Retreating to the river within the woods isn’t the only thing that we will be doing on the weekend of May 2nd. Our last blog discussed our plans for daily forest bathing and this blog will unveil our plans for doing a nidra on the daily! I started the research for this blog by looking up the origins of the words treat and retreat and here’s what I found (which is perfect!):

One definition of treat is: to give medical care or attention to; try to heal or cure. And a second is: an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure. So beautiful…The definition of the word retreat only builds on this…Retreat can be defined as a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble. Or as a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax. And finally, as a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation.

Well there who doesn’t want some to all of that! So how do you like me now? And if you haven’t ever heard of yoga nidra and/or practiced it before read on…by the time you are done you’ll know why you want to practice it (especially in the context of a retreat)! 

I know, in my own body, that yoga nidra helps me feel integrated, it helps me to bring together and nurture all the parts of myself. Like so many things it works best when practiced daily (which we will do on retreat), and happily it doesn’t have to be for long but what is it that you actually do?

In most nidras you are taken through a 30-to-45-minute meditation while lying motionless on your back, in savasana (corpse) pose. During the practice, you invite your body to go blissfully to sleep, while your mind stays awake. You slip into a profoundly restful state where you are gently lowered into the depths of your being — starting with your physical body and moving gently into your unchanging cosmic core. There are some amazing benefits to this “passive” practice.

  • Yoga nidra is also known as dynamic sleep and it prompts the body to relax deeply while the mind remains inwardly alert. One 30-minute practice of yoga nidra equals approximately two hours of deep sleep.
  • It works by gently guiding you through four main stages of brain wave activity – beta, alpha, theta, and delta. The goal is to finally achieve a “hypnagogic state” — the state between wakefulness and sleep.
  • Studies indicate that yoga nidra helps to stabilize blood sugar levels; alleviate PMS symptoms, depression, and anxiety; and combat PTSD.

And here’s one of the more powerful aspects of the practice…Along the way, on two occasions, you are asked to silently repeat your “sankalpa.” The sankalpa is a positive affirmation spoken in the present tense. Once planted into the fertile soil of your relaxed and receptive subconscious, this seed of transformation can blossom in amazing ways, helping to facilitate deep healing and positive change.

And given that our “work” if you want to call it that while on retreat is to relax into things exactly as they are…there will be nothing to be achieved or list of shit to get done…yoga nidra fits right in…As it is not your stereotypical yoga of achievement. You will not be asked to improve your alignment, open your chest, perfect your stance, or go deeper into a pose. Instead, you will be asked to accept yourself exactly as you are. And to value that, pay attention to that, and honor that. The practice provides the body and the soul with a rare chance to be treated with the tenderness and attentiveness that they so deeply crave, so that they may be able to heal at their own pace, and on their own terms.

For those who spend a lot of time in front of computers and on devices, the practice can be especially valuable. Being in cyberspace exaggerates our often compulsive tendency toward distraction and disassociation. Yoga Nidra lands us squarely back into our bodies — our first and most vial connection not only to the natural world, but to our hearts, our souls, our wounds, our joys, our selves.

As my (I don’t “own” her, I just study with her) yoga nidra teacher Tanis Fishman says, “You do not go around the body to get to the soul, you go through it.” Yoga Nidra provides that way back in.

And if you are starting to think, “Hey this retreat thing is starting to sound pretty juicy” (you’re right about that)…then you might want to start thinking about choosing a sankalpa…What? Choosing a sankalpa? What the hell is that? Well, it’s the only piece of “homework” that you have to do before practicing yoga nidra. A sankalpa is the statement of affirmation that you will be asked to silently repeat at two different stages in the practice.

Your sankalpa is like a seed that gets planted when the subconscious is receptive and open, as it is during nidra practice. Repeating the sankalpa helps to realign core beliefs or heal old hurts or unwanted negative patterns that you are just simply OVER…the things that may be limiting your potential for creativity, fulfillment, and vitality.

The statement is always spoken in the present tense and is always an “I am” statement. Examples are “I am valued,” “I am safe,” “I am powerful,” or “I am free.” When silently repeating your sankalpa, you will want to do so with complete faith and the strong belief that the statement is already true.

When choosing a sankalpa, try to choose a statement, which will free you from the constraints you now feel in your life. Try not to work too hard at figuring it out. Get quiet and see what comes. Our inner voice is often able to make a leap into truths that our conscious minds can’t grasp.

The specifics of your sankalpa may evolve over time and it’s fine to change your sankalpa between nidra sessions. But don’t change or try to figure out a sankalpa during practice. Make a commitment to a sankalpa before practice, and stick with it.

You can’t really go wrong. This is not about perfection, it’s about initiating the process, and trusting where it takes you. And so, might I suggest that you sign up now as space is limited? I just did…