This month’s book club pick is much different from last month’s pick, Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin. Copies of that particular epic fantasy are probably flying off shelves rather faster now that the HBO tv series based on it, “The House of the Dragon” has premiered. While I love tucking into my favourite corner of the couch and enjoying a binge of a prestige drama like “The House of the Dragon”, sometimes a more deeply penetrating relaxation is called for than just a night in front of the TV.
This past year and a half has been a busy one for me. I moved to a new community with my family, and began a new job, all while managing a full plate of freelancing commitments. After a major personal upheaval, I found it necessary to cut back my commitments and social life to focus on taking better care of myself. To this end, I turned to practices like meditation, Reiki, and Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra means, in Sanskrit, “the Yoga of sleep”. Performed in Yoga’s final resting pose Savasana, to lay in Yoga Nidra is actually to lay in a meditative state between sleep and wakefulness that encourages physical, mental, emotional, and I daresay spiritual rejuvenation. Tracee Stanley’s book Radiant Rest is the first I have read on this branch of Yoga, which is not quite as well known as hatha yoga and its offshoots.
Stanley’s book is very lyrical and poetic, but heartfelt and deeply researched. It is a book whose tone is matched perfectly to the demands of the modern Yoga community, which is grappling with issues like how to utilize Yoga’s healing benefits to address the generational traumas of social injustice, how to separate the work of past teachers with the scars left by their abuses, and how to adjust yoga studio procedure to create safe spaces for the traumatized. Stanley deftly touches on all of these subjects as she presents her system of Yoga Nidra
Beginning A Yoga Nidra Practice
One of the first lessons the book gives is how to set up a ‘Yoga Nidra nest’, a practice space consisting of a Yoga mat and supportive accessories like pillows, blankets, and a bolster. The beautiful, detailed illustrations in this segment were very helpful. I have practiced restorative Yoga before, and to me the difference between that and Yoga Nidra is the intention: Yoga Nidra’s aim is to reach a certain state of mind, which differs from restorative Yoga’s more bodycentric scope.
Once you’ve set up your Yoga Nidra nest, Stanley introduces some preliminary sequences designed to prepare you to relax your body and mind. When I did a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training program in 2016-17, I learned a similar practice referred to as progressive muscle relaxation. I’ve seen some sources teaching guided progressive muscle relaxation on its own as Yoga Nidra, but the beauty of Stanley’s work is that she goes beyond that. Once the reader has set up a Yoga Nidra space and practiced some preliminary practices, the rest of the book is devoted to five Yoga Nidra practices designed by Stanley that have deep roots in ancient, esoteric Yoga practice.
Each practice recommends warming up with at least one or two listed hatha yoga asanas, and a pranayama practice. There is also a mantra and sankalpa for each practice.
While mantras are probably familiar to most Yoga practitioners at this point, sankalpas are a feature of Yoga Nidra. In Stanley’s system, they are phrases taken from Yogic scripture and employed as intentions to begin practice with and return to as consciousness shifts.
The full script of each of the six practices is given in full in the book, but 1-5 are also available as recordings read by Stanley on Shambhala publications Soundcloud page.
I’ve practiced hatha Yoga on and off since childhood, and restorative and deep relaxation practices in the past. However, Yoga Nidra, especially in Stanley’s hands, isn’t just a tool to physically relax but to allow one’s mind to shed the layers of concerns and illusions we unknowingly carry and embody primal, simple truth. For me, that meant looking at some harsh realities about a situation I was in at the time. Waking up from that practice began a process of liberation and growth. Freedom requires diligence, and growth can be painful. But the truth, itself, is the guiding light of the path forward.
I found it easiest to practice along with the recordings. While the goal of Yoga Nidra is actually to stay aware while in a near sleep-like state, I admit that I commonly fall asleep during practice! I don’t judge myself too harshly for it, because the way I see it sleep happens when the body needs it most. Waking up from a deep sleep can be transformative all on its own. All in all, Yoga Nidra, and Radiant Rest were there for me when I direly needed the healing they provide.
I recommend this book to anyone curious about Yoga Nidra! Stanley’s book offers a comprehensive look at Yoga Nidra’s history and the spiritual traditions behind it, as well as practical tips and a compassionate guiding voice for beginning it as a practice.
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