My Favorite Relaxation Technique To Find Calm In Chaos
It’s more important now than ever to find ways to stay grounded and connected while the world changes all around us. One way to do that is to connect more deeply to your body.
No matter what is happening in the environment, your body can always be an anchor to keep your mind in the present and your feet on the ground. Your body moves you, nourishes you, and gives you a home. It can also be a safe haven when things are just too much.
An Ancient Technique For The Modern World
By practicing this simple relaxation technique, you can gently remind your body to let go of tension and just be here, in the present moment.
This technique is known as Yoga Nidra. It’s often described as “sleeping while awake”, or putting the body into a sleep-like state while the mind is still alert. According to yoga philosophy, with repeated practice you can train the body to “surf” between the states of wakefulness and sleep, inducing a deep state of relaxation and calm.
While Yoga Nidra is purportedly an ancient technique, it is highly relevant today. Because the world outside is highly changeable and unpredictable, it’s a beautiful gift to yourself to create a place within that you can always come home to.
Learning To Let Go
While meditation can often be challenging because the mind has nothing to do, Yoga Nidra is different because it gives the mind a “job”. By focusing first on the body, the mind can settle and go into a deeper state of relaxation.
Many of us feel challenged to fully let go, even during a massage, yoga class, or as you drift off to sleep at night. Our thoughts can keep us focused on the future or the past, causing our nervous system to remain alert.
When you practice Yoga Nidra, the physical relaxation of the body is the first step in truly letting go of our need to focus on anything other than the present moment.
Through Yoga Nidra, we can give ourselves permission to just be. This means you don’t have to control, you don’t have to strive, you don’t have to fix or accomplish, you can simply exist. Even if it’s only for a little while.
How To Practice Yoga Nidra
The best way to introduce yourself to Yoga Nidra is to follow along with an audio or YouTube recording. There are a lot of online options that are free, and you can search around to find one that suits you best. There are also several options in other languages.
Once you’ve practiced a few times and can remember the sequence, you can guide yourself through from start to finish.
Another option is to purchase a Yoga Nidra book, which often have several versions of Yoga Nidra scripts that you can record yourself reading. It can be especially helpful to listen to your own voice, as eventually this will train you to lead yourself through the exercise without any recording at all.
If you want to get started right away, I’ve included simplified instructions below. You can use these instructions to record yourself or ask a friend to read them to you. This is a great way to share your relaxation practice with your community.
Start by lying on the floor with a blanket or thin cushion behind the head. Open the feet slightly wider than hips distance apart. Bring the palms of the hands six inches from the side of the body, facing up. Allow yourself to completely relax, sinking deeply into the floor.
Soften the mind
Allow yourself to press pause on your mental stream. As thoughts arise, as they always do, imagine them floating away in a bubble. No need to linger with them. There is nothing to do now, there is nothing to remember, just this time to let go.
Set an intention
Decide what you want to get out of your Yoga Nidra. This can be something like, “I am calm, peaceful, and steady.” Repeat this intention to yourself three times.
Watch the breath
Begin shifting the attention to the breath, simply watching the breath rise and fall in the belly. Let it be natural. No need to control it. Feel the body relax more deeply with every exhale. Do this for a few rounds.
Focus on the body
Now you can begin to focus the attention on the right side of the body. Bring the attention from body part to body part, allowing the mind to jump from one body part to the next without lingering. Let each body part relax as you focus on it.
Start with the right thumb, second finger, third finger, fourth finger, fifth finger. Palm of the hand, back of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, chest, side waist, hip, buttock, top of thigh, back of thigh, knee cap, back of knee, shin, calf, ankle, heel, ball of foot, top of foot, big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe.
Repeat on the left side
You can do steps 4 and 5 as many times as you’d like to until you feel relaxed. When you’re ready, reverse the muscle relaxation from the right toes to the right fingers, then the left toes to the left fingers, moving up the body this time.
Bring in visuals
As you inhale, begin to imagine a stream of gold light entering the body from the top of the head, streaming through the body all the way down and out the feet. As you exhale, imagine a stream of gold light entering the body from the feet all the way up the body and out of the head.
Return to the senses
Begin to bring the attention back to your body. Allow the mind to focus on the sounds in the room around you, and then bring your attention to sounds beyond the room. Maybe you hear birds chirping or cars passing.
Taking your time, begin to wiggle the fingers and toes. Once you feel ready, roll over to your right side. Press the hands into the floor, and bring yourself to sitting.
Your Yoga Nidra is now complete!
It can sometimes be difficult to settle into practicing Yoga Nidra, so it can be helpful to do physical exercise before you start to help wind down the nervous system.
As you prepare, make sure you give yourself permission to experience the sweetness and juiciness that a practice like this has to offer. Turn off your alerts, your phone, and limit any input from external sources. Treat yourself as if you were a mother putting a baby to sleep.
And if you fall asleep, don’t sweat it! It’s common to fall asleep when you first begin practicing Yoga Nidra. If you do, it most likely means that you need some extra rest. The whole point is to give your body and your mind what it needs to be more resilient, calm, and ready to face the world.
If sleep is what does it, by all means go for it! If you notice you do fall asleep often during Yoga Nidra, it might be useful to practice before bed or to set a timer so you don’t sleep through anything important.
By practicing Yoga Nidra regularly, you are training your mind and your body to relax more or less on cue. This is a valuable resource in a time when stressful events are commonplace.
No matter what is happening around us, the body is always here to keep us grounded. It helps keep us connected to ourselves and to the simple but extraordinary gift of being alive.