Having practised Hatha Yoga for five years, you’d think I’d have nailed the concept of Yoga Nidra by now. It’s surely just a matter of lying down and doing nothing for a while, right?
Wrong – those 20-30 minutes laying still at the end of the class are not as easy as you may think. Well, not for me anyway and probably not for many people if they’re doing it right. Despite showing up for my regular weekly class and actually being present (in body at least), I’m often guilty of slacking a little on the effort side when it comes to yoga nidra. Perhaps subconsciously, because I’ve competed my asana and pranayama practice, I’m in the mindset that the work is done and now I get to do nothing as a reward! In reality, however, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the case. For me, yoga nidra is probably the area I need to work on the most. It might be the easiest aspect in terms of physical movement but it’s also one of the most challenging. And here’s why:
The wandering mind – If nothing else, I’m definitely a dab hand at this! The work I’ve not managed to finish that day, the shopping I need to do, the life admin I’d forgotten to sort, how I’m going to pay my credit card bill- the list is endless. And for some reason, yoga nidra is when my mind likes to remind me of all these tasks. Some weeks I’m more focused than others, but ultimately, yoga nidra is a big lesson in quietening the mind.
The need to fidget – Sometimes, the body just can’t get comfy. Perhaps it’s a result of the busy mind or perhaps it’s simply because it’s uncomfortable to be present in stillness. Especially in this hectic modern world where rushing and cramming activities into every second is the norm. However, using props, blankets, pillows or bolsters helps allow the body to feel supported and succumb to the peacefulness.
The curse of sleep – If the body and mind are behaving, they are often behaving too well, meaning yoga nidra can send even the most focused among us into a lovely, tranquil sleep. And if you’ve had a particularly hard or tiring day, this is obviously more likely to happen. By focusing on the teachers’ guided meditation, we give ourselves more of a chance of striking the fine balance between awake and asleep.
The abstract concepts – Managing to overcome the previous hurdles and concentrate on the teachers’ guided meditation is a great discipline, but sometimes it’s tricky to relate to abstract ideas such as opening up the heart space or going within. Spending too much time trying to understand and master these can have the opposite effect of what yoga nidra is really about. My tip – just don’t think about it too much! Everyone’s experience of this will be different. By tuning in to your body and mind regularly, you might find some of these concepts suddenly start to make more sense.
The search for a Sankalpa – The never-ending search in my case! I didn’t know what a Sankalpa was when I first started Hatha Yoga. But once I learnt it was basically a positive affirmation to focus the mind, I figured it was an easy intention to create. Again, not quite so much. I worry it’s too long/ not long enough/ too focused in the material world/ that I need to change it regularly/ that I shouldn’t be changing it at all. And these distractions take away from the true purpose of this powerful resolution. I’ve slowly learnt to just go with the flow and choose one that feels right for me at the time. Listen to your heart and don’t worry what other people are choosing as theirs.
With seemingly so many challenges to overcome, perhaps it’s time to focus our energy on the benefits. After all, this is why we continue to show up and embrace yoga nidra.
Space to re-connect – After spending time on our asana and pranayama practice, yoga nidra is a perfect way to reconnect to our bodies and mind and feel the effects of what we’ve just achieved. Focusing on individual body parts allows us to observe the energy running through and bring awareness back to ourselves, rather than that of our fellow yoga buddies, the room we’re in or the sounds we can hear. For me, I often have the sense of feeling which areas of my body might have been neglected, whether that’s a slight twinge in my shoulder from poor posture or a heightened awareness of a certain area. Concentrating my energy and vowing to take extra care benefits healing both at the time and following the class.
Feeling calm and rested – Definitely my favourite. There’s something about yoga nidra that allows such a deep sense of relaxation and, if it’s done properly, that space between awake and asleep does wonders for the chimp mind. For many of us, we only allow ourselves to be so still when we’re going to sleep, but the calmness that’s achieved through yoga nidra brings a wonderful feeling of peace and contentment.
Feeling re-energised – This might sound contradictory to the previous point, but I often feel totally re-charged and re-energised after taking part in yoga nidra. Almost like a really good night’s sleep where I’ve woken up slowly and naturally.
Focus and balance – The space that yoga nidra offers to go within ourselves brings with it a renewed sense of focus and balance of the body and mind. We are able to see things more clearly and in a more positive way when we give ourselves time for this practice. And the effects don’t just last for the length of time we are laying still; we can take this positivity home with us and continue to keep checking in with ourselves.
Your experience of yoga nidra might be different every week, and that’s fine. The important thing is you’re allowing yourself to connect with the body and mind and feel at one with yourself. It’s not effortless, but it’s one of the nicest things we can do for ourselves on a regular basis.
Happy yoga nidra!