“It is the nature of babies to be in bliss.”Deepak Chopra
I’m following a challenging meditative post with a relaxing one. The yin and yang of meditation.
What better way to relax than to gaze at a baby? (Unless you are the primary caregiver of, oh I don’t know, a firstborn boy with digestive discomfort.)
Funnily, I spoke to two people about the blog this evening, both of whom have babies in their lives, a place I haven’t been in a while. Knowing them keeps my selective memory in check, reminding me it is not all peaceful, easy feelings. It also reminds me how babies in our lives makes us so very present and appreciative of the wonder and preciousness of every day and, really, every breath. And of every moment that baby is asleep.
Sleep is elusive for many adults. It certainly is for me. With age, I have adjusted to less sleep, but I still suffer from the brutal effects on the body: compromising blood pressure, heart health, metabolism, stress hormones, and most definitely our mental states.
Several years ago, my meditation teacher introduced me to a few practices to incorporate in the face of insomnia. One is yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, a methodical guided meditation. Yoga nidra is a deeply relaxed state we reach while still maintaining consciousness – although we can, and may, fall asleep. Good news: there is no way to “do it wrong.” In ancient texts, yoga nidra is described as a practice to help us “reach the border between waking and sleeping states.” In the west, we would call it the overlay of alpha and delta brainwaves.
The yoga nidra practice allows the body to deeply relax while the mind stays inwardly alert, with breath awareness and relaxation cued by the teacher. A cognitive behavioral therapist would describe the development of new neural pathways, which takes place during yoga nidra, as “brain plasticity.” Yoga nidra helps us find a little space while the brain rewires negative thought patterns and destructive habits.
“In as little as one minute of focused breathing, it’s possible to completely clear the bloodstream of the stress hormone cortisol.”
– Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review (2012)
Thinking of trying it? In a class, you will be set up comfortably for this. At home, I suggest using headphones and lying down in a comfortable, relaxed position (think: savasana). You’ll need privacy and pillows. There are key and intentional elements to the practice.
A guided meditation will take your attention to specific places through a series of steps to relax your body, while keeping your mind conscious. Experts say that a 20-minute yoga nidra session offers our bodies the equivalent of 80 minutes of sleep.
I won’t go in to a lot of detail about the methodology. Suffice it to say it has been around for thousands of years and is truly restorative. In contrast to the idea of letting thoughts float by, this visualization and body scanning helps us methodically release tension in every inch of our bodies. During this, we experience and release a series of feelings and sensations, enabling us to develop the practice of observing. The meditations intentionally include contrasts. I remember a friend listing a doctor’s office amidst her list of beautiful nature landscapes and golden light during the visualization portion of her nidra. (I didn’t like it at the time, and I told her.) I didn’t understand how effective contrasting is in desensitizing us from our fearful reactions.
The key piece of the nidra is an intention, which starts and ends the practice. I’ve found it easiest to choose a simple affirmation beginning with “I am.”
“I am calm and relaxed.” “I am free of worry.” “I am here.” “I am present.” Or even just, “I am.”
Below is a yoga nidra by Ginny Wells. Listen to it in the comfort of your home. Set yourself up for 25 relaxing minutes there or go check out one of her restorative classes at Forever Om in Lake Forest. Your homework is to buy some headphones (or poach from your child and leave next to your bed). May you sleep, breathe, and be like a non-colicky baby.