Radical Rest for the Over-Stressed
People are more stressed than ever. Alongside stress comes exhaustion; and when there is exhaustion and overwork, our physical yoga practice (āsana, prāṇāyāma – postures, breathing practice) takes a hit. We need something radical – rest. But not simply rest, we need radical rest, yogic rest. We need Yoga Nidrā.
Yoga Nidrā is a liminal practice, a practice on the edges – on the edge between sleeping and waking; on the edge between relaxation and meditation. It gets to places other yogic practices do not. And it requires no effort. You simply have to be.
It’s my experience, both personally and over many years of yoga teaching, that this practice is hugely valuable during the most stressful times, and it is also one of the most accessible and effective practices. Rested humans are more able to cope with stress, and make more sensible choices.
So what is it? Well, Yoga Nidrā is referenced as far back as the Mahābhārata (300BCE-300CE), as the sleep of Viṣṇu; and a few hundred years later personified as a goddess with the power of nidrā (sleep). We first come across recognisable practices in the middle ages, for example a rotation of consciousness around the body (Yoga Yājñavalkya), and the union of pairs of opposites (Śiva Samhita).
The contemporary practice as we know it is a combination of these older practices combined with Western relaxation techniques; it comes to us via a number of lineages, such as Sw. Satyananda and Sw. Rama. Although the form can vary slightly between lineages, there is a common set of core parts of the practices that make them Yoga Nidrā – settling, rotation, opposites, breath/body awareness, externalisation.
Yoga Nidrā is easy to practice, from getting hold of a CD such as Sw. Janakananda’s classic “Experience Yoga Nidra” or downloading from a specialist web site (such as the Yoga Nidra Network, or from my download page), through to attending live Yoga Nidrā in classes or on Zoom. During the practice you will be asked to make yourself comfortable in the best way you can, with the aim of remaining as still as possible, but always adjust if you need to. The facilitator will lead you through the practice with their voice. All you need to do is follow the sound of the voice, not even necessarily listening to the words.
The practice promotes deep relaxation, and you may feel like you have fallen asleep. The facilitator will always be there to bring you back at the end of the practice. There is never any rush to be anywhere, or to finish quickly. Once you are experienced at the practice, you can ‘do’ Yoga Nidrā to yourself, in other words, mentally running through all the sections of the practice without needing a voice to follow.
Free Yoga Nidra Downloads recorded by Barry