Understanding the Science of Yoga Nidra Continued…

This blog post is a continuation from last week. In this post, I briefly outline the last three koshas that are explored in yoga nidra. I have also listed some of the benefits of this practice.

The third sheath is referred to as the manomaya kosha and is reflective of our cognition and emotional functioning. Yoga nidra stimulates the manomaya kosha in a variety of different ways. Some suggestions are to instruct the listener to count backwards with the breath or sense into feelings and emotions using polar opposites ie. reflecting on feelings of sadness and then joy. The manomaya kosha can be one of the more challenging sheaths to engage in yoga nidra. The benefits of working with this kosha are changing powerful cognitive and emotional patterns (samskaras) which can keep people stuck in negative behavioral patterns.
The fourth sheath is referred to as the Vijnanamaya kosha and is represented by our thoughts and beliefs. Yoga Nidra works with this sheath by using imagery, self-inquiry, and affirms new positive beliefs through the use of our sankalpa. Yoga nidra practices may assist in activating this energy field by challenging old beliefs and supporting evolution through creating new beliefs and thought patterns that support evolution and growth.
The fifth sheath is referred to as the anandamaya kosha. This is our most subtle energy layer. The goal of yoga nidra is to unite with this kosha and to experience pure bliss. The anandamaya kosha is what connects us to our heart center and is experienced through feelings of love, joy, bliss and unification with everyone around us.
Why practice Yoga Nidra?
• lowers levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
• lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels
• activates parasympathetic nervous system
• inducing relaxation response
• Calms the mind and deepens states of mediation
• Opens the heart and cultivates compassion to self and others
• activates healing energy and increases immune system
• improves sleep
• improves mental clarity
• strengthen and balance the endocrine system

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Understanding the Science Behind Yoga Nidra

As a Canadian yoga teacher, it is often difficult to convince my students that a large part of their practice should be laying in Shavasana. In a society which has such a strong emphasis on physical fitness, students often don’t see the value in working with the more subtle bodies of energy such as our breathe, our mind and our heart. Although I am faced with initial resistance, I have witnessed profound effects from offering this age old practice to the people that I work with. I have seen individuals thrive by teaching themselves to slow down and tune in.
Yoga nidra is a practice derived from the tantras which teaches individuals to consciously move into deep relaxation. One goal of this practice is to remain mentally alert while the body is asleep. Often people view relaxing as watching television, playing video games, or other activities where the mind is stimulated and the body is activated. Even sleep is not always “relaxing” as many of us grind our teeth and wake up with soreness from tensing out muscles throughout the night. Yoga nidra uses the conscious mind to help our bodies achieve an ultimate state of relaxation. In this state the body can move into the parasympathetic nervous system; restoring, healing and rejuvenating itself. Yoga nidra has many benefits which vary from person to person. This technique brings people into balance by offering them more or less of a specific quality. For example, someone with chronic fatigue may feel energized by a daily practice of yoga nidra where another person may use yoga nidra to calm feelings of anxiety or hyperactivity.
Each yoga nidra practice begins with stating your personal Sankalpa. This can be translated from Sanskrit as your intention or resolve. Your Sankalpa is a statement constructed of positive words in present tense which identifies your deepest heart’s desire. An example of a Sankalpa is “I am in optimal health” or “I am full of joy”. We also repeat our Sankalpa at the end of a yoga nidra because in this state of consciousness are minds are increasingly open to change and growth.
The five Koshas are often spoken about in yoga and refer to the five energy sheaths that can be identified and which make up an individual. In Yoga Nidra, we bring awareness to these layers to help us move deeper and deeper and eventually into the more subtle layers of our existence. One of the goals of yoga nidra is to connect with your anandamaya kosha which is the most subtle sheath, referred to affectionately as our divine being our inner truth. By connecting to this level of existence we are joined with our natural state of bliss.
The first sheath in the kosha model is the annamaya kosha. This layer is often the easiest to identify with and refers to the earth elements, or physical body. In yoga nidra we use progressive relaxation (focusing on specific parts of the physical body) to bring our awareness into the physical body. We always start with the right hand thumb for a few reasons. First of all, we believe that by creating patterns, students will begin to learn how to move deeper and quicker into a state of deep relaxation. Additionally, our hands have many nerve endings which make it easier to feel sensations.
The second sheath is the Pranamaya Kosha. This is the sheath of breath and energy. In Yoga Nidra, we guide students to focus on their breath and become aware of the individual rhythms of breathe. Deep breathing and the Yogic three-part-breath can be used to further move students into a state of deep relaxation by increasing the amount of blood flow and oxygen into the body. Working with the breath additionally promotes deep states of relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
The last three sheaths of yoga nidra are very subtle and are referred to as the manomaya kosha, the Vijnanamaya kosha and the anandamaya kosha. I will write another post on these sheaths in the next couple of weeks. I hope this helps all of you to gain a bit more of an understanding around Yoga Nidra and the benefits of the practise.
I will be offering a workshop at The Yoga Passion on December 9, 2011 which will teach people how to create their own yoga nidras as well as how to continue to explore the science behind this practise. Thank-you all for reading my blog. I am honoured to share my wisdom with all of you!

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Offering Yoga Therapy in a Group Setting

I am happy to announce that I will be co-teaching an 8 week Yoga Therapy session, beginning October 12, 2011 at Yoga Passion in Calgary. I will be facilitating this course with Anitra Apps, who is a very talented Yoga Therapist. This is going to be an amazing experience and one that I have been waiting to offer for a long time. There are many individuals that I work with who would benefit from a group setting for therapeutic yoga. If you are interested in registering, please contact Yoga Passion ASAP!

#23, 8 Weston Dr. S.W.
Calgary, AB T3H 5P2
Phone: (403) 441-0900

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Parent Child Yoga

Offering yoga for parents and their children has been a very rewarding experience for myself as a Yoga Therapist and Counsellor. It is amazing to observe the deep bond between a child and their parent. Through partner poses, discussions, and activities, children and parents are able to connect with one another and strengthen the deep attachment they share. One of my favorite activities to do with parents and children is the mirroring game. It is amazing to watch participants deeply focus on their partner and connect with one another through movement and breathe. In our fast pace life, we rarely get the opportunity to truly focus our attention on our family members. I have been facilitating yoga for parents and children aged 6-16 for the past 3 years at the Shawnessy YMCA and would encourage other yoga teachers and therapists to create this opportunity for families in their community.

Activity – Sit back to back with your child and first focus on your own breath. Than try to focus on the breath of your partner. After a couple of minutes, try to focus on the single breath that connects both of you together.

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Surfing the Emotional Wave

So often we let ourselves be completely taken over by emotion. Or, maybe we deny ourselves to truly be with our emotions. Yoga has taught me a powerful truth, which has allowed me to be able to sit with my emotions, rather than react to them.

1) Breath Deeply. When we feel an intense emotion such as loss, anger, or sadness, it may be helpful to focus our awareness on our breath. Allow our breath to create space in places that may be tight and restricted, such as our diaphragm or heart. By focusing on our breath, we begin to feel into the subtle pranic energy running through us. Focusing on prana helps us to slow down. Diaphragmatic breathing moves us into the parasympathetic nervous system and helps us to move away from fight or flight responses.
2) Sukka is the next stage of surfing the emotional wave. Sukkha is the Sanskrit word for opening and expansion. By allowing ourselves to relax and to feel into different sensations in the body, we move more deeply into a state of acceptance and equanimity. When we experience an intense emotion, often our bodies becomes tense, and move into the sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight or flight response. Relaxation helps us to cultivate new patterns and allows us to be present with our emotions. The breath will help us bring expansion into areas of restriction. By creating space in the body, we in turn create space in the mind.
3)Witness your experience. Instead of remaining in the head and thinking about the situation, focus on the feelings. Richard Miller once shared with me that the greatest journey we will ever make in life is the 10 inches from our head to our heart. Allow yourself to drop into your body and feel the sensations that are present. Instead of attaching to thoughts and sensations, watch them as though you are looking into the situation from the outside.
4) Allow and Accept. This is the most important step and one that will lead us into new and more effective ways to handle our emotions. Accept this process and our emotions and instead of trying to control it, allow it to happen gracefully. We don’t need to be o.k with the situation, just allow ourselves to accept how the emotions feel in our bodies.

Each time I surf the wave of emotion, I find it easier to stand up and be with my feelings. And each time I ride the wave, the wake seems to roll in softer and softer with every wave that follows. What you resist persists, so try something new and create new patterns for healing and evolving. To truly be with yourself, is to bring awareness and accept what you find. Welcome everything in and notice how this feels in your heart.

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Working with Women and Children who have experienced Domestic Violence

I have recently accepted a position at a women’s shelter as a Child and Parent Therapist. I am so blessed to work with an agency that understands and values the healing properties of yoga. Additional to my work as a counsellor, I have been offering Yoga Therapy to women and children who currently reside in the shelter.

Specifically, I have been working with mother’s and toddlers to enhance attachment, work through past trauma and create a sense of safety and healing within the relationship. The children have responded positively to Yoga Therapy and many children have reported feeling closer with their mothers after their involvement with the program. To bring laughter and lightness to these children who have experienced so much pain is an experience I will never forget.

I have also been offering restorative yoga to the women residing in the shelter. Restorative yoga is a profound healing practice. I have seen how this practice has helped women to heal from past traumas and to begin to open their hearts up once again. Women have reported feeling reconnected with their bodies. Often people become detached from their physical bodies after experiencing trauma or abuse. It has been amazing to watch these women reclaim themselves and accept crisis as an opportunity for growth.

I have been so touched by my work at the women’s shelter and would encourage yoga teachers to connect with shelters in their area to work with these amazing women and children. I have never worked with a more grateful and powerful group of people.

My goal for the future is to implement programs for women and children who have transitioned out of the shelter as well as offering yoga therapy to men who are involved in domestic violence situations.

Namaste.

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Yoga Nidra

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I am pleased to inform all of you that I have completed my first Yoga Nidra cd. This cd will help my students incorporate deep relaxation into their home practice. Yoga Nidra produces profound benefits and is a practice that … Continue reading

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