Rest, we all need it. It’s one of the three essential ingredients in life. Along with food and water, we’d die without it. So why do we try and cheat the one thing we need the most?
In my younger years, I enjoyed staying up till 3 am while trawling the Sydney nightclub scene. Those were the days of pointy black boots and off the shoulder T-shirts and way too many Bloody Mary’s. I was a professional dancer and had to be in the class by 9 am. Sleep was something you fell into because not sleeping meant falling out of a pirouette the next day.
Being 19, I thought it was cool to dance, drink and sleep as little as possible. Luckily that attitude and approach didn’t last. Being sensitive my body suffered. My back began to hurt and a chiropractor recommended yoga and meditation.
A few months later I took my first class. It was weird and awkward. The strangest part came at the end. The teacher told us to lie down and covered us in blankets. She didn’t say anything and the room went really quiet. After a few moments, I sat up, looked around and saw the teacher glaring at me. She motioned for me to lie back down. I felt like one of those kids in nursery school at nap time. You know the kid who is just too fidgety to stay still for more than two minutes? That was me!
Eventually, I got the hang of it. I went through stages of letting go. In the beginning, my mind would race from one thought to another, I’d feel a rush of energy through my nerves. Then slowly that sensation would fade. I’d begin to breathe deeply and visualize things that couldn’t be real. Like seeing people floating on clouds, or strange luminous lakes. After the visuals passed I’d hear myself snoring. Soft buzzing snores that kept me present but relaxed at the same time. Eventually, I’d disappear. The teacher’s voice would too and then the sound of singing, or gongs would bring me back. The rest of the day I’d feel more relaxed, more tuned in and rested. The relaxation at the end of a yoga class, called Savasana (corpse pose) was a reset for my body and mind.
In 2018 the politics of rest has become an obsession. According to studies, we are exhausted. We are literally killing ourselves with lack of rest. In my personal opinion, it’s the lack of fresh air, organic food, and people interaction as well as the constant pressure to have and do more. I also think technology and our dependence on it plays a significant role.
We play, interact, eat and even sleep through our smart phones. Even if we want to rest we are encouraged to do it with an app. Just yesterday I saw an article with the headline “A sleep app on your phone? Maybe not such a good idea.”
This is where Savasana solves the problem, but not just any Savasana. Yoga nidra. Yoga nidra (yogic sleep) is a phrase to describe a deep and conscious state of rest. Unlike the corpse pose, you stay alert while relaxing different parts of the body, counting breaths and sensing and visualizing various physical and emotional states.
Benefits of yoga nidra are akin to going into a deep sleep. Our brain has the capacity to work in different states of awareness: waking state, relaxed state, dream state and deep sleep state. There is also a fifth state called the gamma state, which happens at the point of orgasm or during any ecstatic activity.
Even though science has categorized these states as separate from each other, in reality, they’re all happening at once. We choose where to place our attention. For instance, when you’re hard at work nutting out a problem or completing a task you’re in the beta brainwave state. If you decide to take a break, watch TV or read a book, you can become so relaxed you’re nearly asleep. That’s the alpha wave. The alpha wave quite naturally takes you into the dream state which is the theta wave. Before you know it, you’re out for the count. This is the delta wave. Everything disappears. No thoughts, no ideas, no individuality, no problems. Bliss.
The theory behind yoga nidra is that as you are led through a series of steps, starting with relaxing different parts of the body, observing the breath and finally working with visualization, quite naturally you flow into the alpha wave, which relaxes the nervous system and reduces your stress.
What I love about this yoga practice is that anybody can do it. You don’t need to be fit or flexible. You just need a comfortable spot to lie down. You can do it in bed, or if you are at work seated in a chair with your eyes closed.
Join me in taking deep rest with this yoga nidra we recorded recently with my husband and fellow yogi John Weddepohl at Inhale Life in Sydney. The nidra is accompanied by the sound of singing bowls played by yoga teacher Romina DiFederico.
Start the practice by lying on your back.
Have your arms and legs slightly away from the body, palms facing upwards, feet relaxed and open.
Turn the head gently from side to side until it rests in the center.
If your chin juts up towards the sky, place a blanket underneath your head.
Don’t worry about the breath or what the body is doing.
Feel how effortless it is to lie here.