Category Archives: surrender

Yoga Nidra: Exploring the Deepest Relaxation Practice

by Marija Kundakovic

 “Yoga Nidra: Extremely deep relaxation with psychic instructions.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra 
 
©Natasha Phillips
             
I fell in love with yoga because of savasana. This may sound strange (or lazy…?) to many people who practice yoga to improve physical strength and flexibility, because savasana involves simply lying on the mat for 10-15 minutes and relaxing. But it was exactly there, in my first savasana, that I started feeling that yoga was truly “working” for me. I could feel my busy mind finally getting less noisy, and I started being receptive tothe present moment.
 
The majority of us are very busy and distracted by our daily duties, worries and little desires, without having the chance and time to stop and try to understand our true nature and what really lies within us. We identify with our ever-changing bodies and minds and with our egoistic constructs of ourselves that make us feel efficient and safe in the environment that we live in. We are constantly projecting ourselves in the future or getting caught up within the past. But how do we go beyond that? How do we reach our essence and improve our understanding of our surroundings and of our purpose in life?
 
For me, the answer lies in the practice of Yoga.  The Asana practice is only an introduction to what yoga can offer in terms of self-knowledge and self-development. Slowly, with my constant practice, I started being able to lose my body sensations and quiet my mind during relaxation and meditation, and to go beyond the regular frame of body and mind. This gave me a completely new perception of myself, with more subtle levels of existence and the awareness that there is certainly much more beyond my ego and its little wishes and concerns. Within my six-year yoga practice, I think that my first class of Yoga Nidra with Sri Dharma Mittra was one of the biggest milestones. 
   
©Natasha Phillips
 
Sri Dharma Mittra likes to say that, “relaxation is the best antidote for all impurities”. Once after savasana in his regular asana class, he suggested we come to Yoga Nidra, in which you lie down in savasana and relax for an hour. As a long-time savasana lover, I thought, “Oh, that would be really nice,” and I decided to check out this class, expecting it to be, literally, a long, one-hour savasana. I went to class.  We were instructed to lie down in savasana, not to move or fall asleep, and to stay attentive throughout the practice while listening to the instructions.
 
It turned out that Yoga Nidra is an active meditation. Sri Dharma first guided us to bring the awareness to each part of the body, slowly starting from the left hand thumb and then moving through all the limbs, ending with the individual facial features and back of the head. This was followed by the stage in which we were asked to evoke the experiences of opposite sensations and feelings, such as sensations of extreme hot and cold, and very busy and quiet environments, briefly, one after another. We were then asked to visualize some images and landscapes and were led through an enjoyable imaginary journey.
 
I don’t remember when exactly, but I can clearly evoke an amazing moment when I lost all my body sensations while being aware of everything that was happening. And then I felt like I was floating… And then I heard Sri Dharma say “you are everywhere” and I felt … I was … indeed … everywhere…
 
©Natasha Phillips
The practice of Yoga Nidra ended with a resolution, “my will power is rapidly improving,” repeated three times and we were then slowly brought to the regular waking state. I came out of the class transformed. I felt lighter, elevated, and refreshed. (Someone met me just after the class and asked me if I had a facial — no kidding, inside and out!)
 
I wondered what exactly happened in that hour of Yoga Nidra (a.k.a. Psychic Sleep) which Sri Dharma said could substitute for several hours of ordinary sleep. As a scientist (that’s my profession), I started reading articles and books to better understand with my mind what happened beyond my body, and beyond my “regular” mind in that class. 
 
Briefly, this is what literature says: Yoga Nidra is a method of inducing deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation in which the body is in a sleep-like state somewhere between being awake and being asleep. Unlike regular sleep, the consciousness is maintained in Yoga Nidra. And, unlike the fully awakened state in which only the intellectual mind is operating, when you are able to completely relax in Yoga Nidra, the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind open, allowing the penetration into the depths of the mind that are not normally available. For instance, rotation of consciousness through different body parts induces physical relaxation while evoking the opposite, intense feelings in Yoga Nidra enables emotional relaxation. 
 
©Natasha Phillips
 
The visualization stage of Yoga Nidra, which usually involves images that have universal significance and powerful associations, brings the hidden contents of the deep unconscious into the conscious mind. The practice of visualization develops self-awareness and induces deep mental relaxation.  This practice also sets the mind into a peaceful and calm state that makes the unconscious mind very receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, and this is why the practice ends with the resolve to increase will power (or any other resolution that the practitioner would like to achieve through practice). Please do not mistake this for hypnosis because the resolve in Yoga Nidra is made by practitioner, who is aware of it, and the teacher is there only to guide the practice.
 
During practice of Yoga Nidra, one’s consciousness travels from one layer to another, according to its current state and capacity. In some cases, the practice will bring only some sort of relaxation, sleep, or pleasant experience. Sometimes it may go very deep and bring fantastic experiences. The ultimate outcome of Yoga Nidra, similar to meditation, is total harmony and integration between all levels of consciousness and merging with the universal consciousness or achieving the highest level of consciousness, known as samadhi. 
 
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Marija Kundakovichas a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is currently a Research Scientist and Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University in NYC. She is an epigeneticist studying how life experiences leave an imprint on our genes shaping the brain and behavior throughout life. In addition to her scientific quest, her yogic path has been essential for her self-inquiry and search for understanding of life. She is thankful to all yoga teachers that have left the imprints on her yoga practice, including the teachers from Chicago Yoga Center, Mandiram Yoga Barcelona, and Jivamukti Yoga NYC. She is particularly thankful to Sri Dharma Mittra and the teachers at Dharma Yoga New York Center. Marija completed the Dharma Yoga “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training under the guidance of Sri Dharma Mittra in June 2013. She is currently in the last stages of her internship and looks forward to sharing her knowledge of yoga with others.  

 

Mudras: When the Hands Mirror the Heart

by Jessica Monty Schreiber

©Jeffrey Vock
 
I arrived at the park one early Saturday morning and peace permeated the air — the peace best experienced in the early hours of the day before the other earth inhabitants rise from their warm beds.  The grassy spaces at the park were speckled with peaceful warriors slicing the air with their hands, making graceful shapes with their limbs, and using the energy that drives us, pushing and pulling with resistance and strength. Tai Chi, what a beautiful art form.  


Watching people use their hands and bodies to create shapes, I am only now becoming aware of the importance and significance of the mudras. A mudra is a gesture one specifically makes with one’s hands and arms. In India, these mudras aim to connect the yoga practice to divine and cosmic energy.

Apes use their hands to communicate, blind children clap their hands with excitement, and it is universal for one to cover one’s mouth in shock, horror or pain.  Moreover, it is an amazing power to be able to control our body in such a way to focus our consciousness and help manipulate our experience. The knowledge and experience of mudra techniques is so powerful.
The other day I hugged my friend who was overcome with grief and sadness. I imagined I was creating a cocoon, enveloping her with love — spiraling a web all over her branching from my arms.  There she wept, which I knew was difficult for her, as being vulnerable can be for many people. Still, I held her in my safe chrysalis, strongly creating a place of protection.  She felt that energy field; I know it with all my heart.  That is a mudra.
©Jeffrey Vock
 
As yoga asana practitioners, we breathe, balance, strengthen, and stretch our body all at once, simultaneously trying to connect with our higher Self. We strive to achieve a meditative state, ” a comfortable seat,” to commune with our divine nature. While I practice toppling tree pose, I perform kali mudra (interlocking your fingers, releasing the index fingers.) I concentrate on my erect index fingers touching and in turn, creating a one single pointed finger.  Sometimes I feel I could stay in this asana forever. That is a mudra.
 
Sometimes when I am frustrated with my son’s behavior, and when I am reprimanding or disciplining him, I notice my index finger wagging in his face.  Pointing at him as if he was the problem, only to know with my heart that the reflection of his behavior is my own. I don’t like this mudra. That is a mudra.
I hope this post inspires you to do your own research in the art of mudras. There are many informational references on how to you can specifically use mudras in your yoga practice, but only with your personal research and experience will you understand the importance and significance of a mudra.
 
©Jeffrey Vock
 
I will leave you with this beautiful obituary written by Laurie Anderson shortly after the death of Lou Reed:
To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.
Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people, this is our spiritual home.
Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
 

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us. ~ Laurie Anderson, his loving wife and eternal friend.

Gratefully, Jessica Monty Schreiber has been practicing yoga daily since 2000. Jessica became certified to teach Bikram Yoga in 2003 and taught yoga in Miami Beach, FL and all over New York City.  Although she predominately taught Bikram yoga during that time, she took full advantage of the diverse yoga community by practicing the different yoga styles that New York City has to offer. In 2005 Jessica studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and became a certified Holistic Health Counselor. It brings her much pleasure to serve her community in the areas of health and wellness. Jessica participated in the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training in 2010.  She is currently in the internship phase of her training. Jessica takes great pride in her career as mother of two boys. Striving to find a balance in a domestic life is a daily yoga practice in itself. Jessica is passionate about yoga and wellness.  Her intention as a teacher is to inspire the practitioner to reveal their true beautiful and bright selves.  With hard work, positive effort and practice, we can all be healthy, happy, and free!

Lost and Found: Five things I learned from leaving my practice

by Jessica Gale

©Enid Johnstone
In the past three years, my life has changed more than the previous ten. Through this time of transition, I re-evaluated many aspects of my life: what I do, what I believe, and what I want. For a long time, yoga escaped my inner evaluations because I thought it was something forever firm in my life.

This spring I transitioned into becoming an urban farmer. Often my days were a flurry of activity and my nights of exhaustion. Physical tiredness became my excuse for putting my yoga practice on hold. As spring led to summer though, I could not seem to revive my daily practice. I continued teaching. I took a class here and there. I would take a few moments for some sun salutations and stretches. But of course, I did not receive the benefits yoga offered.

And so I gave up, knowing yoga and what it meant to me, needed re-interpretation and re-evaluation in my life. During that time, my temper grew shorter, my back tighter, and my sense of peace fleeting at best.

I live in a large city and I am not a city girl. I grew up in the country and on the ocean. A great deal of my sense of peace is derived from open, natural spaces. But for now, I must live in the city. The pace, the constant noise, the crowds all wear me down considerably during the day. During particularly bleak days I would wonder how in the world does it. How Sri Dharma does it? New York City has to be one of the busiest, most chaotic, and crowded places I have been. For me, his strength and gentleness are a testament to his devotion to yoga in a place as crazy as New York.

So, I spent my summer fleeing the city on weekends and fighting desperately to hold onto peace and let go of anger.

And I have failed, miserably some days.

This morning, thinking on all this, I knew I had to fail. I fell into yoga so quick and fervently when I started that I took no time to contemplate it. I needed to leave my yoga practice for perspective and to understand what it means to me now and why it still is essential. I could not be a content human being and certainly not a good teacher until I figured it out.

This is what I discovered:




·        If you live in a beautiful place and derive everyday peace and quiet from it, you are so lucky. But I realize now, as important as a sense of place and home are, things happen. Sometimes you have to move. Sometimes places change. However, your inner landscape can remain fixed and pristine.
·        I need yoga because I need silence, desperately. Silence in the face of the busy city and silence in the face of my racing mind. Yoga, in the end, is not about the asana, it is about being able to sit in stillness and settle the mind into silence. It is only in that silence that peace can be found. Silence in a place is fleeting. Silence found inside oneself everyday resonates and carries peace throughout the day.

·        I need silence through yoga because it is the path to surrender, or Isvara Pranidhana. In the Life of a Yogi Teacher Training manual Sri Dharma wrote, “Devotion to God is the total surrender of the ego. Once one has knowledge of the Self, one knows that everything is God. One is then able to surrender the ego in order to achieve enlightment. Surrender in order to obtain Divine help from within. Imagine having the hand tied behind the back: one needs help! If one surrenders to the Lord, one will be set free.

·        I need silence in order to surrender. I need surrender in order to find peace and contentment. I realized, for myself, yoga is my path towards these things.

·        This is the pattern of my life: to question and sometimes break my beliefs again and again. But each time, the right ones for me come back all the stronger.

I started my practice again today. My back is still tight, my mind too busy, and the worries of the world still intrude. But I feel better. It is a new beginning.
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Jessica Gale has practiced yoga for nine years and studied Ashtanga, Kripalu and Dharma Yoga during this time. She spent the last three years studying intensely at Dharma Yoga Syracuse, New York and completed her LOAY 200-Hour Teacher Training at the Dharma Yoga New York Center in May 2012. She is currently completing her internship hours and hopes to achieve full certification soon.