“It is the nature of babies to be in bliss.”Deepak Chopra
A challenging meditative post needs to be followed by 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 say, a first born boy with digestive discomfort.)
Funny, the two people I spoke to this evening about this blog both 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 when you have a baby in your life, how very present and appreciative you are of the wonder and preciousness of every day, every breath, really. And of every moment that that baby is asleep.
Sleep is elusive for many adults; it certainly is for me. With age I have adjusted to less sleep, but boy, is it brutal on our bodies, affecting blood pressure, heart health, metabolism, stress hormones, and most definitely our mental states.
Several years ago, my meditation teacher introduced me to a few things to do when I hadn’t slept. One was yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, a methodical guided meditation. Yoga nidra is a deeply relaxed state you reach while still maintaining consciousness… although you can, and may, fall asleep. Nice part, there is no way to “do it wrong.” In ancient texts, yoga nidra is described as a practice which will help you “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 you 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)
In a class you will be set up comfortably for this. If you are at home, I suggest you get headphones and lie down in a comfortable position. Set yourself up for uninterrupted 25 minutes– you’ll need privacy and pillows. There are key and intentional elements to the practice. It is done lying down in savasana, relaxed and comfortable.
You will be led in a guided meditation which will takes your attention to specific places through a series of steps which relax your body, despite keeping your mind conscious. It is said that a 20 minute yoga nidra gives your body the equivalent of 80 minutes of sleep.
I won’t go in to a lot of detail about the methodology of it, but to say that is has been around for thousands of years and it truly is restorative. In contrast to the idea of letting thoughts float by, this is a guided meditation with visualization and a body scan, helping you methodically release tension in every inch of your body. During this, a series of feelings and sensations are experienced and released which enables you to develop the practice of observing your feelings and emotions. Contrasts are intentionally used. I remember telling a friend I wish she would not list doctor’s office in the middle of the list of beautiful nature landscapes and golden light she mentioned during the visualization portion of her nidra. I didn’t understand how effective the use of contrasts is in desensitizing us from our fearful reactions.
The key piece of the nidra, is that is starts and ends with an intention, an active affirmation. Easiest is to choose something simple that begins 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 to listen to in the comfort of your own home. Set yourself up for 25 relaxing minutes there, or go check out one of her restorative classes at Forever Om in Lake Forest. The key at home is headphones; your homework is to buy some or poach from a child and leave next to your bed. May you sleep, breathe, and be like a non-colicky baby.