I was doing some research for one of my clients the other day when I came across the term Yoga Nidra. I’ve been doing yoga for a long time and used to teach as well. I’m also a copywriter with a specific focus on wellness clients and the co-founder of Recovering Yogi, so I’ve written about yoga ad nauseum. Being a linguist by nature, I can spell most Sanskrit yoga words in my sleep. Yet, somehow, I had never heard of Yoga Nidra. So I googled it. And I felt like I was coming home. You see, even though I didn’t know it had an official name, it turns out I’ve been practicing Yoga Nidra at an expert level for many years.
When I first started practicing yoga, I was young and gung ho. In fact, I was Bikram gung ho. I was one of those really annoying skinny twenty-somethings lined up in the front row of a fluorescent Bikram class in my Nike spandex hot pants just absolutely nailing every single one of those 26 poses every time (except that fucker Standing Head to Knee; I could never seem to get that one). I “did” yoga 5, 6, 7, sometimes 8 or 9 times a week. I had a serious dotcom job back then, but I would jet out of work every night at 5:30 and hightail it across town to class, where I’d stuff myself into a hot, sweaty room with all the other lemmings and just go to town. I loved it. I thought I really got yoga.
Sloooowly over a decade my passion for yoga-as-workout began to fade. I had heard that “advanced yogis know when to slow down and listen to their bodies,” but quite frankly, I had always thought this to be some sort of old person propaganda. After all, if I listened to my body and what it wanted to do, I would have spent the last two decades lying around on the couch eating bonbons and watching TV.
I’m inherently lazy, and over the years, as my yoga practice naturally slowed down and I began to return to my True Nature, a curious thing has begun to happen to me: I quite frequently fall asleep in yoga classes. By this time, I probably don’t need to tell you, I have moved on from Bikram yoga. But still, it’s not like I am going to restorative classes or falling asleep on a bolster. No, I am mostly hitting the hardcore heated vinyasa power yoga stuff, with its repetitive alpha chatarangas and packed rooms of sweaty urbanites all flowing in rhythm to loud, thumping beats. I am going to classes where your neighbor’s mat is 3 inches away and the teacher shouts instructions over a Madonna headset. It is not, shall we say, appropriate for me to lie down on my mat five minutes into class and emulate a corpse for the next 85 minutes. But I do it anyway. I can’t help it!
I will be in the middle of a downward facing dog, and all of a sudden I will get this overwhelming urge to lie down on my mat and doze off. The warm, humid air, the drone of the instructor’s voice, the extra carbon dioxide from all those yogis breathing in harmony… some combination of these things has a soporific effect on me. My body feels like it is being pulled by the world’s strongest magnet, and I cannot resist. Once the wooz kicks in, it is only a matter of time before I succumb to gravity and fall into what feels like a hypnotic trance, not quite asleep, but definitely not awake. I can’t move my body or manipulate my train of thought, but somewhere in there, I am vaguely aware of what is happening. Kind of like a lucid dream, but also sort of like taking an Ambien without ever falling asleep (which, incidentally, is a very bad idea, in my experience). A floating-above-the-body sensation that also, by the way, happens when I get acupuncture or a really good massage. And when I wake up from this slumber, I feel more refreshed than after ten solid hours of sleep in my own bed.
This has become a thing. I show up for prime time classes that my yoga teacher friends are leading, and they preemptively ask me “Are you going to try to stay awake for this one?” It’s been embarrassing.
But no longer. Because now I know that all along I have been practicing the ancient esoteric yoga art of “yoga sleep,” a tantric method of conscious and extreme relaxation brought on by expert bouts of meditation and yoga asana practice. In a Yoga Nidra class (yup, that’s a thing) the teacher uses Tibetan bells, manipulated air temperature, guided imagery and/or verbal body scanning to induce a quickie session of this rarified prelude to enlightenment. Students are propped up on bolsters in order to facilitate their immediate and profound relaxation. It’s kind of a like a yin yoga class on Quaaludes. But for born talents like myself, the accoutrements are not necessary to slide right into a profound Yoga Nidra session on our own. All we need is a horizontal space, a fairly warm room, and some indiscriminate white noise.
There are several stages of Yoga Nidra that one passes through as the brain waves slow down (I think I have a natural predisposition to slow brain waves, so I have a leg up in that regard too), and then, when it’s over, one wakes up feeling utterly refreshed and calm. From Yoga Journal:
“We live in a chronically exhausted, overstimulated world,” says Los Angeles yoga teacher Rod Stryker. “Yoga Nidra is a systematic method of complete relaxation, holistically addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs.”
Personally, I have a lot of needs of all of those varieties, so I’m not surprised that I am a Yoga Nidra savant. We all have our talents, and I feel blessed that mine is the ability to fall asleep in any yoga class. And I’m not gonna apologize for it any longer.
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