Cultivating Another Mental Attitude with iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation

“When in distress, cultivate another mental attitude” Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, Chapter 2, sutra 33. 

As the pandemic drags on, do you find yourself wondering, what is wrong with us? Why are we so dysfunctional? This is depressing. Something seems wrong. Something seems wrong….with me.

In my studies for iRest Yoga Nidra certification, I am studying the pratya bhijña hṛdayam, The Heart of Recognition, or alternatively, The Recognition of Our Own Heart. This text is the most direct statement of The Recognition School, that reached its peak around the year 1000 CE, in the Kashmir region of what is now Pakistan. The Heart of Recognition is that we actually are a condensed form of the one consciousness. We Recognize Our Own Heart when we glimpse the qualities of the one consciousness even in our contracted form.

The first five sutra-s of this foundational text (the pratya bhijña hṛdayam) say:

  • Everything comes into being and is animated by one consciousness. The one consciousness is the ground of Being. 
  • This one consciousness has an inherent impulse to manifest, and unfolds the universe from herself, upon herself. She pours forth the universe in continuous re-creation.
  • This consciousness manifests in diverse ways and differentiates into entities that relate to one another as subjects and objects.
  • Even as there are many subjects and objects, they are still all manifestations of the one consciousness. Just as in a hologram, the whole is contained in each fragment, the whole of the one consciousness is within everything, in condensed, but complete form. There is nothing that is not consciousness.
  • And so even our minds, are the one consciousness, in contracted form.

Western psychology holds that consciousness is an attribute of the mind. Eastern psychology takes another view: the mind is the product of consciousness. So, we can take another view: that consciousness is here, and the mind is its product. Everything belongs, it is all a manifestation of one consciousness. Our thoughts and emotions are here, and we can welcome them, without judgment. And, no matter our present state of mind, we are deeply ok, we are the entirety of the one consciousness, in condensed form. 

As condensed consciousness, we forget that we indeed are the one consciousness. And then we can remember……we can get a glimpse of that vast oneness: spacious, timeless, connected, complete and whole through the practices of iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. Using ancient techniques of body and breath awareness, we can disidentify with our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. We can allow that perfume of the one consciousness to enter our own awareness, finding a familiar sense of joy. The more we practice, the more we can live out of a place of remembering. And we find that everything belongs. We find actions we can take that will help transform our suffering into growth, our pain into purpose, our sorrow into joy. We can listen to the longings of our heart, and live with a sense of life living us. And we can let go of our need to control results, because everything belongs.

A Different Way of Being through Yoga Nidra

By Jay Coldwell, RYT-200, iRest® Level 2 Teacher

The Yoga Nidra experience.

Yoga Nidra is an ancient technique, sometimes called “yogic sleep”. It’s signature practice is a guided body scan led in a particular order. The sequence of the body scan typically follows the physical organization of the motor cortex and sensory cortex in the brain. By focusing on the felt-sense of the body in this order, you reduce the activity of the Default Neural Network, which is where most of us live most of the time. That function of our brain continually tells us “our story”, and interprets the world around us, with a bias towards finding danger. In its place, we activate the Present-Centered Neural Network, which helps us live in the moment, see things clearly, and find inspiration.  

So, what is this experience like? 

You may find a different way of being. A way that is quite aware of the present moment, that is insightful and non-judgmental. A feeling of groundedness, peace, an inner joy. Sometimes the practice will be experienced as a restorative, transformative deep relaxation, and even sleep. Other times the practice will become an opportunity for deep inquiry, healing and integration. Whatever your experience, it is perfect for you, in this moment. 

 

What is iRest® Yoga Nidra?  

iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation is a modern adaptation of ancient yoga nidra techniques, informed by the wisdom of modern psychology.  Studies have demonstrated that iRest is an effective practice for people with anxiety, depression, chemical dependency, and PTSD. iRest has been brought to many diverse populations, including those who are homeless or suffering domestic abuse. It is beneficial for people living their lives in any situation, in work, school, or home life. https://www.irest.org/blog/how-effective-irest-proof-within-research-helps-too

 

iRest teaches that we can use our time in yoga nidra to notice everything that arises. These may be feelings, emotions, thoughts or beliefs; we learn to welcome them as guests, whether they are comfortable or not. We feel these messengers from the heart, as a felt-sense, and gain insight as to the message being delivered. We may receive insight as to actions we need to take, advice, as it were, from this messenger. These actions may help us to live in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us. We gain ease in living life that continues to bring joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. We find that we are not these experiences, rather we are the Awareness in which these experiences arise. We then can welcome and be with the great variety of experiences reality has to offer, and always respond most authentically and joyfully to them, no matter the circumstance. That is iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation. 

How is iRest practiced? 

iRest is practiced in many ways. It may be a 35 minute guided meditation in a quiet place. These extended practices are key to developing skills for daily life. But these skills may be practiced throughout the day in very short sessions, no matter where you are: 

  • It may be taking just a moment to scan the body from head to toe when you feel a need to be more present. 
  • It may be evoking your felt-sense of an Inner Resource or Sanctuary, when life feels a bit overwhelming. 
  • It may be noticing the breath and flows of energy in the body to help decode a message your body is sending.
  • It may be setting an intention for the day or the hour or the moment. 
  • It may be recalling your Heartfelt Desire, the feeling of life living you, as you measure whether this moment, or a particular decision fits what you are here on earth to do. 

As you incorporate iRest Yoga Nidra in your daily life, you may find that you now live more out of a sense of present-centeredness, rather than in a continual repetition of your story, and scanning for danger. You may find life living you.

Jay Coldwell is an iRest Level 2 teacher & Partner of 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness, offering “Mantra and iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation” on Mondays at 11:00 AM and 5:15 PM at 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness, 2220 Sherman Street, Wausau, WI. Sample guided meditations can be found at this link: https://www.irest.org/try-irest-now

Journey of Sound

by Flora Jerde, Vibrational Sound Therapy Certified & Licensed Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki 2 Practitioner.

You may have recently heard the term Journey of Sound, but what exactly is it? The term describes an experience that falls under a broader term: Vibrational Sound Therapy, or VST. A VST practitioner blends vibration and sound with the use of Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, chimes and gongs to induce a deeply relaxed state in the body and mind.  Using sound and vibration, VST activates the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress in the body.

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, Director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center explains, “If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears, but through every cell in our bodies. One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.”

Science has proven what ancient cultures have known for thousands of years: sound has the power to heal. Studies show that this practice called “journey of sound” or “sound bathing,” directly reduces anxiety and depression.

Participants at 5 Koshas say they like the Journey of Sound because it’s deeply relaxing and nonintrusive. Participants lay comfortably on yoga mats (or sit comfortably in a chair) with feet positioned toward the front of the room where the bowls are arranged. With lights dimmed and the room at a comfortable temperature, the Journey of Sound begins with a guided meditation, then the singing bowls are brought to life and participants are immersed in 45 minutes of beautiful, multilayered vibrations and tones. As you listen to these sounds, you tend to feel them just as much as you hear them, highlighting how the experience of sound manifests not only through hearing but through physical vibrations and frequencies. The Journey of Sound experience is unique to each person.

If you’re looking for a gentle and effective way to reduce stress or anxiety or would simply like to enter a deeply relaxing state, a Journey of Sound may be just the thing for you!

Flora Jerde, Vibrational Sound Therapy Certified & Licensed Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki 2 Practitioner. Flora was instrumental in developing the Aspirus Hospice Massage Therapy Program and has worked as a Hospice massage therapist for over 14 years. Flora brings her present and caring approach to her Journey of Sound events and offers individual VST sessions in addition to group sessions. To learn more about Flora and her services, visit https://www.beyondblessedtherapy.com/

Mind-Body Practices to Manage & Alleviate Chronic Pain

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”…. Buddhist proverb

Pain is an important part of life. Pain is protective. It helps stimulate the healing response through release of chemicals and hormones in the body. We will all feel pain in our lives. However, pain can also become prohibitive. It can stop us doing the things we want to do. It can become chronic and consuming, where it affects the way we think, and feel and interact with those around us. It becomes suffering.

The best way of dealing with pain is to try to eliminate the source. Sometimes this means medical treatment. Sometimes it means rest and recuperation; breaking the cycle of repeated injury that we can easily fall into. Sometimes eliminating the source isn’t possible though. It continues. There are good days and bad days, changing with the weather, our diet, our mood and for inexplicable other reasons. Some pains relate to diseases or conditions which cannot be cured and we have been told to ‘live with it’.

The Buddhist proverb tells the story. We will all feel pain, and not all pain can be directly eliminated. But do we have to suffer? Mind-body practices have a unique ability to help, especially when it comes to determining whether or not pain leads to suffering, because that distinction occurs within the space of the mind.

On the simplest level body work such as yoga and massage can improve blood flow to tissues, increase lymph flow, help wash away inflammatory chemicals and contribute to tissue healing. The mental aspect of mind-body practices however can help how we process pain. How we react to it, and how we let it affect us. Chronic pain leads to stress, fear and depression which can be reversed. Meditation has been shown to be very helpful for pain from many sources. Science has shown, using scans, that the brain handles pain differently in patients who meditate, even to the extent of different parts of the brain being active. It has also been shown to be able to reduce the amount of pain medication people take. So it is a powerful tool.

Taking part in mind-body practices is not an admission that its ‘all in the mind’, and pain is certainly not ‘weakness leaving the body’ as the military saying goes. One of the core goals of mind-body work is taking a non-judgmental approach. Feeling pain is not your fault, its not because you have not been trying to get better. The very step of calming your perspective to the situation can be a first major step in the pathway to feeling better.

If meditation can improve the way the brain processes pain, then it can alter pain perception, it can improve how the pain affects us emotionally and how we handle our thoughts and feelings in the context of chronic pain. Chronic pain leads to a rewiring of the nervous system that makes it increasingly easy to feel pain; like a memory that becomes ingrained. Meditation has the power to reverse this imprint, as well as improve emotional and psychological well-being.

Combining physical and mental exercise in a mind-body practice therefore has the greatest ability to impact pain by combining the benefits of both. Yoga has a unique power to achieve this and yoga has an increasing amount of scientific evidence to support its power over pain.  Doing a practice regularly and consistently is important. Doing it with a friend or an understanding partner can really enhance things through the benefits of social connection.

While pain may be inevitable, suffering as a result of it isn’t. If you deal with chronic pain consider exploring mind-body practices and deepen your understanding of and relationship with your pain. Wrestle back control of your situation and don’t let your pain become suffering.

Tips For When Life Slows You Down

By: Julie Bonasso Krolczyk

“The Power of the Pause” – Shannon Sommerling

Are you dealing with physical or emotional pain and have had to slow down? Are you tired of being frustrated? Not sure how to move forward?

I recently was sidelined from physical activity for 3 months due to a back injury.

Here’s what I learned – just as in a yoga pose, there is strength in stillness, resilience through releasing (what doesn’t serve) and wisdom 
from wonderment.

TIPS FOR WHEN LIFE SLOWS YOU DOWN:

1) Change the Narrative – Our thoughts create our actions create our life. When we have self-limiting beliefs, we engage in self-limiting behaviors. When we change our inner critic to self-love, and change our limiting beliefs to the power of possibility, we start to act differently and feel better. Catch your inner-critic and ask: Would you say those same words to a child? If not, change the story you are telling yourself.

2) Practice Gratitude – When we are grateful, we are not resentful about the things we have lost nor are we worried about the future. Every day, write down 10 (TEN!) things you are grateful for during the day.

3) Look Within – What needs to be released in your life? Is your pain associated with something you are holding on to that is no longer serving you? What is God/Universe saying to you? “Slow down and listen.” Be honest with yourself. What is the downtime trying to teach you?

4) Find New Ways of Coping – All of my normal strategies (yoga, spinning and hiking) were not available to me. I thought – what do I do now? Find new ways to de-stress: Meditation, Prayer, Deep Breathing [INSERT YOURS HERE!]

5) Seek Support – Isolating yourself can give you a short burst of temporary respite, but in the long run, you need the encouragement of others to keep moving forward. Reach our to your tribe – your partner, your friend, your community. They love you and want to see you thriving.

Julie Bonasso Krolczyk, is a Certified Health and Wellness coach with 15 years of experience coaching individuals on lifestyle behavior change:
Stress Management, Nutrition, Exercise, Relationships and Career.  

You can see her for individual health and wellness coaching at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.

Learn more about Julie and her services at: https://www.5koshasyoga.com/wellness/health-wellness-coaching/.

Mental and Emotional Ease

Tame the Anxiety & Worry Monkeys

Mental and emotional ease are states of being that we can all appreciate.  We put our best selves forward when we are peaceful, calm and focused.  We need fast, easy and accessible tools to bring us back to order and calm when fear, anxiety, stress or worry monkeys knock on our door and enter our inner sanctum, wreaking havoc.  The ancient practice of yoga therapy has tools that can be tailored for working with the monkeys.

The journey of life brings difficult changes, losses and transitions that create disturbances of thought and emotion.  It’s like an entire jungle of monkeys vacationing in our home.  We may also be “hardwired” genetically or through family or other conditioning to be more anxious, worried and fearful.  In other words, you bought the house with monkeys included.  Ultimately we have to accept innate tendencies, process life experiences and learn tools for cultivating awareness and changing the inner sanctum when the monkeys take over and create a mess of our minds, emotions and physiology.

Yoga can work in the short term by soothing the stress response, quieting the mind and balancing emotions.  Over time, regular practice that is tailored to your needs can help to reduce or prevent stress and anxiety symptoms, panic attacks and side effects of stress and anxiety such as distraction, insomnia, digestive distress, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and high blood pressure.

My teacher, Gary Kraftsow, a master level Yoga Therapist and trainer, says that “one of yoga’s most important gifts is an inner connection to the reality that you are not your diagnosis” or your monkeys.   Working with the monkeys of anxiety, stress, worry or fear requires cutting through the physiological stress response to connect to something deeper within ourselves, that inner aspect of ourselves that is unchanging, even in the face of our genetics, family conditioning or external life changes.

5 Steps to Soothing Anxiety, Worry and Fear

Step 1:  Move your body.  Engage in some exercise.

Step 2:  Breath in coordination with movement in a yoga posture, adapting the breath in a unique way to soothe the stress response.

Step 3:  Do at least 12 – 18 breaths of a specialized anti-anxiety breathing technique.

Step 4:  Use a mantra (word or phrase) with awareness of your inhale and exhale whenever you feel that inner quickening feeling that arises before worry, fear, anxiety or stress kicks in.  We can prevent the monkeys from getting in the house.  A simple mantra might be Inhale – “Peace, Peace”, Exhale – “Peace, Peace, Peace”.

Step 5:  Connect to a source of inspiration or faith that gives you courage and strength for all that is ahead in the journey of life.   This shortened version of the Serenity Prayer is an example.  “Help me accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The nature of our mind is that tendency toward monkeys repeatedly showing up and taking over.  By doing regular yoga practice we place the bananas outside on the lawn for the monkeys, keeping our peaceful inner sanctum.   If the monkeys do get in, we can use our emergency tools of movement, breath, mantra and sources of inspiration and strength to calm the monkeys and gently evict them.

 

Grounding During Grief

Grief is a unique combination of sadness, memories, fog, strong emotions, bodily experiences and occasional moments of peace and clarity. This simple quote reveals so much about what we are just beginning to understand about the science of chronic stress and the effects of grief. Dr. van der Kolk, a researcher who studies the effect of yoga on stress and trauma, is reminding us that the body stores up life’s most difficult moments and stresses.

“The body keeps the score.” Bessel A van der Kolk

Our senses (what we hear, see, smell, taste and feel) provide input to the brain through sensory pathways or nerves. All that we perceive is processed through the brain. The brain is then involved in little or large reactions that are physical, physiological, mental and emotional.

Our day-to-day life stresses may not create a very big reaction because we build up experience and resilience. “Been there, done that, got it!” Grief is different. The physical, physiological, mental and emotional reactions are larger and often unrelenting for a longer period of time.

It is a difficult journey. It’s hard to discharge and unwind. The body runs on “reaction overdrive.” You might experience body tension and pain, headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, mental fog, increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, depression, anger and overwhelming sadness. There are a few key tools that may help you.

  • Yoga or any type of gentle movement or exercise can ease some of the symptoms. It provides a discharge for what builds up and gets lodged in the tissues. It can help you feel as if you are present in your body and a little more grounded.
  • Breath practices may help soothe and tune the nervous system and help you feel grounded, stable and a little more peaceful and calm. Breathing is also a mood stabilizer. It’s invisible and can be used anywhere and at any time.
  • Creating space for meditation, reflection, inquiry or prayer can be helpful. Most people need more solitude for a period of time. I have adapted a meditation that I learned from one of my mentors. The inquiry is simple: What has been lost? What remains? What is changing as a result of this loss? This inquiry changes over time and provides a way to measure how you are processing all that is a part of this journey.
  • Sound or music or chanting can be calming to the nervous system. It also settles the mind. Use something that speaks deeply to you. It might be relaxing music, a spiritual song, or a chant.

Every grief journey is different. No two people will experience and process the same grief experience in the same way. It’s an important time to take it on your terms. Watch for increasing moments of clarity and peace. That will be a sure sign that you are finding your way.

GroundingThroughGriefShortSequence

Free

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into treesThe winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

-John Muir

Free yourself from winter hibernation +

Free yourself from cold weather tension and stagnancy +

Free time to be outside, breathe, move and participate +

Free outdoor yoga classes in the best ‘green spaces’ of Central Wisconsin =

Better physical and mental health!

Your outdoor ‘green space’ yoga practice invites you to reconnect with the earth, stretch to the sky, inhale fresh oxygen and exhale the doldrums of winter.

Sip in the sweet benefits of outdoor yoga:

  • Be a Kid Again – stretch on the ground and look up at the sky
  • Practice Concentration – foster one-point-concentration as life happens around you
  • Hone Your Proprioception – that advanced sense of your body in space that helps you with stability, balance and movement
  • Plug in to the Totality of the Experience – be one with the beauty as well as the bugs
  • Engage Your 5 Senses and Be Inspired

For a personal practice, rolling out your mat on your patio, in the grass or beside your favorite water provides a familiar space to take 10-15 minutes to breathe and stretch into your favorite postures.

Group classes in ‘green space’ invites you to find balance with/between your heightened five senses and the ease of tranquility and calm.

The grass that tickles your hand, the birdsong that makes you look into the trees and the bug that wants to join you on your mat also provide you the opportunity to stop, breathe, observe and be present.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, author of ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ shares, “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.  In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Be free, be curious, be open to your beginners mind this summer.

Learn about all the Outdoor Yoga Classes 5 Koshas will be sharing this summer HERE, pre-register for classes: HERE.

Evolve!

Cakra-s as a Map for Energy, Personality, Potential & Transformation

As we navigate the journey of life, there are times of re-evaluating our priorities and values, our challenges and their impact on our relationships, our goals, and how we derive the most meaning in life.  Most of us have a deep calling to continue to evolve, to grow and to reach our fullest potential.  The cakra model, derived from the ancient teachings of yoga, provides a roadmap for esoteric anatomy, energy, personality and spiritual consciousness.

Cakra means “wheels” or whirling vortices that take in, process and organize energy.  In Western medicine, the cakra-s might be viewed as the nerve plexus in the physical body.  In Western psychology, cakra-s might be viewed as a map to the development of the personality and self-actualization.  In yoga, cakra-s are a model for human potential and spiritual consciousness.

“Cakra-s are a map of our disposition or character (svabhava) and a path to actualizing svarupa (true or essential self).”

– From Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Transformation

Consider your spine or the space in front of the spine as the central power line or central channel of your body.  Starting at the base of the spine is the 1st energetic area, one associated with the qualities of stability and strength and the earth element.  The following chart provides more detail about the cakra-s, their approximate location, the main associated personality quality and the associated element:

 

Approximate

Location

Personality Quality Associated Element
Cakra 1 Base of spine Stability Earth
Cakra 2 Center of the lower pelvis Enthusiasm Water
Cakra 3 Between navel and back waistline Empowerment Fire
Cakra 4 Center of the chest Love Air
Cakra 5   Center of throat space Expression Ether
Cakra 6   Center of the space of the brain Discernment

All Elements

Intelligence

Cakra 7    Crown of the head Inspiration

Universal Consciousness

The good news for our journey through life is that we can evolve.  Within the ancient teachings are tools, methods, and practices for working with each cakra.

The heart of cakra practice is pranayama (breathing practices), chanting, and meditation.  These are the most potent yoga tools for working with prana and for seeing and transforming our challenges and maximizing our potential. It’s hard to “down dog” your way into a better attitude or a more positive relationship with people you love.

While asana (yoga postures) may be integrated into cakra practice, the purpose is to create circulation in certain areas of the body, stimulate the flow of prana (life force) through the central channel, prepare the breath for pranayama (breathing practices), and prepare the body and mind for meditation.  In other words, you “down dog” yourself into getting ready for the inner practices of yoga that have the most potential to transform obstacles and maximize potential.

A potent form of cakra meditation is bhuta suddhi.  It is an ancient technique of cakra meditation that includes sustained focus on the elements.  The goals of this type of meditation are to purify the elements, encourage the flow of prana (life force) through the central power line of the body and transform our samskaras (deep patterns and grooves).

Changing patterns of how we see ourselves and interact with others and developing a spiritual consciousness about all that we need to navigate in this human existence is evolution, the end result of cakra practice.

The Radiance of Your Inner Light

We are light.  Within us is a light, very much like the Sun, that is unchanging and brilliant.  This is one of the fundamental teachings in yoga philosophy.  The darkness of the winter creates an inward movement of our attention that creates opportunities to experience our inner life and radiance.

As we move into this time of the return of the Sun, here are 5 different ways to awaken the light within your heart:

  1. Move – Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Sweep your arms wide and up on INHALE in a sun-like movement.  Lower your arms in a sun-like movement on EXHALE.  Repeat 6 times.
  2. Breathe – Close your eyes. Sense the center space of the chest.  As you INHALE, try to feel an expansiveness in the chest.  As you EXHALE, hug the navel inward.  Do 12 full deep breaths.
  3. Use Sound – Use the seed mantra of the 4th or heart cakra (energetic center), YAM. Focus on the center of the chest.  Inhale, then sound the word, YAM, on Exhale. This sound creates vibration in the center of the chest. Repeat 6 times.
  4. Visualize – Focus your attention on the center of the chest, the cave of the heart. Visualize light, perhaps a beautiful sunrise, the light of a flickering candle, a lighted star atop a Christmas tree, sunset, or the light of the full moon that we’ll see this Christmas Day.  Spend 5 minutes focused on that light.  Feel as if the light grows more expansive within and around you.  If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to visualization of light.
  5. Be Present – Linger longer with the good that comes your way through friends, family, pets, nature, and faith.