Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve the silence?
- Sathya Sai Baba
19th March 2021
From my own experience, feelings of stress can arise from any number of situations. I can become stressed when I feel that I have too much to do, and not enough time in which to do it; when I have an important meeting or event to prepare for that requires me to be on my best form but I am stuck as to how to approach it or present myself; when I am faced with an important decision, and don’t know which outcome to choose; or when I feel stuck in a rhythm of life that is denying me the time to do what I enjoy, leading to feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
I have learnt that the feelings of stress and overwhelm which result from the situations above are of very little help in solving or alleviating the stressful circumstances themselves. In many cases, they just lead to increased stress of body and mind, which in turn reduces productivity, creativity and the ability to make considered decisions.
My experience and study of Yoga Nidra has clearly demonstrated to me the value of this practice in countering feelings of stress within the body and mind, resulting in an increased peace of mind and clarity of thought which can then help to resolve the stressful situations in the most effective way.
The practice of Yoga Nidra includes a period of rotating the awareness around the body, placing full attention on each part of the body in turn. I find this to be a powerful way of slowing down a racing mind and stepping back from worried thoughts. By feeling into the sensations in my body at a particular time, I can drop out of my thinking mind, and ground myself in what is present and happening at that particular moment. This switch away from the mind for a short period can help my thoughts to settle such that when my focus returns to the next task at hand, I notice a greater sense of clarity surrounding what is important and what my next action should be. This can help to reduce stress, as it shifts the mental state from a crowded, busy and whirring mess, to a clear and ordered set of tasks which can be more easily prioritised and dealt with.
The practice of Yoga Nidra then moves on to a period of focusing on the breath. I find that the breath is an extremely powerful tool in regulating strong emotions and feelings of stress as they appear within my body. Science has shown that breathing patterns and emotional states are strongly linked. When we regulate our breath, perhaps through counting the breath as is sometimes the case in a Yoga Nidra practice, we regulate our thoughts and emotions as well. When I bring my attention to my breath and consciously breathe deeply and slowly, I quickly feel my body start to relax, my thoughts slow and settle, and strong emotions begin to fade.
Being able to relax and focus in this way has many benefits, but some in particular which can directly help to counter some of the causes of stress which I listed above. Creativity, for example, struggles to flow when we are tense or stressed. The very action of worrying about that important meeting or event will only reduce our ability to approach it with our best focus and most creative mind. By grounding ourselves into the present moment, rather than worrying about a possible future outcome, and by relaxing into our practice of Yoga Nidra, we can release our creativity and allow our minds to flow more freely. The practice of focusing on our body and breath during Yoga Nidra, also trains our mind to put its full attention on one thing, and this too is a skill which we can take into our working lives in order to increase productivity, and so reduce concerns over not completing tasks on time.
The practice of Yoga Nidra can sometimes too include a period of visualising images, followed by a period of free flow in which the images are released and we just watch what surfaces within the darkness of the space behind the eyes. For me, this is an extremely powerful part of any Yoga Nidra practice. It is at this point when the mind is at its stillest and when emotions or feelings hidden deep within the subconscious mind may surface and reveal themselves. It is a time of true connection to my own truth and values, and it is from this space where answers to important decisions may become clear and apparent. It is a time too of identifying emotional blocks and strong feelings, which may arise and then leave the body, or simply present themselves as unfinished business to be addressed. For me, this is an effective means of reducing stress by increasing clarity of thought, and enabling me to see a clear way forward and through difficult times.
Finally, whilst I can very much empathise with students who feel that they do not have the time to put aside to a Yoga Nidra practice, I have come to believe that this attitude can be a cause of stress in itself, as it suggests that the student does not feel in control of the schedule of their day to day lives. As I hope I have started to illustrate, Yoga Nidra is certainly not the practice of doing nothing, but has huge value when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing. When I choose to make time for myself to practice Yoga Nidra, I have already taken control of that element of my day and of my schedule. As a result I can reduce feelings of stress which originate from a sense of helplessness, as I am demonstrating that incorporating time for myself does matter, and that I am just as important as all of the other things that are going on in my life at that particular time. I know that I can look forward to that important pause, and time of reconnecting to my body, my breath, my emotions and my truth.
I encourage you to try the practice of Yoga Nidra for yourself. I teach a 30 minute Yoga Nidra each week - a wonderful way to relax after a busy day, and prepare yourself for a restful sleep. Take a look at the Schedule and Pricing page to see the next class time.