About 20 years ago I developed a really good habit, thanks to my first and beloved yoga teacher who emphasized to me its importance in relation to stress-relief and ultimately self-actualization. Since then, among all the self-care tools I have learned, that one has been instrumental in keeping me sane. And if you've met me, you know I'm pretty sane. :) Through financial unpredictability, a rocky marriage + a divorce, having no healthcare, being diagnosed with an auto-immune imbalance, living 3000 miles away from a family I adore, launching a new business and you know, the usual daily stressors such as loud noises, long lines and late nights out (or at my desk), this practice has helped me to remain at ease in my body and most of all keep everything in perspective. So what is it?
Conscious deep relaxation, also called yoga nidra.
It literally means yogic sleep. Conscious deep relaxation is a priceless skill, a life skill even! It is not sleeping and it is not your usual end-of-a-yoga-class-relaxation. Rather it is a focused, systematic withdrawal of consciousness from the outside world to the deepest part of your being. Thirty minutes of yoga nidra is said to equal 3 to 4 hours of sleep! I personally have experienced the benefits of yoga nidra and can attest to its fast rejuvenating power. Unfortunately, when tired many of us turn to unwinding methods that hardly rejuvenate us, if at all.
The pitfalls of unconscious “relaxation”
Have you ever felt so tired you were on edge? Tired-wired in other words. Exhausted yet unable to switch off. If prolonged, this situation will lead to increasing anxiety. Being unable to relax when we badly need to is also depressing. And because we need to (or go mad) most of us in such a case will turn to artificial downers or numb ourselves in some ways, because we don't know better. That's what we've seen our parents do, that's what our friends do and that's what mainstream culture supports. We might get into the habit of having a glass of wine (or two, or three...) every evening “to take the edge off”; eat excessive amounts of sweets and starches, inducing a so-called “food coma”; or simply crash in front of the television, mindlessly absorbing the sounds and images it flashes at us. Some of us will pop a Valium, smoke a joint or surf the net aimlessly for hours on end, eventually dragging ourselves to bed more tired than when we got home.
The “only” problem with those relaxation methods is that they don't work.
That's right. Even if on the surface it looks like you're finally chilling out, what you're really doing is subjecting your senses to further stimuli, creating more nervous exhaustion in the process.
- Alcohol, while initially relaxing, turns out to be a stimulant that heats up the liver. This will cause nighttime awakening around 2-3am. Incidentally, this happens to be Liver time according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a time when the energy flowing through the Liver meridian is strongest, and intended for blood cleansing. But with alcohol in the system, the liver is burdened, heats up and cannot do its job well. You wake up feeling toxic: achy, foggy, tired.
- Excessive food consumption, in addition to the obvious weight gain, will pervert your sense of taste, causing cravings for unhealthy foods the next day. Additionally, food eaten late at night takes up precious energy in order to be digested, energy otherwise meant for cleansing. (night time is for rest and repair, not digestion) As a result, your sleep is not as deep and healing.
- Marijuana dulls the mind. When used often, it will also dull your spirit, your passions, your drive to create. It has been shown to be responsible for neuropsychological decline in frequent users and have lasting effects on the brain.
- Watching TV, while possibly entertaining, is enormously stimulating to your sense of sight, the most stimulated of your five senses to begin with. So here again, unknowingly you end up exciting your nervous system, making it harder to find true relaxation.
By the way, I want to make it clear I am in no way judging any one of those habits. How could I! I have myself resorted to every one of them at some point or another to alleviate all kinds of discomforts. We all do the best we can with what we know. And that's also why today I want to share with you a way to relax that's fast, effective, with zero side effects. And it will actually soothe your nervous system, not excite it further as the above-mentioned methods do.
As you go about your life, your five senses connect you to the world. In order to communicate with your external environment nerve impulses are fired through your sensory nerves, sending messages to the whole body, prompting you to move, talk, see, smell, touch, feel, hear. It's a lot of energy moving outward. Feeling tired is a sign that you've allowed too much energy to move outward without taking the time to refill.
You end up running on empty. A sure recipe for a nervous breakdown. Literally. Your nervous system, your central operating system, when functioning beyond its capacity, will collapse. Well, you will. The ONLY way to truly reverse this process, refill your energy reserves and feel deeply rejuvenated is by reversing the flow of energy, in other words by withdrawing your consciousness deep within your own being. That's what yoga nidra or conscious deep relaxation, does.
The Benefits of Yoga Nidra
- Yoga nidra involves a slow and methodically withdrawal of the attention, away from the outside world and deep within oneself.
- Yoga nidra relaxes the body, cools the emotional heart, and invites inner peace.
- If you need perspective on a situation in your life, best is to forget about it for a while. Yoga nidra will give you that mental space.
- If you tend to burn yourself out, make a point of refueling consistently with a 3-5 x week practice of yoga nidra.
- If you suffer from insomnia, practice yoga nidra at night.
- Yoga nidra will help you undo stress stored deep into your cells, emotional stress, reactive patterns, habits deeply ingrained in your subconscious, all of which often govern our waking hours. Yoga nidra goes far and deep in the undoing of all stress, old and current.
- Yoga nidra has also been shown to improve blood pressure among women with menstrual problems, reduce the symptoms of diabetes and help control blood glucose levels, and reduce symptoms of perceived worry, depression and increase mindfulness-based skills.
When should you practice conscious deep relaxation? Pretty much anytime! In the morning if you didn't sleep well. In the afternoon to regroup. At the end of your work day. At bedtime, to snap out of the tired-wired state and ease into restorative sleep.
Yoga nidra is the best way I know to check out from the world without detrimental side effects. I practice yoga nidra *almost* daily. I recommend you do too. The thing is, you really need someone to guide you through it. And I am going to do that for you. You're welcome :) Here is a short 15-minute yoga nidra practice I just recorded for you. Click here to listen, download and share with your friends. Traditionally a full yoga nidra practice can last up to one hour, we're gonna build up to that gradually. Soon you may find you don't need as much sleep!
I can't wait for you to test this yoga nidra practice. Please share your feedbacks in the comment section below xo