You know that luminous state of insight and clarity that most of us have experienced after sleeping, but when we’re not actually up and at ‘em yet? What if you could intentionally create that feeling and state? What if you could tell yourself good things, things you want to believe all the way down, things like belief in your own worth, goodness and power, while in this powerful, luminous state? Not dreaming, conscious and barely awake, we often are aware of things - dreams, insights, our next magnum opus - that we’re sure we’ll remember later… but then have no access to, except the memory of knowing something truly life changing. Well, Yoga Nidra allows us to intentionally go into that state and feeling, tell ourselves things and change the background programs out of which our habits arise and shape our lived experience.
Yoga Nidra is a set of inter-reinforcing relaxation techniques including a rhythmic, melodic voice that together bring us into a liminal - or in between - state. It’s often called yogic sleep and is deeply rejuvenating. These days you can find Yoga Nidra recordings expressly meant to take you into sleep, others that begin with a stern instruction not to go to sleep, and pretty much everything in between. Yoga Nidra is so much more than a sleep aid or substitute: traditionally, it’s a preparation to meditation.
One part of the Yoga Nidra procedure, depending on the facilitator, is the opportunity to repeat your sankalpa, or intention, to yourself. A sankalpa is a specifically constructed intention that is not a goal, but rather an attribution of a positive quality to yourself in the present tense. For instance, “I am healing. I am whole. I am strong. I am vital. I am safe. I am at ease.” Any of these could be a sankalpa. The qualities owned in these statements may and often are already true, but all too often we don’t believe what we “know” to be true - or at least all our friends and loved ones know. This is because there are different kinds of knowledge and knowledge and the feeling of knowing don’t always go hand in hand. This “feeling” of knowing is called a qualia by philosophers, and while it’s perhaps neutral in terms of logic, it’s paramount in terms of psychology.
Often we have developed habits - grooves or samskara in Sanskrit, the language of yoga philosophy that get in between us and what we know on an intellectual or superficial level. The Greeks had an interesting theory of what it meant to be a human, or “have a soul.” They thought that there are three different parts or functions of being human: the head part, or
noos; the heart part, or psuche, and the belly part, or thumos. True knowledge meant that every part - head, heart and belly all were on the same page. Socrates believed discourse and argumentation were the best way to bring all our parts into alignment or integrity. Anyone who has over analyzed their foibles might reasonably doubt this, however.
Sometimes the rub that keeps us from knowing the same thing in all of our parts is an even older, more deeply seated habit, one that perhaps kept us safe in a time when our lives were different than they are currently. We are often not directly aware of these shadow beliefs or their power.
Yoga Nidra offers a way to non-discursively - without discourse, words, arguments - surface and over time release these “rubs,” or habits of being and thinking, both through the mechanism of sankalpa as well as the exhaustion of “karma” through imagery, alternation of opposing sensation, body scan and breath direction. While emotional release is possible and welcome, it’s not always necessary and you may simply come out of your Nidra session feeling refreshed and lighter for the experience, more capable of being the person you know you are and want to be.
Trauma, ACEs + Healing
We’ve covered ACE scores, trauma and healing here in previous blog posts, here and here and here, for a few. The short skinny is that certain adverse experiences when our brains were being formed (so prior to 18 years old) create habits of being and thinking (samskara) that have tremendously powerful and lasting effects on our physiology. A high ACE score (see the first article for both full explanation and the test to see yours) is correlated to a variety of life shortening and quality threatening illness, including cancer, heart disease, obesity and depression.
Yoga Nidra is one of the deep, powerful techniques available to yogis to help heal these vulnerabilities. To integrate and align all the parts of our human being - our souls, if you will, head, heart and belly - is not only important to live our best life - it may be crucial for living a life at all past a certain point.
Come to Ashley's Yoga Nidra Gong Bath for a profound experience of yoga nidra, healing, relaxation and pampering that will help align all your parts. If you're reading this after the event, be sure you've signed up on badlandsyoga.com for news and updates to be in the loop for all your yoga nidra and healing yoga experiences.