For those that aren’t familiar with Yoga Nidra, it’s an ancient form of guided meditation that’s doesn’t require any training, hard work, or special ability to focus or clear your mind. Participants simply lie down and listen, usually reaching a relaxing state of consciousness that’s neither sleep nor wakefulness. Over the span of an approximately hour-long session the effects are deeply restorative—reducing even a symphony of stress to quiet background noise.
With National Day Of Relaxation this month, we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with our center’s certified Yoga Nidra practitioner, Shay Edmonds, to discuss how Yoga Nidra guided meditation helps people to relax and why they might choose coming to an in-person Yoga Nidra session over other forms of meditation such as apps and videos. And if you’d like to understand a little more about Yoga Nidra first, feel free to read our more general introduction to it here.
Hi Shay. Thank you for joining us today. Since today’s National Relaxation Day, let’s start with that. How can Yoga Nidra guided meditation actually help people relax?
Shay: Yoga Nidra gives you that space where you can clear your head and get into your body, letting go of the daily grind of the world. It’s giving you that space to access the parasympathetic nervous system so you can relax not just the body but the mind as well.
For those of us that aren’t familiar, what exactly is the parasympathetic nervous system? And why is it important to engage that to relax and de-stress?
Shay: Well, let’s start with a different system. Our sympathetic nervous system is basically our “fight or flight” survival mechanism. Back in the old days, it was kind of the “run from a tiger” system, hunt or be hunted, and in today’s world we don’t typically need that very much but that stress response is still triggered constantly because that sympathetic nervous system is accessed by social media, it’s accessed television, it’s accessed by every form of media you can imagine because their goal is to keep your attention around the clock. So of course this creates unbelievable anxiety and stress and just doesn’t give you any space to let go and relax.
So now we get to the parasympathetic nervous system. If you go back in time again to where you’re running from those tigers, after you’d use your sympathetic nervous system to get away, your parasympathetic nervous system would kick in to create that de-stressing and relaxation after the hunt. At that point in history, when the threat was over, the threat was over. You weren’t living in fear of those tigers, and you weren’t watching news coverage of those tigers mauling your neighbors or something. You just had a clear mind, relaxed to a degree most of us can’t even imagine today. So Yoga Nidra helps gives you that clear mind, that state of relaxation that actually used to be a lot more common. Yoga Nidra is your outlet to get away from everything, and to get you out of your head so you’re not thinking about the daily grind and your responsibilities or whatever else is on your mind—anger, frustration, anxiety. You’re leaving it all behind and entering a space where you can relax and access that parasympathetic nervous system.
So what you’re saying is almost everything in our daily lives—our smartphones, our tablets, our flat-screens, our families, our-coworker—they’re all making our brains feel like we’re in a primitive, life-threatening state of fight-or-flight?
Shay: Depending on those interactions, absolutely. I mean with mobile devices, we basically have no way to get away from anything anymore. Whether it’s responsibilities from your spouse or children, or your job or your friends, or just flicking past social media, everything constantly has access to you which never really lets your brain just calm down and actually relax. It’s all triggering a dopamine response, and the media in particular are amazing at triggering that so you’ll keep coming back for more. You’ll keep staying in the loop of that dopamine rush, even if it means checking your phone in the middle of the night, or literally losing sight of everything else around you.
Wow. So is there even a way to be at the office and dealing with the stress of work and not be engaging that sympathetic nervous system? Or is it just an absolute that it’s going to be engaged aside from those times we hide somewhere and purposefully practice some mindfulness?
Shay: Well, you know, there’s different levels of course. If you’re putting out fires all day and there’s a lot on the line, you know, of course your sympathetic nervous system is going to be ramped up even further than normal. Or driving in traffic—that could be relaxing with the right mindset but it could also get you right into that sympathetic nervous system the second you leave the house. There’s going to be different levels of involvement with each particular nervous system no matter what, but ideally the goal would be to go about your business and still find time to relax. There’s going to be moments throughout the day where you need to be engaged and you need to be active, but that’s fine as long as you can provide yourself some space later in the day to let go of some of that stress.
This is all really fascinating. I’m wondering though, for people that know about mindfulness and meditation, maybe even guided meditation, why would they choose to de-stress with Yoga Nidra vs. another form of meditation? Or even using something like their Headspace app?
Shay: That’s a great question. I would say different forms of meditation will speak to different people, but Yoga Nidra is a less active form of meditation. It’s also very forgiving. There’s really no way to do Yoga Nidra wrong, which makes it a little more comfortable and relaxing for people.
Are people concerned with getting meditation wrong?
Shay: Absolutely. Meditation in general can be very frustrating, especially when you’re new at it, because when the mind wanders, it becomes frustrating. It can actually be one of those parasympathetic responses because you feel like you’re doing it incorrectly. But Yoga Nidra kind of gives you a place where you can let your mind wander and it’ll come back, without as much stress or expectations attached.
There’s a saying in Yoga Nidra, and in meditation in general, that the mind is like the ocean. Well, you can’t actually calm the ocean. You may be able to build a wall and create a nice, small, calm area, but the ocean is just too large to calm the entire thing. And it’s similar to the mind because the mind is going to wander and you shouldn’t really punish yourself for that because that’s normal. That’s what keeps us alive. But when some people start meditating, whether it’s using an app or otherwise, they can become so frustrated they even abandon it because they think they’re doing it wrong and they don’t have the attention or the concentration they want. Whereas in Yoga Nidra, it really doesn’t matter if your mind wanders. It will come back eventually. It’s even okay if you fall asleep, because your subconscious mind is still listening.
All that makes sense. I’ve definitely encountered people who are worried about being able to clear their minds.
Shay: Absolutely. And again, from a Yoga Nidra standpoint, there’s really no way to do it wrong. Even if you didn’t relax the entire time, and you were just fully awake and frustrated, well, that’s part of the practice. And it is a practice just like anything else, you know. Even being stressed out is a practice. You didn’t get all that stress overnight, you practiced building it and it will be a practice to reduce it. Fortunately most people are able to relax right away in Yoga Nidra, at least to some extent, usually a meaningful one. There are some people that are so high-strung they just can’t relax enough, but I only see a handful of them in a whole year. And you know what, even if you only relaxed for 10 minutes out of a 45-minute session, even if they only relaxed for 5 minutes, if they have so much anxiety that they really can’t sit still then they’re the people that need it the most, honestly. And that 5 minutes will turn to 7 minutes, which will turn into 10 minutes, and eventually they’ll get to a place where they can actually relax for a session.
Okay. And for those of us that don’t know, can you tell us a little more about the logistics of Yoga Nidra? Like how active it is, are you alone or in a group, etc.?
Shay: Yoga Nidra is not active. It’s not like Yoga at all in that respect. You just lie down and get comfortable and listen to me talk, basically. You can do it in a group setting if you’re comfortable and if not, you can do it individually… or you could start individually and then grow into a group or vice versa, whatever works for you. It could be a short session just to scratch the surface or it could be longer to really dig in there and get it. It can be done lying down or seated or in a bed. It can be done first thing in the morning or early in the evening after work. It really can be custom-built to make the person comfortable and help them get the most effectiveness out of it.
To celebrate National Relaxation Day, we’re offering private Yoga Nidra sessions for 20% off from now until the end of August. Just call (720)222-0550 to schedule your session with Shay. Private group sessions are also available.