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Yoga of the mind

Posted Jun 16 2011 4:36pm

Today I had a yoga double-header: a tech in the early afternoon, and another tech in the evening. The mid-day session was a class on Yoga Nidra – also known as “yogic sleep”. Considering I was rather fatigued when I arrived at the class, I wasn’t sure if this topic would be enjoyable or frustrating. If the content and structure of the session just helped me mellow and relax, it would likely be very enjoyable. But if the information or format knocked me out cold, I would feel probably feel pretty frustrated – after all, I attend these sessions to learn, not to nap.

As it turned out, the tech had a little bit of both elements to it – but, it was definitely more pleasant and soothing than annoying or irritating. Whew.

The teacher began this class by explaining that Yoga Nidra is a form of tantric yoga meditation . Yoga nidra is also known as “yogic sleep” because it is said to provide the yogi who performs it the benefits usually reserved for sleep; that is, physical and mental repair, restoration, and regulation. However, the practitioner remains fully conscious during yoga nidra; indeed, as it is a meditation technique, it actually deepens and improves consciousness, not diminishes or dulls it. Our teacher described yoga nidra as “a deep listening, a profound allowing, and a radical accepting”; which I found to be beautifully descriptive. However, despite the “best” language available, a person really needs to experience yoga nidra in order to fully “get” it. (This has been my experience with other forms of meditation as well, so I wasn’t surprised by this insight much at all.)

The instructor continued with the class by speaking a bit more about some of the benefits of yoga nidra (increased energy, improved concentration and memory, pain reduction, healing of personal problems and emotional traumas, neutralizing stress/anxiety/fear/anger/depression/insomnia, experiencing deep meditative states without struggle or strain, and ultimately, attaining enlightenment [um, wow, quite the list...]), then talked at a very high level about how yoga nidra is performed. However, since the best way to learn about a topic like meditation is to actually experience it, the teacher was brief in his lecture. Just 10 minutes into the session, the instructor asked us to lay on our backs, settle in, and open to our experience. Here we go.

Like other forms of meditation, yoga nidra is all about welcoming everything that arises in one’s experience. There’s no need to resist, avoid, push away, or refuse anything. It’s all just information – and who knows what one tiny piece of information might lead to an insight, which might have the power to liberate, or perhaps even enlighten… So just breathe, surrender deeply and fully, and accept everything.

The instructor also made clear that in yoga nidra we’re not creating anything “new” – because everything we need is within us already. All we are doing is getting to a place of stillness where we can simply allow things to be uncovered. So our job isn’t to “make” anything (including effort); instead, our ‘responsibility’ is to relax, let go, and just let the things inside be revealed – in their own space, their own time, and their own way.

Sounds easy, eh? Yeah, right… ;)

Yoga nidra practice begins with a “san culpa” – a heartfelt intention. This seed is planted at the beginning of the meditation session; and the actions of the meditation serve to water and nurture the seed. As with any seed, with enough nourishment and time, the tiny, hard little nugget will sprout, and will bloom into the flower, plant, or fruit that it was always meant to become. So our job is simply to plant the seed (set the intention), and then provide the nourishment (meditation) and time. If we are willing to do those things, we will receive the bloom, in all its beautiful glory.

Unfortunately, at the beginning of the meditation session, I was napping more than I was cultivating. The first phase of this meditation style is to become physically relaxed – and I think I did that part “too” well. As I said at the beginning of this post, I was quite tired at the start of this tech session; so then asking me to lay down and close my eyes is pretty much the invitation for sleep. While I missed out on the majority of the body scan (step 1 of this meditation process), I did resume consciousness as the instructor was around the ankle area. Good timing.

From there, the teacher guided us through exploration of opposites, particularly as the opposites relate to the koshas. [ Here's a nice, quick article explaining what the koshas are; and here's a quick visual of the koshas .]  For example, the teacher would say something like, “Sense the lightness of your body….. now feel the heaviness of your body…… now return to the lightness of your body…… and now the heaviness….” But after a few rounds of this back-and-forth, the instructor would do something really amazing: he would say, “Now feel both the lightness and the heaviness of your body occurring at the same time.” It sounds like it would be impossible to do – and yet, I totally could. Wild.

So yoga nidra is about exploring and experiencing opposites, but then (ultimately) experiencing the integration of the opposites. Yoga is about wholeness and union; and yoga nidra supports a person in experiencing the union that is truly inherent in all things – even (especially?) what we usually perceive to be as ‘opposites’. I suspect this may all be a little difficult to understand as I’m attempting to explain it here (in fact, it might even sound a little kooky or ‘crazy’), and so that’s where the ‘experiencing’ part of meditation comes in. People have tried to explain yoga nidra to me before; but I just didn’t ‘get it’. (“What do you mean there is an experience that is both light and heavy – how is that even possible?”) But there is such an experience; I know, because I had it. And it’s weird, and cool, and strange, and amazing.

In today’s meditation session we were guided to experience the contrasts of an inhale and an exhale; of the desert and the ocean; of war and peace. But the one that hit me the hardest was the contrast of joy and sadness. The instructor told us to feel joy within our bodies; what does it physically feel like? After a few minutes of being in that space, the teacher then had us feel, really feel, sadness within our physical bodies – and we stayed in that space for a few minutes. And we went back and forth a few times, until he gave us the cue, “Now, feel both joy and sadness at the same time” – and holy crap, it was…. unreal. I FELT an integrated, melded, non-dual experience of these two emotions; and I felt it not in my mind, but in my actual, physical body. (Mostly my chest area.) Oh. Wow. It was, it was…. wow.

At the end of the meditation session, the teacher gently transitioned us back into easy movements, and eventually into an upright, seated position. After a few moments of silence, then a very brief sharing of our individual experiences, our class ended. But this experience is still very much with me. And it’s good.

Stef


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