Don’t Get Hooked: It’s All Just Dirty Dishes

I’ve been practicing a delicious form of relaxing meditation called yoga nidra for many years now. I deepened my experience of it with different trainings and retreats, and today it’s one of my favorite things to teach. I began the practice at a time when there was a lot of external turmoil in my life. Trying to support growing kids, aging relatives and get a decent meal on the table every night then meant that I always felt just a little bit depleted.
Enter yoga nidra.

I’ve had a pretty regular meditation practice for most of my adult life – primarily TM and vipassana, but also some key practices from an esoteric school called Clairvision and, more recently, kundalini yoga. When I found yoga nidra it felt like a moist, quenching oasis in a dry bed of focused-attention practices.

I get to lie down?! I get to listen to a guide?? It’s ok if I drift off – what?!
It felt like a meditator’s dream come true 🙂

So I started attending classes when I could, and I listened to the same CD nearly every day for months. At about the 3-month mark or so I actually heard what she said at the end of the CD for the first time. I thought this was hilarious – I was wearing this disc out and I had no idea what was actually on it!

I’ve learned that sleeping through most of your early nidra sessions is so common it’s almost the norm for westerners. Getting permission and guidance to actually let go and relax for a little while is such a rare experience in our lives that nearly everyone just slips into unconsciousness at first. Yoga Nidra literally means “yogic sleep”, after all.

But the goal is to eventually achieve a state of “waking sleep” – where you are conscious and aware, but completely open and relaxed. In this state, the meditation guides you to systematically-but-gently bring awareness to the physical parts of your body, to the energetic currents of breath and prana (chi) that enliven your limbs and organs, to the varied emotional states you experience, to your thoughts and even your core beliefs, and finally to the witness consciousness itself that is observing all these things.

The act of simply “watching” these internal objects and flows from a place of deep relaxation has a profoundly integrating effect on mind, body and spirit that heals from the inside out. Research shows us that a regular practice of yoga nidra can improve the quality of sleep, can reduce physical pain, reduce overall stress levels and can even be effective for anxiety relief and trauma recovery.

I think the most unique thing about this meditation practice is that there is very little actual effort involved. It is, in fact, a practice of ease, release and surrender. At first, all you do is simply lay down comfortably and listen to the teacher, letting your attention follow their cues.

After many years of practice, I no longer need an external guide, though I still enjoy lead sessions. I simply guide myself through the layers or “koshas” of my being while allowing myself to let go more and more deeply into relaxation. What you eventually begin to notice is that the “watcher” of all this activity is actually totally neutral and relaxed about everything. It’s a part of you that isn’t a “doer”, so it can’t judge or resist or even react in any way.

I experience it as a kind of background field. It acts a little like light, simply “accepting” everything it shines on, pleasant or unpleasant, without rejecting anything. Richard Miller, a great nidra teacher and researcher, calls it our “welcoming ground of being”.

In this morning’s practice, while merged with this “field of awareness” part of me, I suddenly had this thought come shooting into my consciousness: “Oh no, what if I get called in for a TV demo while I have this big (awesome 🙂 ) henna tattoo on my right hand?!”

I’m about to do a short, conventional media tour on sugar-free holiday swaps and just got a really good henna design – doh! This thought sent a sharp shot of electricity through my calm system – a spiky, anxious little cocktail with a twist of dread.

Because I’ve practiced for so long though, it didn’t pull me out of the meditation. I just watched it shoot up, deliver its stress punch to my system, and eventually dissolve back into nothing. Then, as the practice dictates, I invited in the opposite of that feeling: a calm, everything-is-fine-as-it-is-including-my-decorated-hand experience and let that arise, unfold and dissolve.

I then had the recognition of how silly thoughts like these shock my system all day long. I know they are sourced from very old knots of belief (called samskaras in yoga) about how I have to get everything right to be safe, how I have to be on high alert for danger or punishment all the time.

In this space of open awareness, I suddenly saw these painful, wounded “knots” as dead tree stumps with truncated roots to nowhere, sprouting their ugly mushroom-and-termite-thoughts into my field of awareness. But they themselves were free-floating.

I’ve always thought of these old wounds as somehow permanently rooted into the core of my being, a foundational part of who I am. But today in yoga nidra, they revealed themselves as just another object floating in and out of my field. They may be producing a lot of unpleasant “thought and feeling objects”, but they too just emerge, unfold and dissolve in my awareness like everything else.

As I worked in the kitchen after my meditation, I saw each item I was putting away as another “something” in my field – here a fork with sharp tines, here a glass with water stains, here a well-worn pot: I take it out, use it to prepare food, wash it, let it dry and put it away again.

I notice my worry (or mean thought or happy glow or back pain), I watch it rise up and unfold in my field, I watch it dissolve.

Every day.
Every minute.
Just feelings.
Just thoughts.
Just dishes.

Join me at Final Fridays Five Dollar Unwind for a $5 drop-in class of yoga nidra practice at the Tenth Gate center for Yoga – on the last Friday of each month from 6-7PM.

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