or about self, other, or situation. Additionally, as the mind enters into a focused and slower state, the emotional experience can be processed and integrated with greater ease.

During the Yoga Nidra process, we can actually and tangibly feel these layers of attachment dissolve or melt away as we bring focus and presence to our sensation. We may feel a muscle soften or our face change shape. We may notice we have been holding our body or a posture in a way that we no longer need. We may see and feel towards ourselves from a different perspective than we have ever been able to embrace ourselves with. These moments of realization are often very subtle and simultaneously profound shifts in the various layers of our system. Through this practice, we begin to notice that as we allow our entire system: physical, mental, emotional, and more subtle energetic layers to be penetrated by a deep sense of safety and peace or the sensation of SLOW, SOFT, and WARM, we stop metaphorically and physically holding on to that which is using our energy in ways that very literally take from us. As we become more and more practiced in Yoga Nidra, we can access that heightened state of awareness more fluently and retrain our mind, body, and energetic system to engage in ways of being that support and give to us. With continued and regular practice, we can remain in restorative states for longer as we move through our days and actually protect our system from taking on harmful stress to begin with.

At its core, Yoga Nidra is a spiritual practice that delves deep into the realms of consciousness. Through guided cues, practitioners are taken on a journey within, exploring various layers of themselves through the felt sense. During this experience, there is often the feeling of making one's inner world tangible and accessible. These inner worlds are places or states of being and consciousness that have held on to unprocessed experiences, in which people can access through sensation and feeling. In doing so, people reconnect to parts of themselves and insights bigger than themselves that have been long forgotten and are often incredibly rewarding to reclaim. During these deep states of relaxation, the practitioner's awareness or consciousness can simultaneously descend into the body while transcending and alchemizing physical limitations of pain, tension, and stress, as well as mental and emotional limitations of beliefs, attachments, and stories, deep within the realm of pure energy and sensation, or spirit. As this connection to sensation or spirit is reestablished and nurtured, practitioners often come in a much different and more aligned relationship with themselves, others, and the world they exist in.

Whether you relate to more of the physiological, mental and emotional, or spiritual benefits of a Yoga Nidra practice, ultimately there is no case in which a practice would not be beneficial in some way.  

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