Monday, April 30, 2012

Yoga Nidra: Power Yoga of the Mind

I recently came across this article from Kripalu, posted on their on-line blog, in Yoga. It is one person's account of their experience with Yoga Nidra over a number of days. Lovely.

One of my favorite vinyasa yoga teachers once said, “If dropping into stillness is the hardest thing for you to do, then that is what you need the most.” And so, sometime around the first frost, I came to Kripalu to try a meditative practice called yoga nidra. Translated as “yogic sleep” or “divine sleep,” this type of yoga focuses on systematic relaxation of the body while the mind enters a state of deep, meditative awareness—like dreaming while fully awake. The technique was developed by Swami Satyananda in the 1960s to make advanced, centuries-old practices of tantric meditation more accessible to everyone.

I’d never done this type of yoga before and didn’t quite know what to expect. One thing I did know: Underneath my blanket, I was an exhausted mess. Summer had passed in a hazy blur of work and play—and, admittedly, too many margaritas. Now here it was, the onset of fall, the hardest seasonal transition for me. I felt myself floating and drifting, a balloon accidentally released from the fist of a child. I needed to reel myself back in.

Over the course of five days, some unspoken guidelines (or pointers) emerged from the darkness:

Stay awake if you can. “Divine sleep” is really not about sleeping (though you might). In this ultra-relaxed state of consciousness, your mind is focused, fully alert, and receptive. This experience is sometimes called the relaxation response, where deep healing and regeneration can happen.

Don’t worry if you can’t relax at first. You may find that divine sleep may not feel too, well, divine. For me, it was a slow process of trusting and letting go. In fact, for the first two days, I felt like an egg sitting on the edge of a kitchen counter. My back ached. If I really let myself relax to the core, would I smash to the ground? And would I be able to clean up the mess afterward?

Trust the flow. It can seem formless and passive, but the ancient practice of yoga nidra is as systematic as most any other yoga flow. There is a basic sequence: Get comfortable; set an intention for your practice; relax each part of the body; take a guided journey (maybe it’s a forest, field of sage, or warm beach); see what you see; feel what you feel; repeat your intention; return to your self. On a deeper level, the sequence moves you through all layers (called koshas) of your consciousness—physical, energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When you’re done, as in other practices, you feel as though you’ve landed in a different place from where you started. You know yourself a little better.

What makes this yoga so powerful, in my opinion, is summed up by one word: vision. Not just everyday vision but ultra-vivid perception, like suddenly having a lens that magnifies your moment-by-moment experience. Sometimes the lens is tightly focused on the tiny details; other times, it’s a wide-angle view that takes in everything. This is the power of the focused gaze, or drishti, as it is called in Sanskrit. It resonates on many levels.

Inner vision. In the deepest depths of yoga nidra, a film plays out in the darkness of your mind. And like studying an abstract piece of art, you may see signs, symbols, or metaphors. You close your eyes and gaze into your heart. You find words there, like “freedom.” You see symbols. A turtle retracted inside its shell. The stop sign that actually says GO. The picnic table from your childhood. The backyard of your first home. The tablecloth your mother used for company. You see the faces of people who have passed on. Your uncle handing you change from his pocket. Your small, outstretched hand. Your father giving you his blessing: “Be happy.” You see the elements of your life that resonate most. The things that make you, you.

Outward vision. After doing this for a few days, you start to have a different view of everything around you. The world moves more slowly, and so do you. You see the autumn leaves in exquisite detail—sad and beautiful at once. Bands of color stretch across the mountains, banners of change. You decide to sit outside for awhile. Two rabbits emerge from the bushes. They munch on the grass at your feet, unafraid. You see for the first time the gentle curve of their glassy eyeballs, and your reflection bending along the shiny arcs. It fills you with a complicated feeling, hard to name. Something like gratitude mixed with longing.

Soft vision. By the fifth day, you see yourself, and others, with more gentleness. You realize everyone is searching for the same thing. You watch yourself heading back down the long driveway at Kripalu. You take a breath. You watch yourself wondering “What now?” You feel yourself at a crossroads. You remember the stop sign with GO written on it. You see very clearly how, in life, you always hold yourself back a little. And how it may be time to let go of the reins. Yes. Let go.

A wise swami once said, “Observation without judgment is the greatest spiritual practice of all.” I would have to agree. But I would say it this way: Become a cosmic fly on the wall of your own experience. Trust what you see.
Written by Susan Abbattista, Guest Blogger

For more information about what Kripalu has to offer visit

Monday, April 23, 2012

Relax and Lose Weight

Many folks come to yoga to lose weight or "get in shape" and yoga can definitely help with this goal. But what people often don't know is that relaxation is a key part of both weight loss and overall body health. Relaxation has the hidden benefit of reducing cortisol levels (as stress is reduced), which in turn reduces the body's need to conserve calories. When we gain weight under stress, our body specializes in packing on belly fat, which is the least healthy place to gain fat. It can compromise heart health and can promote insulin resistance, leading to a greater likelihood of Type 2 diabetes. 

One of the best tools we have against stress and worry is yoga. Yoga teaches us mindfulness and awareness, two things which can alter life long habits. Whether the habit is over-eating or chronic worrying, this is a benefit. Add in the benefit of deep relaxation which can be gained through the practice of Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, or Yin Yoga, and you have given yourself one great boost toward health and wellness.

Yoga Journal's article below talks about this in a bit more detail.

Relax and Unload

Yoga is so much more than a weight-loss program, but it has helped many people shed extra pounds, even some who have spent years trying to slim down in other ways without success. Studies show that a complete yoga program—asana, breathing techniques, and meditation—can peel off the pounds.

How does yoga do it? Well, the most obvious explanation is all the calories burned practicing asana, especially in vigorous yoga classes. Still, many students lose weight even when their yoga practice is gentle and doesn't burn that many calories.

LESS STRESS  A less obvious explanation is that yoga helps reduce stress. In response to stress, levels of the hormone cortisol rise; for people who continue to worry, those levels can stay high. Elevated cortisol levels not only stimulate eating, they ensure that any additional calories are efficiently converted to fat. Worse, under the influence of cortisol, that fat tends to get deposited in the abdomen, a particularly unhealthy place. Big bellies are linked to insulin resistance—a precursor to Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes—and heart disease. By combating stress, yoga helps normalize cortisol levels.

MORE AWARENESS  The regular practice of yoga also boosts your ability to feel what's going on inside your body. This awareness helps you detect not only whether, say, your hamstring is tight but also whether your stomach is already full. Many people with weight problems have little awareness of their hunger and continue indulging long after they're sated. Besides having greater bodily awareness, people who practice yoga learn to examine their emotions—whether it's fear keeping them from doing a handstand or loneliness prompting late-night trips to the fridge. Yoga teaches that you are not your emotions and that you don't always need to act on them.

BETTER CONCENTRATION  If you struggle with overeating, try paying closer attention to your eating habits—even if you can't alter them right now. If you find yourself about to eat when you're not really hungry, assess the emotions that may be fueling your appetite. It's also useful to eliminate distractions. Resist the temptation to read, watch TV, listen to music, or talk with a friend while you eat. Instead, try to make your meal a meditation, tuning into the taste, texture, and smell of the food. If you find yourself slipping into thought, just notice that and return your attention to the food and your body's response to it.

BIGGER PICTURE  One final piece of advice: Don't get wrapped up in all the hype about diets. Instead of adopting a short-term strategy to drop a few pounds (which may backfire and result in twice the weight gain), focus on finding a balanced approach to eating and exercise that you can enjoy and that can keep you healthy over the long haul.

by Dr. Timothy McCall, Yoga Journal's Medical Editor who is currently working on a book, Yoga as Medicine, as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. Always check with your own practitioner before following any recommendations given in Yoga MD.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Yoga Nidra ~ Deep Relaxation ~ Sankalpa ~ Awareness

Workshop: April 21, 2012 ~ Yoga North, Duluth, MN

I am teaching a Yoga Nidra / Deep Relaxation Workshop at Yoga North from 10 AM - Noon on Saturday, April 21st.

This workshop begins with an exploration of Sankalpa, or setting your intention. Handouts will help you figure out your best path. The workshop also includes meditation, breath work, and relaxation techniques such as 61 points, guided imagery, rotating consciousness through the body and point-to-point sweep. Throughout the practice your focus is always inside: on the breath, on the sensations in the body and on the thoughts and reactions in the mind. A take-home handout/resource guide is included.

Location: 4628 Pitt Street, Suite 208 / Duluth, MN 55804 / Phone: 888.722.YOGA. Please register with Yoga North as space is limited.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Restorative Yoga ~ Discovery & Practice for Yoga Teachers

Workshop: April 14, 2012 ~ Yoga North, Duluth, MN

I am teaching Restorative Yoga ~ Discovery & Practice for Yoga Teachers from 4 PM - 9 PM on Saturday, April 14th at Yoga North. This workshop is geared toward teachers and other care providers who would like to expand their toolkit for care-giving. We will workshop many Restorative poses, cover how to set up and lead a Restorative class, and take Q&A time.

Students will: become comfortable with multiple props; get familiar with how to set up each pose; learn options for providing poses to folks who cannot access a pose you have planned; learn to see signs of discomfort and what to do about it; be provided with a Restorative handout which will include resources, a sample class plan, list of poses, general contraindication, and ideas on how to start and end class. We will also talk about different options for setting up the room for a Restorative class.

Following this discovery process, students will be treated to a Restorative Yoga class which will include a short Yoga Nidra session.

Although this is a Yoga North teacher training, other people who are interested in deepening their practice, or other teachers who are not in the Yoga North program, can still join the workshop by contacting Yoga North at 218-722-YOGA.
Location: 4628 Pitt Street, Suite 208 / Duluth, MN 55804 / Phone: 888.722.YOGA. Please register with Yoga North as space is limited.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Recap of the Workshop Weekend in Galesville, MD

I have just finished a 3 day extravaganza of workshops, potlucks, and fun times with new friends. Satyam, founder of Renaissance Yoga, hosted me for two workshops on Sunday but invited us to come early for a potluck and to meet some of the students.

We showed up on Friday to meet everyone and enjoy a fantastic feast of vegetarian food. Petra was even allowed in the town hall. How nice is that? We had about 30-40 people show up with enough food for 60-80. Deeee-lish!

One of Satyam's students even set up a face painting station. Here's our host family: Katy and Brad and their two kids who generously hosted us for 3 nights while we were in the area.

The workshops were held at the Galesville town hall - a very light and airy space.

The first workshop was Restorative Yoga: Discovery and practice. We planned well and had just the right amount of students for the amount of props available. For the second workshop, Restoring and Rebuilding the Inner Core, we doubled our numbers. Many students had a lot of ah-ha's about their bodies and came to have a good understanding of the inner core.
Here I am with Satyam after taking his Saturday morning class. Thank you, Satyam, for trusting me with your students. I had a lovely time and enjoyed meeting everyone!