Simply being, without any need for doing.
Discovering yoga nidrā was the gold of a one-to-one session with yoga therapist, Uma Dinsmore-Tuli in her and Nirlipta Tuli’s yoga cave in Stroud, in 2017. Having newly begun a hatha yoga teacher training, I was unpicking my 20-year habit of dutiful following of teachers’ instructions in classes and videos, seeking my own, less pedagogic practice. Something about listening to the intelligence of the body to self-suggest what it needs, instead of aiming to achieve a shape or a sensation.
After some very gentle movement, Uma invited me to settle into a super deluxe five star savanasa – supported in a nest of bolsters, blankets, sheepskins and props, just like in the picture above (a still from this video of a menopause yoga nidrā for disturbed sleep and low mood). During the practice without movement, she guided me into the state of awareness that is yoga nidrā: body deeply resting; mind alert and aware – with the intention of welcoming intuitive knowing in the body, to provide guidance and wisdom – based on our prior discussion about what I felt I needed. I left the 40 minute session feeling deeply nourished and rested, with an audiotrack recording of my personalised nidrā that I have been listening to ever since, along with many other nidrās on the Yoga Nidra Network. It has helped me connect with, and trust all parts of my body, be kinder, and deepen my practice – for myself and as a resource for yoga with women who are pregnant and postnatal in the Trust where I work as a midwife. Here’s a three minute film about those pregnancy yoga classes. Nidra practice showed me how potent deep rest can be. It also prepared me for the huge shake-up about to happen in my life.
Gift of injury
I was loving teaching yoga. Until the weekly furniture-clearing and solo heaving of trunks of yoga equipment for class, combined with a weekend of homebirths, left me with a ruptured vertebral disc at the end of last year – in constant pain, unable to move normally, work and practice or teach asana-based yoga. I had spinal surgery, which I’m optimistic has addressed the nerve impingement and my body is doing its best to recover and adapt to the new mechanics. Yoga nidrā has been a lifeline, solace from the pain and emotional challenge of back injury – by being able to welcome difficult sensations, they have become more manageable and acceptable.
One of the gifts of injury and this time off midwifing and teaching has been my exploration of yoga nidrā – not a technique or skill, but rather an effortless state of being that is revealed with practice, a type of ‘yogic sleep’. On this intensely restorative 6-day course with Nirlipta Tuli: Self-Care: Deep Work with Advanced Total Yoga Nidra (part 1 and 2), I learnt some tools to take myself into trance without an audiotrack or external guide, through counting and coherent breathing. I discovered how trance could be used for improvement, persuading myself to go into a different state of reality, to heal and to rest. The practices gave me a deep sense of peace, spending time in an expanded state, feeling connected to a great source of healing and power that is always available – as if on the other side of a veil, just breaths away.
Yoga nidrā for pain
During the yoga nidrā practices we would be invited to rotate our awareness round the body, a gentle enquiry of how each part might be, allowing us to correct assumptions and relearn ourselves.
We would also be invited to experience opposite pairs of sensation, these could be simple eg. heavy/light, warmth/cold, and we would practice sensing and welcoming them, moving between them and holding both dualities together in awareness. This has proved to be potent for pain management. As if being able to hold two different things at the same time offers a way to transcend the logical rational mind, normal thinking goes on hold and is replaced by a sort of witnessing consciousness and equanimity: What am I if I’m not these feelings of pain and frustration?
When the pain following surgery was acute, I initially resisted coming back to normal consciousness after the blissful break provided by nidrā practices – like having to return early from a lovely holiday. But gradually I began to feel the effects beyond the practice, of hovering between two distinct places, or different states of consciousness, and to savour the transitory nature of certain experiences – even pain. Sometimes.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves” ~ Mary Oliver
It is this only that requires a deeper listening to the body’s instincts and intelligence – not that it is necessarily easy or simple to shake off the habits of copying, controlling and the striving, but it is all that’s really required. I can see how some of the ways I’d been practicing yoga weren’t good for me, too cerebral, robotic, too pushy, not responsive enough. Never thought I’d feel grateful for this back nightmare like I do.
Nidrā: the medicine of rest – an antidote to burnout
Seeing the benefits of this practice of radical rest for midwives, I’ve developed a 30-minute restorative practice as an antidote to burnout to share once I return to work and teaching. Having completed a yoga nidrā immersion course and 8-day Total Yoga Nidra Teacher Training, I will incorporate nidrā into my yoga classes for pregnant and postnatal women. What other course would be possible whilst recovering from spinal surgery?: up to six uniquely crafted nidrās a day, interspersed with theory, philosophy and exercises – lying supported, deeply resting and nourished was an intensely empowering and healing experience. I’m grateful that my injury has allowed me the freedom to explore the openness of awareness that is yoga nidrā, and to share it.
Now offering a monthly nidrā session at Stroud Yoga Space, Nelson Street, Stroud, GL5 2HH
Monthly, first Sunday, 5.30-6.30pm, from 1 September. £12. Concessions available.
In this session you’ll be accompanied into the effortless state of being that is yoga nidrā, considered by some to be the meditative heart of yoga. Somewhere between sleeping and waking states, the magic of nidrā happens.
It’s an adaptogenic practice, so you get what you need; whether it be restored vitality, enhanced creativity, clarity and intuition, deep nourishment and rest, or something else…
What might it be that you discover in your yoga nidrā?
Yoga nidra is for every body – suitable for all
Stroud Yoga Space, 25 Nelson Street, GL5 2HH
Looking forward to welcoming you,
Oli (midwife, pregnancy and postnatal yoga teacher, yoga nidrā facilitator)