By Jo Mooy
For those who find sun salutations and downward dog beyond their range of motion, Yoga Nidra might be the answer.
I’m not a Yoga fan. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s wildly popular because estimates say 300 million practice it worldwide. I’m happy for everyone who loves Hatha Yoga and does it religiously. I also respect the teachers who get certified in dozens of different Yoga practices. But for me? Hatha Yoga is a nonstarter.
Now, let me explain…My father’s people come from southern Italy. We’re short and stocky. Our bodies are comfortably close to the ground. If we fall down it’s not far to go. We also don’t have long, lithe bodies that can easily adapt to the many twisting pretzel varieties of Yoga postures. So it’s not a very natural state for me. I just don’t like it!
The fact is, I’ve tried to do Hatha Yoga many times over the years. I went to local classes. I tried to do the postures at Ashrams. I went to the Edgar Cayce Foundation hoping to overcome the blockages. I even thought maybe I was too uptight about it, so did “Lilias Yoga and You!” on PBS from the comfort of home. No matter what I did, each session was a disaster.
More worrisome, a lifelong inner-ear imbalance causes vertigo whenever I put my head lower than my waist. Though a teacher at the Edgar Cayce Foundation showed me a modified version of the sun salutation where, though my rendition wasn’t perfectly attuned to the correct postures, it was doable. Nonetheless, I took the hint about Hatha Yoga and instead focused on Jnana and Raja Yoga.
Twenty years later, I gave Hatha Yoga another go at a well-known Sarasota, FL, yoga studio offering an open house, billed as “for beginners to experts and children to seniors.” Maybe things had changed, I thought. So, I went with friends and joined the crowded demonstrations led by a twenty-something “perky” teacher.
“Perky” thought all levels, including the seniors, should begin with downward dog. I saw where this was going so tried to adapt it with my Cayce Foundation modified version. “Perky” came up behind me and said, “Your head needs to go down lower.” Without asking, she pushed my head to the floor and held it there. I collapsed into a fetal heap with a major case of vertigo. I’d done my last asana! Until ….
Several years ago a friend said, “I have a great yoga for you!” I replied, “There is NO great Yoga for me anywhere!” She knew my horror stories about Hatha Yoga so inquired, “Didn’t you tell me your favorite asana was the corpse pose?” It was. But expecting a trick of some sort (she’d been with me at the downward dog fiasco,) I said, “Yessssssssss! Corpse pose is my favorite because I don’t have to do anything but lie down, breathe and be still.” Pouncing and sounding suspiciously like “Perky” she said, “Then, you’ll love this one!”
She explained what we were going to do. I would lie down on my back on the carpeted floor and she would put a bolster under my knees and a feather pillow under the head. (How did she know it was my perfect vision of a heavenly corpse pose?) Then she explained she would lead me into the deep sleep of a guided Yoga Nidra meditation. At the time, I’d never heard of Yoga Nidra, but it sounded too good to be true.
She led my first experience with Yoga Nidra—and she was right. I’ve been a fan ever since. Yoga Nidra means yogic sleep. It’s an acute state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep where the body appears to be “asleep” while the mind is awake. It’s induced by a teacher who guides a meditation of awareness through the entire body. The participant focuses on different body parts, keeping the mind active and the body still. A complete state of relaxation occurs as the participant, if they remain awake, can go past the dream state and become aware of different states of consciousness.
Yoga is a spiritual discipline that harmonizes the mind and body. The term Yoga in Sanskrit means to unite. There are physical yoga postures (the ones I don’t care for,) and the Yoga of meditation, mind and breath control practices, which are my go-to Yoga practices. Yoga Nidra uses the complete relaxation of the physical body in the corpse pose and blends breath and guided meditation to achieve altered states of consciousness. First mentioned in the Upanishads around 300 BC, Swami Satyananda Saraswati in Rishikesh developed his own style of Yoga Nidra, where it was taught and became popular.
What did I learn from Yoga Nidra? I learned that I could do my favorite dead body asana quite well. That I could easily slow down my heartrate and breathing by following the teacher’s voice. And that I could not only enter a state of deep relaxation, but could also go into other states of consciousness beyond normal awareness.
Yoga Nidra has many benefits. If you have difficulty falling asleep, Insomnia Yoga Nidra is the tonic needed. I guarantee the practice will put you out before the end of the first body pass. If you’re in need of specific healing, there’s a Healing Yoga Nidra that can help restore the body’s natural state. It’s a genuinely therapeutic practice that induces deep meditation, awakens consciousness and renews the physical body.
There are many different guided Yoga Nidras on YouTube. The link below will take you to one I use if I can’t sleep: Insomnia Yoga Nidra: https://www.starsoundings.com/uploads/3/7/5/4/37548755/yoga_nidra_insomnia_final_9_4_2014.mp3.
Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to http://www.starsoundings.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.