Ahem. Excuse me a moment while I clear my throat. I’m just choking a little on that inner sage I’ve been ignoring. Fortunately, she’s a patient, if volatile, woman. Also, not averse to punching my hyoid to remind me of her existence. A-hem. Now where was I?
Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is wrong for you but you do it anyway?Strike that. You don’t just do it; you fling yourself head over ass into the void with some sense that here is a hole you can plug. Despite your aversion to the dark? Despite the blood-curdling, horror-movie, don’t-open-that-door-just-don’t-oh-my-god-really-you-idiot scream issuing from your subconscious? Despite the fact that the hole is, well, potentially more than a hole? It could be a chasm of despair. A wormhole. A soul-sucking vacuum in which you may lose the very authenticity that distinguishes you from the borg.
I bring this up because I’ve recently returned to Yoga Nidra via Richard Miller’s very good book on the subject.
‘Aw geez,’ I hear you sighing, ‘another brand of yoga?’ Take heart. This one isn’t a brand so much as a process– a subfield of the broader science of yoga. In yoga, we’re scientists researching ourselves. In yoga nidra, we do our research in a state just shy of sleep. No poses to learn here but sleepy time savasana. Mmm. Deep, deep, juicy savasana. Sew some footies onto your lab coat.
But wait. There’s more. And it isn’t easy.
Yoga nidra is all process. Complex process. Mind-blowing process. A process, I promise, that’s a greater challenge than any ekapada hooha arm balance you’ve mastered. Also, a process that makes you very aware of how many holes you’ve plugged just to keep from doing the hard work of filling it, covering it, avoiding it, firebombing it, whatever. You arrive in savasana, relax and the work starts. Richard Miller says, ‘most people are trying to change themselves; yoga nidra asks them to welcome themselves.’ Can you think of anything more daunting?
One of the most compelling ideas in yoga nidra is that our careful observation of the sensations in our body, expectations of our intellect, traumas of our damaged egos– and an exploration of their opposites– will allow us to hear the messages each of these perceptions are giving us. Maybe you call yourself a fake. Or unlovable. Maybe you believe only you know what’s right. In yoga nidra, we get quiet; we travel close to sleep. In the silence, we might hear the familiar chatter of our self-doubt or aggression. But instead of hearing it and believing it, we pair it with its opposite. ‘I’m genuine.’ ‘I’m lovable.’ ‘I may not always know everything.’ In the silence, we respond to the prattle of our minds with other possibilities. We comfort ourselves with other ways of thinking. We revise old stories. And, strangely, it works.
Suddenly, hearing this dialogue of possible thought, the prattle starts to seem absurd. Like a very bad joke. An offensive term your fat, weird uncle uses to make it clear he’s a racist. An anachronism. The old story is a tale no longer appropriate and, importantly, no longer true to you. In fact, it never was true but a pretense of truth. In this discovery, weirdly, truth arises. In your deep savasana, you start to recognize truth in a new way. And, with practice, you start to respond according to the demands of what is actually true to you. You start to react appropriately.
The timber of your inner voice stops reaching shock and awe level. The flinging ceases. The holes aren’t even of interest. Not unless you’re interested in sowing seeds or listening for echoes.
I admit I don’t have a great conclusion here. I’m learning as well. I can say that the process is confrontational but not brutal. I can say that several of my peers report tears and anxiety in the practice but none of them have let it go. I think that’s because the process goes on. This idea of opposing limiting beliefs takes on a life of its own with very little effort. It resonates. None of us want to loathe ourselves. All of us, I think, sense that hate is only love in uncomfortable clothing. Why not undress it?
So maybe look this up. Yoga nidra. Try it out, report back. Let’s mess around with the integrity of our beliefs and expectations to see whether any of them serve us for anything beyond sending us into holes.