Does consciousness require brain activity? How can one sleep or rest consciously? How can yoga nidra, known as yogic sleep, offer support on a spiritual, psychological and biological level? In contemplative sleep science, there is an opportunity to map the mind. By doing this we can take known information about the psychological, neurological, physiological and biological changes observed in the scholarly literature regarding yogic sleep applicable to different aspects of wellbeing. This can assist in a more holistic model for gathering and processing data in future investigations and interventions. Thus, supporting the pursuit of attaining wellness through modalities such as yoga nidra for wellness of the whole being.
According to Parker et al (2013), yoga nidra is not merely relaxation, there are physiological markers differentiating this method from other relaxation modalities. As stated by Moszeik et al (2020), yoga nidra technique was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in 1976 based on ancient yogic principles. According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1998) as cited in Parker et al (2013), yoga nidra is conscious deep sleep associated with delta waves and is deemed a super conscious meditative state called “turiya” in Sanskrit (p.14). The meditative state of turiya showed an absence of EEG brain activity, which reinforces the goal of yoga as “citta-vritti-nirodha”, translated as cessation of mental activity (Parker et al, 2014). Parker et al (2014) differentiates yoga nidra from relaxation, claiming yoga nidra to exhibit delta brain waves while relaxation alone produces alpha and theta brain waves. True yoga nidra is a conscious and deep awareness of being, which does not involve any thoughts and is conscious entry into non-REM sleep, as stated by Parker et al (2013). During this practice, one has recall and conscious awareness of their surroundings and produce alpha waves as a precursor to entering yoga nidra, which then presents by delta waves (Parker et al, 2013).
The article (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017) claimed yoga nidra involves, “moving into the inner peace of the witness self at the time of sleep or rest” (p.46). Further described in (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017), the deepest level of consciousness is believed to be “dharma mega samadhi”, which is attained in true yoga nidra practice. This practice allows the practitioner to experience a free flow of knowledge while having conscious awareness in deep sleep (p.46). According to (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017), there are four meditative states in yogic practice: waking, dreaming, deep sleep and beyond with kundalini Shakti being the highest awareness. Yoga in the waking state is conscious and attentive, having ability to discern limitations of time and space. Wakefulness is having moment-to-moment mindfulness without clinging or desiring material items. According to this philosophy, individual awareness is the witness in the waking state, which is fully aware of impermanence (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017).
Yoga in the dreaming state is described as conscious sleep, permitting access to the subtle elements, termed tanmantras in Sanskrit, meaning the qualities involved in the senses of sound, touch, sight, taste and smell (“Yoga in each of the four states”, 2017). As stated in (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017), “to control the mind in all states of consciousness, one must harness and discipline the senses and bring awareness into a state of uninterrupted concentration” (p.45). According to (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017), two aspects of yoga in dreaming are (1) becoming conscious in the dream state, meaning detached from the mind and body by practicing witnessing consciousness and (2) dreaming spiritual aspirations, which stimulate imagination such as in Bhakti or devotional yoga. There are two levels of yoga in deep sleep, which is characterized by formless awareness, emptiness, termed sunyata in Sanskrit, a space in which there is nothing tangible to be perceived. The first level of yoga in deep sleep (1) begins in waking state, by practicing pratyahara (sense withdrawal) by disengaging senses of external world and (2) being aware during deep sleep, beyond the mind, which (“Yoga in each of the four states,” 2017) claimed is yoga nidra truly. Kumar (2008) described yoga nidra as an altered state of consciousness. Specifically, differentiating yoga nidra as not being asleep or awake while also not in concentration or hypnosis.
Singh (2010) described yoga nidra as a process in which the intellectual mind dissolves while the unconscious and subconscious mind blend into one and the concept of time and space is lost. Singh (2010) claimed rotating awareness through the body in yoga nidra technique brings about psychological effects, balancing and bringing mind-body-spirit into equilibrium for an overall calming and rejuvenating experience.
Bali (2012) stated, yoga nidra is a good complementary modality in cases, which traditional psychotherapy is not adequate. Bali (2012) also indicated that yoga nidra has propensity to positively impact those suffering from anxiety. Bali (2012) described the mechanism of yoga nidra as a “profound psycho-physiological relaxation and metabolic rest” (p.24). Hoye & Reddy (2016) claimed yoga nidra is similar to hypnosis with biological markers being associated with dreamless sleep, termed “manas”, a phase of non-activity (p.118). This assertion is based on EEG brainwave readings, which showed delta brainwaves. According to Hoye & Reddy (2016), yoga nidra is finding the space between two forms of consciousness: waking (jagrata) and savanna (dream).
Conscious sleep and contemplative sleep science
Tart (1975) wrote that consciousness may be understood as a complex process, defined as “awareness modulated by the mind” (p.29). Thompson (2015) prompts the question regarding consciousness and if it continues in deep sleep, why could it be that sometimes individuals have trouble remembering what happens while they are asleep? Thompson (2015) highlights the perspective of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism indicating that the deepest aspects of consciousness,
which are unfamiliar to normal waking consciousness are not accessible without plenty of meditation training. Thompson (2015) pointed out, the neuroscientific community mostly operates under the assumption that consciousness dwindles or stops altogether when entering deep sleep. This idea is based on the comparison between waking vs. slow-wave sleep consciousness (Thompson, 2015).
Many sleep scientists correlate the inability to recall dreams or thoughts prior to waking up with the presumed absence of consciousness (Thompson, 2015, p.252). However, according to Thompson (2015), basically all cortical neurons wax and wane from active to inactive state. So what is the difference between the waking brain and the sleeping brain? According to Thompson (2015), the waking brain is active and operates by communication via many interconnected regions of the brain, recognizing patterns in the big picture. While the deep sleep brain, as Thompson (2015) claims, typically responds with quick or short-lived activity that is less broad and more localized. During slow-wave sleep there is a loss of information and communication available for integration in the brain (Thompson, 2015).
Thompson (2015) differentiates phenomenal vs access consciousness in which phenomenally conscious relates to a state of felt awareness, such as in dreaming. Access consciousness is the state in which the pieces of awareness become accessible cognitively, allowing one to grasp and apply in thinking processes. Thompson (2015) stated, “yoga and Vedanta, as well as Tibetan Buddhism, also say that deep sleep consciousness can become cognitively accessible through meditative mental training” (p.257). Yogic philosophy adheres to the understanding that cognition and memory formation continues during deep sleep, while western sleep science often disagrees with this notion (p.257). In yogic philosophy, deep sleep is the place in which memories are formed from the cumulative impressions or experiences one has. An event called active memory consolidation occurs during slow-wave sleep state, which coincides with the yogic system (Thompson, 2015).
In yoga nidra or sleep yoga, Thompson (2015) describes the moment as one is falling asleep as the most important moment in order to become illumined or realized in clear awareness. The space that has been mentioned in yoga nidra is described as a voidness or nothingness, as in there are no sensory inputs or tangible objects to perceive. Is it within that space that healing occurs? Gersten (1978) stated it very eloquently when he wrote, “the practitioner of yoga nidra becomes his own psychotherapist, recognizing and systematically alleviating his own personal problems and interpersonal difficulties” (p.598).
Psychoneurophysiology of yoga nidra
Schmidt & Walach (2014) stated, “meditative experiences and mindfulness are rooted not only in psychology, but in neuroscience and neurobiology as well”, concluding that meditation can impede stress at the “mental, physiological and molecular level” (pp.165-166). Ferreira-Vorkapic et al (2018) conducted a three month study with 60 college professors aged 30-55 years. The study participants were placed in one of three groups: 20 in yoga nidra, 20 in seated meditation and 20 in the control group. Psychological aspects observed were anxiety, depression, and stress (Ferreira-Vorkapic et al (2018). According to Ferreira-Vorkapic et al (2018), the yoga nidra intervention was effective at decreasing anxiety at a greater level than the other two groups. Both the meditation and yoga nidra groups were found to have better results overall compared to the control group. Exclusions were anyone with prior meditation experience, chronic diseases such as chronic pulmonary disease. However, those taking pharmaceuticals for diabetes, hypertension or heart disease were allowed to participate (Ferreira-Vorkapic et al, 2018). Ferreira-Vorkapic et al (2018) claim that of all the techniques for deep relaxation, yoga nidra is superior for both physical and mental health as well as preparing the mind for “yogic discipline” (p.220).
Murata et al (2004) stated that meditation or having a meditative state is one in which there is deep relaxation with attention or alertness. Lou et al (1999) compared meditation to normal resting consciousness in nine adults with PET scan, measuring cerebral blood flow (CBF). Participants in this study were yoga teachers aged 23-41 years with at least five years of experience. This study helped map out different states of consciousness based upon neural
connectivity. According to Lou et al (1999), differential activity were found in the following brain areas: torso-lateral, orbital frontal cortex, anterior cingulate gyri, left temporal gyri, left inferior parietal lobule, striata and thalamic regions, pons and cerebellar regions. The neural activity identified in each state of consciousness assisted in establishing and understanding of neural networks and mechanisms in the field of consciousness studies (Lou et al, 1999). Using yoga nidra as a tool for deep meditation allows the participant to act as a “neutral observer” in which the mind withdraws from wanting to act and therefore, has no emotional attachment to desires or outcomes (Lou et al, 1999, p.99).
Lou et al (1999) compared global and regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) to spectral analysis of EEG, followed by analysis of subjective experience in both resting and meditative states, specifically in yoga nidra. Two hours before the PET scan, the participants practiced a technique called Tantric Kriya yoga. This method is described as practicing a detached-mind or a mind free from thoughts and worries in order to relax the mind. This study by Lou et al (1999) confirmed that the global and regional CBF could be quantified and reproduced while meditating. The meditative state showed the hippocampus and posterior sensory systems that are stimulated by using imagery rather than resting consciousness, which showed activity in the executive attention functional systems (Lou et al (1999).
Kjaer et al (2002) conducted a study analyzing the regulation of conscious states at the neurophysiological level with eight healthy males aged 31-50 years with 7-26 years of meditation experience. During meditation, Kjaer et al (2002) reported findings of increased EEG activity and imagery perception during meditation as well as dopaminergic tone in several areas of the brain, which regulates the system for conscious action. According to Kjaer (2002),
participants practicing yoga nidra reported vivid imagery and less attention focused on taking action. Kjaer et al (2002) suggest that conscious state meditation causes a “suppression of cortico-striatal glutametergic transmission” (p.265). This could account for the 65% increase in extracellular dopamine levels measured during this study as well as the decreased desire for action or preparing for action (Kjaer et al, 2002).
Kumar (2008) conducted a study on 80 college students in which they did yoga nidra for 30 minute sessions over a six month duration. Kumar (2008) found a decrease in stress levels of both male and female college students. Kumar (2008) suggested that yoga nidra assists in coping abilities of the practitioner, reducing stress and anxiety.
In a scholarly review by Bhargav et al (2021) regarding yoga, findings included reduction of cortisol levels by down regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) as well as a change in biomarkers of stress and neuroplasticity of the brain. Additionally, yoga was found to increase GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid), which increased mood and lowered anxiety (Bhargav et al, 2021). According to Bershadsky et al (2014) and Newham et al (2014) as cited in Bhargav et al (2021), yoga greatly benefited women with perinatal anxiety and depression. Bhargav et al (2021) mentioned the authors of a yoga study, which suggested the increased mood as well as increased feeling of interconnectedness and social fulfillment are due to the relationship between GABA, oxytocin and cortisol (Mehta & Gangadhar, 2019). Schmidt & Walach (2014) emphasize and support the neurobiological auto-regulatory mechanisms related to meditative states such as a rise in dopamine and melatonin levels while cortisol and norepinephrine become lower. According to Schmidt & Walach (2014), there are notable changes in structure and function in both grey and white matter of the brain, especially in areas responsible for attention, memory, interception, sensory processing and self/auto-regulation. This includes the areas of the brain responsible for managing emotions and stressors. See figure 1 below from Bhargav et al (2021) regarding the neurobiological effects and proposed mechanisms of action of yoga (p.165).
Moszeik et al (2020) conducted a large heterogenous study on the effectiveness of yoga nidra for stress, sleep and wellbeing. The delivery format was an 11 minute audio recording online of guided yoga nidra meditation. Moszeik et al (2020) used Structural Equation Model (SEM) to analyze data. No prior meditation experience was required in order to participate in the study. The hope for this large and diverse study led by Moszeik et al (2020) was for participants to indicate decreased stress, decreased negative affect, increased positive affect and life satisfaction (cognitive perception of wellbeing), better sleep quality and mindfulness. Moszeik et al (2020) found decreased stress, increased scores for well-being, mindfulness and sleep quality in 341 of the participants in the meditation and yoga nidra group based on comparison of pretest, post-test (30 days between) and six weeks following the intervention.
Yoga nidra is said to regulate hyperarousal, which was addressed by the measurement tool for negative affect (Moszeik et al, 2020). The implementation of this study was economical in the online format as well as time-saving (only 11 minute yoga nidra meditation) and therefore, is plausible to replicate and reach a large number of people. The present study defined consciousness as “awareness modulated by the mind” (p.104). Participants experienced two states of consciousness: (1) resting state with normal consciousness, including control of activity, (2) meditative state with imagery, including loss of conscious control. Lou et al (1999) suggested two states of consciousness rather than awareness, claiming that consciousness is not equal to attention/awareness. However, these two aspects complement one another and based upon the study findings, Lou et al (1999) conclude that the neurocircuitry provided patterns, laying the groundwork for differentiating resting consciousness from consciousness during meditation or yoga.
Neeraja & Naachimuthu (2022) conducted a study with 24 females ages 18-24 years in Kerala, India. These authors claim from their findings that short-term yoga nidra reduces stress, improves sleep quality and is considered a form of mindful meditation. The data was collected using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Participants did yoga nidra for 30 minutes per day for 21 days (3 weeks). Neeraja & Naachimuthu (2022) reported that there was a significant difference in scores for yoga nidra group when comparing pre and post test scores. Whereas, the control group was found to have no significant changes.
Mohi-Ud-Din & Pandey (2018) conducted a study on 40 drug addicts, analyzing pre and post participation in a yoga nidra intervention. The authors note significant changes observed from baseline. Personality data were collected using the NFO-Five Factor Inventory assessment tool. There were changes measured in all areas including: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Mohi-Ud-Din & Pandey (2018) stated the following reflection from their study, “by developing confidence, willpower, optimism, creativity and by clearing up the unconscious repression, one can change several aspects of one’s personality through the practice of yoga nidra” (p.760).
Markil et al (2012) conducted a study on heart rate variability (HRV) and yoga nidra. HRV is a measurable biomarker associated with stability of cardiac function. This measurement reveals balance or imbalance of the autonomic nervous system. Markil et al (2012) analyzed where there was a greater impact by doing yoga nidra alone or when combined with Hatha Yoga. This study included 15 women and 5 men aged 18-47 years. Both groups had significant changes in heart rate and HRV, therefore supporting that yoga helps regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is composed of the parasympathetic (PNS) rest and digest and the sympathetic (SNS) fight-or-flight systems of stress response (Markil et al, 2012).
According to Markil et al (2012), the heartbeat is regulated by the balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Heart rate variability (HRV) is measured by the intervals seen on the electrocardiogram (ECG). Markil et al (2012) elaborate further that increase parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) tone results in high HRV, which is good. While, increased sympathetic nervous system activity leads to lower HRV and thus, an electrically less stable cardiac system. This is of importance, according to Markil et al (2012) due to the increase in cardiovascular disease and death rates associated with low HRV and SNS chronic activity or overactivity. Relaxation and mind-body modalities have been studied and understood to increase Parasympathetic nervous system activity and therefore, have become an area of research interest when investigating techniques such as yoga nidra (Markil et al, 2012).
Hernández et al (2016) compared 23 meditators and 23 non-meditators in a type of yoga called Sajaha yoga meditation. Data was collected using Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging as well as Voxel-Based Morphometry. Hernández et al (2016) discovered that meditators had more grey matter, mostly on the right side, than the comparison group of non-meditators. These areas of the brain, according to Hernández et al (2016), are linked to the ability to stay focused, self-regulation, compassion and the somatosensory system. This is important because Grey Matter Volume (GMV) is necessary in the processes affecting mental wellbeing, behavior, cognition and perception (Hernández et al, 2016). An area for further investigation would be to compare this type of yoga meditation with yoga nidra to understand similarities and differences.
I have explored the origin, meaning, application and outcomes on the psychoneurobiological levels of yoga nidra practice in a variety of populations. Yoga nidra as a technique does seem to be unique in that it produces delta waves or slow-wave compared to other types of meditation or relaxation techniques. One example was the study by Hernández et al (2016) mentioned, in which Sahaja Yoga meditation was observed to produce alpha and theta waves, associated with deep relaxation, but not to the level that has been measurably recorded in yoga nidra studies (delta).
From this review of the literature, it seems plausible that consciousness during yoga nidra is fairly stable and controllable by the practitioner. While one does not fully fall asleep, it appears from the research reviewed that the yoga nidra practitioner can experience and reap the benefits of deep sleep on a multitude of body system functions. This is empowering to know of a technique that has been shown thus far to have favorable outcomes in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, spirituality, biology and physiology. The data on the brain changes during waking, rest and yoga nidra or yogic sleep are profound and of great interest to me personally, academically and professionally. I would like to become further informed in the expansive ways in which yoga nidra technique can be a tool to enhance wellness of the whole being in mind, body and spirit.
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Ferreira-Vorkapic, C., Borba-Pinheiro, C. J., Marchioro, M., & Santana, D. (2018). The Impact of Yoga Nidra and Seated Meditation on the Mental Health of College Professors. International journal of yoga, 11(3), 215–223. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_57_17
Gersten, D.J. (1978). Meditation as an adjunct to medical and psychiatric treatment. American journal of psychiatry, 135(5), 598-599.
Hernández, S. E., Suero, J., Barros, A., González-Mora, J. L., & Rubia, K. (2016). Increased Grey Matter Associated with Long-Term Sahaja Yoga Meditation: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study. PloS One, 11(3), e0150757. https://doi-org.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150757
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Yoga in Each of the Four States. (2017). Hinduism Today, 39(2), 44–46.
“Spend less, live more” was a slogan I recently saw related to an advertisement for a mega-chain super-store….the first thought to arrive in my mind was, at the expense of whom?
“The urge-to-separateness, or craving for independent and individualized existence, can manifest itself on all the levels of life, from the merely cellular and physiological, through instinctive to the fully conscious….it can be the urge of a part within an organism for an intensification of its own partial life as distinct from (and consequently at the expense of) the life of the organism as a whole….Let us consider first the suffering inflicted by living organisms on themselves and on other living organisms in the mere process of keeping alive…” - Huxley
As a society, we have become trapped in a perpetual pattern of consuming, which is driven by the need to fill a void. We have been conditioned to compartmentalize – an ambiance of separateness ensues. Possessions are subconsciously connected to power. Do we work jobs we hate in order to buy things we don't need to impress people who don't really matter? Our thought patterns have, in a way, been “trained” to flow a certain way, so as to not question much in order to be a conforming ‘well-behaved’ human of the world. After all, an agreeable mind is much less difficult to deal with, right?
It seems that at certain points a person may see no other way to survive other than abiding by what is socially acceptable as a means to traverse through life. What I mean by this is that one may feel a natural obligation to move through the motions of ‘normal’ human behavior as it functions best in the particular society in which they may reside – such as obtaining an education, establishing a form of stable income (career path), becoming a homeowner (supporting the economy) etc…. Because if you do not do this, what happens? Things may not flow as easily, one might say – met with resistance and a lack of resources.
Often, the most brilliant and creative ideas are held by those who have no financial means in order to transmit the idea – in fact, at times one may feel that the only thing between them and their dream is some cash flow. In this day and age, how is it exactly that one might ‘get ahead’? Many people work tirelessly to merely survive – eat, keep a roof over their head and breathe. What I am inquiring is that under said conditions, stress could potentially be rampant, which in turn may inhibit creativity – thriving of an individual. Therefore, is it possible to thrive when overwhelmed by merely trying to survive? And what impact does this have on populations experiencing this as a whole?
We know from science – the impact of stress on the human body – not only can overwhelming stress lead to serious mental and physical health problems, it can also disrupt your relationships at home, work, and school. There is a very long list of health outcomes related to body, mind and behavior, which have been correlated with chronic stress – diabetes, depression, anxiety, loss of libido, sleeping problems, quick to anger, headaches, substance abuse and hormonal disruptions such as increases in cortisol. How do we see this playing into the ‘sick care system’ health care model we see in America? For those who cannot afford health insurance for example even though they work full-time – waiting until the last moment possible to seek medical attention – usually at an emergency room or urgent care – as long as the model supports treatment instead of prevention we will always be upside down – because who ends up paying for those emergency visits? - Ultimately costing much more than preventative measures would have to begin with including education…
“For one minute, walk outside, stand there, in silence, look up at the sky, and contemplate how amazing life is” – said not very many single moms with 2-3 jobs and not a penny left at the end of the month or a full night’s sleep. Unfortunately, those without time, financial means or energy – more often than not – find it extremely difficult to mentally or physically seek pieces of life, which might bring fulfillment, joy or the ability to escape from the repetitive cycle they may be in. There is something tremendous to be said about doing a hobby vs. doing a hobby in which your survival depends upon it. Can one be enjoyed more than the other?
What I have found is, those who have experienced the most hardship in life often give the best advice – they emanate wisdom like light beams – that is if they chose to channel their energy in that way. Of course, some may choose to harbor an element of bitterness or cynicism, which is a misuse of the vital force and still – there is something to be learned from this reaction as well. There are plenty of people who have everything in the world, but are still miserable – and then plenty of people who have nothing and are extremely at peace. Is it then a matter of perspective and/or level of consciousness?
One thing that seems very clear to me is that, no matter the circumstance of life you might be in, you must find a way to make time, there’s that word again – a conscious effort to further oneself, to meditate, to move your body, to love yourself, to find connection, to breathe, to express gratitude, to think one thought at a time or none at all – even if only briefly each day – a way to find your center, to be grounded – even if the rest of your day is totally chaotic. It is inherent that we do this – in order to thrive and not merely survive as a robot on this rock orbiting through the universe.
This world may seem tough to maneuver through at times....especially when it's relating to other human beings. Like when some guy cuts you off in traffic or a cashier is rude or some person in your workplace who always seems to have an attitude with you - and you think, "who pissed in their cheerios?". For all we know, their furry friend or a relative could have just passed away or they could be facing tremendous stress related to home life, their finances, legal troubles, medical problems etc.....Overall, humans are innately "good" and desire to give and receive "love" and "compassion". You've seen a thousand examples - be it at the scene of an accident or a devastating event where there is suffering involved - humans have a natural instinct to "help" when they see another suffering - and it always re-instills our faith in humanity.
One very important fact, is that we need to meet people where they are at - in life, in this moment. Everyone is having a different human experience. It's like the saying, "put yourself in their shoes" - popular saying - not so popular to remember in the moment when someone has upset us with their behavior. So, it's really good to put this one in our back pocket and use it on a rainy day when someone has been offensive, abrasive etc. It sounds simple, but we often forget to do this and after an experience we get all wrapped up in - why did this happen? who do they think they are? - and really, it's wasted energy. That energy should be channeled into compassion. That's it. Take a step back from a given trying situation and just think compassionately for that other human or humans. Because we can sit around all day and guess why someone did this or that, but the truth is that we will never really know and frankly, we don't have any control over anything except how we CHOOSE to respond to any given situation life throws at us.
Maybe dealing with other people gets to be too much for some to handle. We live in a world where it is possible to have little to no contact with other people - which some choose to do - one can order anything imaginable from the internet - even groceries and have then delivered to your front door, without ever having to step foot out into the real world and interacting with other human beings. We have plastic relationships with people on social media sites - displaying our lives how we want them to be portrayed - disrupting actual human communication - stunting our developmental skills in the real world.
So, what do we have to do to change the way we process our encounters with other beings? We need to recondition our mind from the way it has been conditioned in our culture to be - reactive, jealous, angry, hateful, blaming, judgmental.....Our minds automatically go to a grandiose place in our minds, based on our own set of values and ideals about how humans should behave and why. But who are we? We are not them. In the big picture we are all one - however, here I am referring to the fact that we have no idea what or where that person comes from and what their upbringing was and what their belief system is in life - and ultimately, it doesn't matter because we should treat all people the same no matter what - with compassion - because we are ONE and because we understand that everyone is unique and has had a life full of experiences that have influenced them that we have absolutely no idea about. The answer is LOVE.
The only thing we truly have any sort of control over in the entire universe is our own SELF - and okay, sometimes even that, can be debatable ;) However, getting in touch with our Self, our true nature, our Atma is essential. Because once we know our true self - all the trivial things we have been worried about all our lives - melts away - life makes more sense - there is a sense of calm within the soul - we are able to traverse the waters of life without a load of turbulence. Chaos, tragedy and unexpected experiences most definitely do not stop happening - it's the way we are able to process those experiences that changes - our perspective - and once that changes - it changes everything. So, go spend time in nature, do yoga, move your body, love your neighbor, read a book - such as The Bhagavad Gita (life changer) or any of the books listed on the 'Wisdom Reads' page of this website, help out a complete stranger, trust that all is as it should be.....mostly, understand that each and every one of us is 'doing our best' - operating at a certain capacity and level of consciousness based on the 'tools' we have at any given moment.
So, next time some random person flips you the 'bird' on the highway or steals your parking space or spits gum on the sidewalk and it get stuck on your shoe or does anything that makes you feel a negative way, remember that there is something within that person or something that may be happening with that person that influences them to behave in an offensive outward manner - it's not you - it's them - it always has been - and also remember that no one can make you FEEL any way - we CHOOSE how we will react and feel. So, don't let people get under your skin - you have better things to do - give them a hug - go take a bubble bath or walk your dog or get lost in a forest. Life is just too utterly beautiful.
It has come to my attention that there is an underlying assumption among many that deters folks away from yoga, which is the belief that yoga is affiliated with religion. Yoga is a non-religious practice and activity meant to bring peace and wellness to body and mind.
According to Barkataki (2020), "It is important to address that yoga itself is separate from religion, though it has coexisted along with many" (p.13). She continues by writing, "Yoga is not under the purview of any one religion, but developed alongside Sramana traditions that emerged as Jain and Buddhist as well as Vedic and Hindu traditions and later was influenced by Islam and Christianity" (p.13).
If we lay out all the major world religions on the table, we can easily see that many of the teachings are aligned or even seem to be a direct pattern seen in yogic or Vedic teachings. I am talking about the 'bones' of the teachings, based on a code of ethics, which are strikingly similar to the code of ethics seen in many of the world's major spiritual traditions. These influence our morals, values and ultimately our behaviors in daily life. Some examples of similarities commonly found are among these are: loving kindness, compassion, forgiveness, helping others, non-harming, honesty etc. These are also fundamental to the foundation which yoga is built upon. For this reason, yoga is not prejudice against any religion nor does it subscribe to any religion so as to be open and welcoming to folks with a multitude of personal preferences, belief systems and backgrounds.
The deep intention of yoga is UNITY, so as to facilitate bringing us together rather than focusing on "otherness" and separateness. At no other moment in my life have I seen a time in which unity could be so necessary for the evolution of human and planetary consciousness. So, let us come together, respect, grow, invite abundance and support one another.
If you have questions, comments or wish to discuss this topic further, the author is happy to offer a safe space to share. This blog post is meant to only be a very brief introduction, due to the depth of the topic being incredibly vast and multifaceted. The author, Rose E-RYT500, has a graduate level education in Psychology, Religion & Philosophy and has been studying and teaching Yogic and Vedic knowledge for many years.
Barkataki, S. (2020). Embrace Yoga's Roots: Courageous ways to deepen your yoga practice. Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute: Orlando, FL.
Temporary shifts in elemental balance are caused by fluctuations in our external world. Those fluctuations impact our internal world. The five elements air, ether, fire, water and Earth can fall out of balance when there is too much or too little of one or more of the elements leading to illness or dis-ease in the body and mind.
Under stress the elements in our bodies change for the worse. According to Wallace (2009) in his book Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism and Christianity, "Beginning in the late 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, developed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which is now being taught in more than 250 clinics throughout the world. As Kabat-Zinn pointed out in a meeting in 1990 with the Dalai Lama on mindfulness, emotions, and health, stress aggravates the symptoms of all known illnesses, from the common cold to cancer. So, alleviating stress with meditation can potentially have an enormous impact on our physical and psychological well-being" (p.30).
Practicing yoga and meditation has been shown by research to lead to better health outcomes. In our western society we rarely have enough time to slow down and take some steps toward our well-being. The world is filled with over-stimulation, sleep-deprivation, nutrient-deficient processed foods and the business of being "busy". This, when done over prolonged periods of time leads to depletion of mind, body and soul. Learning some simple techniques in meditation and yoga can create internal and external peace as well as potentially have some health benefits for mental and physical body. The skill of meditative practices gives you the ability to ride the waves of life with less turbulence and stress because when you are able to calm the internal waters, the external waters also become calm. Your inner world is a reflection of your outer world and visa versa.
What are you waiting for? Join Zen Den Yoga and begin your journey toward wellness. There is never a better time than now. See you soon. Namaste.
Our task as humans is to remember our origins and embark on our own individual journey of ascent through the different stages and dimensions of the Tree of Life, the ladder of existence, toward divine unity consciousness. What can we do to remember the sacredness? Here is a list:
1) write down one thing that has made you grateful to be alive
2) write ten things that are sacred to you
3) think of someone who has betrayed you and make a commitment to forgive them
4) read a short text from any of the worlds spiritual traditions that inspires you
5) when the text you're reading lights a fire inside of you, say a prayer or affirmation that aligns you with pure deep love and compassion
6) make a real commitment to spiritual practice - **just sit and watch your thoughts, in that silence is your greatest treasure**
7) reach out to loved ones - send inspiration, do anything you can to lighten their burden
8) skip one meal in 24 hrs and instead send money or donate a meal to an organization that feeds the hungry
9) find out who is suffering in your community and try to support them
10) give. Give with all your heart, as much as you can as long as you can, without expecting anything in return.
11) Say this mantra daily: "May all beings be filled with loving kindness. May all being be peaceful and at ease. May all beings be well. May all beings know happiness, the roots of happiness and be free from suffering."
Yoga in Sanskrit is "yog", meaning "to yolk". We are not talking about yolking eggs here, although metaphorically you can understand the motion of yolking together the egg white and the yolk, which in the yoga world translates to combining, mixing or coming into union with your higher self. People come to their yoga mat for all kinds of reasons, but most importantly it is because yoga gives them tools in some capacity to feel better in body + mind. Especially in our world right now during the Covid-19 pandemic we can acknowledge that this is a stressful time for most. Many are facing financial hardships, social isolation from friends and family, death and uncertainty about when the nightmare will be over.
As humans we operate well with routine and schedules. The current state of affairs has turned all of that upside down for many. With childcare and schools closed and working from home we have been forced to adjust and quickly. Considering the number of recent unemployment claims it would be safe to say that a phenomenal amount of people have lost their incomes and are having their livelihoods jeopardized. Reported domestic violence cases have increased as well as a spike in those experiencing mental health symptoms. Things are undoubtedly uncertain at this time more than ever in the last 100 years or so in the western world.
How can yoga help with embracing uncertainty right now? Much of our suffering from a yogic perspective is from attachment to the past or the future rather than the current moment. This moment means this exact breath you are taking right now. The moment that existed a second ago no longer exists and the moment that will happen in the next minute does not exist yet. Something yoga teaches us is to try to stay in the present moment, which is much easier to say than to do. However, training the mind can only be done through practice, which takes conscious and willing effort to create change. Think about how many years you have been on this planet. Now think about how many neuronal brain functions and synapses have been formed by all your experiences that are an impediment for you to be present in this exact moment during a global pandemic. It takes small, consistent steps toward recalibrating your mind.
Contemplative practices such as yoga and meditation are termed "practices" because it is a practice and practice makes perfect. While we are not striving for perfection, we as the human race need to strive toward thriving rather than merely surviving. Crisis put us in survival mode, which is driven by fear. This fear is fear of the unknown, the future, things we do not have certainty about. Yoga is the tool that can be used to bring a more peaceful mind and help us to embrace uncertainty and grasp calmness in our inner-knowing. The foundation must be strong just as warrior preparing for battle. Using yoga and mindfulness practices is one method of this warrior training. The time to start is now and the perfect time is always. We are going to be okay. We are all in this together. Many blessings to all. The light in me sees the light is all of you. Namaste.
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