By Ashley Dahl, MSW
People cite all sorts of reasons for why they practice Yoga Nidra. The bottom line for many of these reasons: It feels good.
Unlike some physical and health practices, Yoga Nidra actually tends to feel good while practicing. If you’re unfamiliar with this style of yoga you can read more about what it is here. Essentially though, Yoga Nidra is a state of consciousness wherein our brain waves slow down. That is, we become very relaxed. The most common way to practice is through guided meditation while in a highly supported supine (lying down) position. The experience makes me think of a young child, who is expertly tucked-in with the help of blankets and pillows and cushions, and is listening to a calming voice while they drift into an exquisite lull - barely awake, their body, mind and imagination filled with gentle, encompassing contentment.
Needless to say, people tend to feel great just after practicing Yoga Nidra. Studies show that residing in the state of Yoga Nidra for an hour is the equivalent of getting four hours of sleep. People emerge feeling rested, refreshed, restored, replenished…the list goes on. Coming out of Yoga Nidra can also feel like one has pushed a reset button with their emotions. Deep relaxation often inspires fresh perspective on those daily life shenanigans that can derail us. Deep diving into ease tends to illicit a sense of spaciousness. This, in turn, allows us to introduce more calm and compassion into our responses.
So yes, it’s no wonder people enjoy practicing Yoga Nidra. And it’s easy to see how our bodies and mind-states benefit. There’s more though. Yoga Nidra is more than something that feels good and is good for us – it’s actually really good for many of us. At a time when chronic autoimmune diseases appear to be on the rise and countless folks struggle with things like anxiety and depression, there are more reasons to practice. Bottom line - Yoga Nidra helps with these deeper layers of health as well.
Research is beginning to pile up showing that maintaining a regular Yoga Nidra practice is tremendously healing. Yoga Nidra has been found to lower stress, depression, anxiety and symptoms of PMS. It also benefits many chronic autoimmune diseases including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Lyme’s disease. It’s also shown to support post-heart attack care. In a nutshell, Yoga Nidra helps our bodies’ innate healing capacities do their job.
Whether you’re looking to feel more rested and relaxed after a tough week or you’re navigating a chronic health challenge, you might want to give Yoga Nidra a try. Plus, just the practicing really does feel good.
Click here to find more info re: Ashley's Yoga Nidra series, which start September 19 and November 7.
consciously turn towards for inspiration, while unconsciously categorizing as other-worldly. As yoga and meditation practitioners we may be willing to plant our feet on a path towards enlightenment. However, many of us do so convinced we don’t stand a chance of achieving this state of being ourselves.
The stickiness with enlightenment is that implication of landing somewhere - a fixed (albeit perhaps wonderful) place where one could arrive and then seemingly expect to reside. This indeed makes me step back. Who knows anyone who’s been able to, or even seems able to, pull off that feat? To reside in a state of perpetual wisdom and compassion? Strikes me as being like working at a library and expecting that if one can just shelve all those books on the cart during a work shift, all books will forever remain shelved. Life happens. We’re human. That math does not add up.
So what would it be like if we stopped viewing the path of enlightenment as a journey towards a fixed destination and took it to mean the journey itself? I remember the first time one of my meditation teachers described enlightenment as an on-going practice of waking up. Framed as a process that supports having insights as one moves through life, the invitation was to consider that with every insight (every time we “wake up”), we experience enlightenment.
For me this was a big wake up call in and of itself. This I can do. I can cultivate conditions for insights to arise. I can nurture qualities like kindness in my attention. I can practice strengthening my awareness muscles to be more present, more of the time. I can not be perfect from a certain point forward but instead be willing to start over again, as many times as I need. (Just as those librarians do each day when they discover more books to be re-shelved.) Us regular people do stand a shot at this thing called enlightenment.
What practices help you show up with wisdom and insight? To demonstrate kindness, inside and out? To be present, even if just for a moment? I invite you to tune-in to how you might keep waking up your innate capacity for enlightenment.
Join Ashley at her Waking Up morning meditation series August 14 - 17.
Ashley is also teaching Relax & Renew with Yoga Nidra August 14th and
Meditation 101 on August 22nd.
AD: That it’s not so different from a yoga asana (pose) practice. Asana isn’t simply about moving our bodies. Through movement we can train ourselves to inhabit our bodies with awareness and compassion. In practicing Yoga Nidra we invite that quality of awareness to the active experience of deep relaxation. This isn’t always easy to do, many of us will auto-pilot into sleep (which is okay, too!) But we can learn to enter a state consciousness that maintains awareness in the midst of deep relaxation. From there, we’re able to intentionally release accumulated layers of physical, emotional and spiritual tension.
EB: I know you teach a lot of mindfulness. How has mindfulness specifically been helpful in your own life?
AD: What I didn’t see coming, when I hopped on the mindfulness path, was how it would inspire a radically kinder relationship with myself, and in turn with others. I came to appreciate that I was like a lot of folks - I lived with a harsh inner critic. I found that a primal part of me was bent on self-protection in ways that could be awfully bruising at times. I got a taste though of how much more powerful an approach like compassion can be in helping me live my values and connect more deeply with others.
EB: Who most benefits most from your approach to mindfulness practice?
AD: People interested in exploring how to respond to life with wisdom and care. There’s a certain level of simplicity to mindfulness but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor always comfortable. I bring a bit of levity, a dose of gentleness, and a sense of shared humanity to my classes to help foster exploring this path with compassion and curiosity.
Ashley Dahl, MSW, is a visiting teacher at unfold. She is a champion of compassionate self-awareness, and she possesses a keen ability to infuse mindfulness into daily life and relationships. She brings humor and a presence of calm thoughtfulness as she blends the teachings of wisdom traditions and science with modern culture. Ashley is trained in mindfulness meditation through the Mindfulness Training Institute, studying under Mark Coleman and Martin Aylward.
You can attend any of these great programs she's offering this summer:
Relax & Restore with Yoga Nidra: Summer Edition
or Waking-Up: Mini Mindfulness Intensives
When I think about Mothers Day it is always with a mixture of emotions. The mother/child relationship is complicated at best! No matter how supportive your mother was, there are challenges, both real and imagined, between a mother (or mother figure) and the child-that-was.
And if you are in the role of mother / nurturer, you know first hand how difficult the dance is between supporting the needs of your family with the needs of your soul.
Without necessarily knowing, agreeing with, or understanding the exact challenges of the supportive women in my life, one thing I do know is that they all persisted.
This phrase came into focus earlier this year after the Senate voted to silence Elizabeth Warren during the confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General. And then came a variety of merchandise, including tee shirts with the iconic image from World War II with Rosie The Riveter, a powerful image for me.
It made me think about how hard my mother and grandmothers, aunts and other women who came before me all worked; both in building this country and in sustaining their families and communities. And it deepened my respect and my resolve to do the same.
This month we celebrate the spirit of the mother / nurturer at unfold. Whether you are the mother, the child, or both, consider spending some valuable refresh time in one of our classes, workshops, or series. Our Mothers Day schedule remains the same as it is every Sunday, so you can enjoy a lovely flow class with Tony at 9am, a gentle class appropriate to all body types with Karen at 10:30, or a relaxing and rejuvenating yin class with me at 5:30 to wrap up the weekend and support you meeting the new week from a less-stressed state.
Other opportunities for deep nurturing this month are Restorative Yoga & Sound Healing with Carol Grimes on Saturday 5/27. And there are a few drop in slots available for deeply relaxing Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) class on Monday nights 5/15 & 5/22. You can find all of these on our website.
You know that moment just before falling asleep? That feeling of deep relaxation with a slight trace of awareness? That’s what I’m reminded of when I practice Yoga Nidra. Nidra is a Sanskrit term for sleep. Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, refers to a restorative state of consciousness residing between wakefulness and sleep.
While there are different ways to access yogic sleep, the most common is through guided relaxation. Imagine a yoga class that heads directly to final rest. And then lingers there. Practice involves lying on the floor, supported by plenty of props (cushy mat, something soft for the head, bolster perhaps tucked beneath knees, blanket for added coziness…), and listening to a guided meditation.
The meditation focuses on gently releasing accumulated layers of physical, mental and emotional tension. This calms the nervous system and facilitates the body’s natural healing capabilities.
I practice Yoga Nidra because of how it makes me feel – more ease in my body, less stress in my mind. I also love that it’s safe and accessible for all ages and mobility levels – I can practice for life. My favorite thing about practicing Yoga Nidra though? The guaranteed benefits – worst-case scenario I get a restful nap.
Join Ashley at her upcoming Relax and Restore with Yoga Nidra mini-series beginning May 8th. For more details and to register click here.
It’s funny to notice the reluctance I have around this topic, and it makes me wonder how many others do too – tithing or charitable giving. I generally don’t consider myself in the category of people who have so much expendable income that they give some away at the end of each year. However, I’ve been doing some work with a coach around bringing my spiritual life and my money life together.
This coach suggests that by giving away some portion of your income each month, that we can practice believing that we are in a situation of abundance. So often, we feel like we don’t have enough – that there’s not enough time, enough clients, enough love, enough money. But if we give some away, we are making a statement to ourselves (and maybe to the universe), “I DO have enough.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’ve never made charitable contributions before – I have. But it’s usually been when I’ve been asked – it has been a reaction to being asked for a donation. And it certainly hasn’t been a part of an active spiritual practice.
I think that there is potential with the idea of proactively giving on a monthly basis, rather than (or in addition to) when asked. It doesn’t have to be the same organization nor the same amount. One idea my coach suggested, was to give a percentage of income – start with the idea of 1%. What would that look like? What would that feel like – giving 1% of what you earned this month? Even if you have a very low income – what would 1% feel like? Can you imagine giving to an organization that has benefited you, or someone you care about? Does that seem too small to be meaningful? Raise it by 1% until it feels just right.
My purpose in writing this, is not to cause feelings of obligation, but rather to invite you to take a look at your own relationship with ideas of abundance, money and spirituality. I just was lying in bed last night, thinking about Living Yoga and the good people there, doing such great work to change the world through spreading yoga teachings among those in correctional facilities and drug/alcohol rehab. And then I remembered – I haven’t given yet. It doesn’t matter how much – what matters is that I do give, and that I keep giving - whether it be money, time, love or whatever feels scarce – to give it away and to remember that practicing abundance is the only way to create more abundance for myself, my family and the world.
If you do consider giving to a non-profit – give to something that you connect with deeply. If yoga and awareness practices are important to you, consider these fine non-profits. We support them with our time and money, and they also support unfold studios:
Living Yoga, in this year's Willamette Week’s Give Guide.
The Samarya Center
One House of Peace
:Lately I have been noticing feelings of guilt, and insecurity. More specifically I realized that I doubt myself in knowing what I want because I often want to make others happy. I feel insecure about speaking Icelandic. I feel as though I have to speak perfectly or else I can't say anything at all. Lastly I feel as though I am not "doing enough" because I am working only part time and don't have a full schedule of responsibilities. Logically I know that none of this is true, yet I am still having these thought patterns which are creating challenging emotions. Naming them has helped immensely, just having awareness of what is happening is so healing.
And then I heard what unfold studios monthly topic was: Yoga Sutras: 1.3 "Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.( tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam) There is a Sanskrit chant that addresses identifying with our true nature rather than with everything else that we are a part of. I realized how helpful it could be to add my own personal challenging identities to the list that the avantam chatakam holds.
Here is a translation from wikipedia of the avantam chatakam.
1) I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (chitta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.
2) Neither can I be termed as energy (prana), nor five types of breath (vayus), nor the seven material essences, nor the five coverings (pancha-kosha). Neither am I the five instruments of elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, or speaking. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.
3) I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (kama), nor even liberation (moksha). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.
4) I have neither merit (virtue), nor demerit (vice). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures (Vedas), rituals or sacrifices (yagnas). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.
5) I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.
6) I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness
So here is my own variation of the first stanza: "I am not my guilt, my work ethic, my insecurities, my homesickness. I am not my feelings. I am beyond that. I am not doubt, nor desire, nor my body. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, love and pure consciousness."
What a powerful practice to let go of all of our identities, especially the one's that are not serving us and instead identify with love. What a joy to practice yoga.
You can hear Molly Lannon Kenny chant this beautiful poem in Sanskrit here:
When is having a separate class for people with bigger bodies a service, and when does it cause more labeling, more separation? This is a question we spend time with every so often, at unfold studios and in the Samarya Yoga community. This is because we believe that yoga is truly for everyone. And we also believe that everyone adapts yoga to his or her own needs and wants. Just because someone has a larger body, a smaller body, an older body or an injured body, it doesn’t mean that they are doing special yoga – it’s all just yoga. The people that we see on the cover of a yoga magazine aren’t doing the “real” yoga, while the rest of us are doing some watered-down version.
However, this is the perception (and sometimes close to the true experience) of what is happening in many yoga studios around the United States. Classes are filled with young, flexible, athletic, white women who seem to fully understand what is going on in class – the terminology, the clothes and the gear, the pace, and what is expected. This can be an intimidating environment for some, for myriad reasons. So, while we who practice Samarya Yoga, believe at our core that all shapes and sizes of people can practice together, regardless of perceived barriers, we also see that having a dedicated introductory class can be beneficial for several reasons. Here are our top five:
1. Being with others with similar body type – This can provide a sense of safety, belonging and understanding. We know that all bodies are different, regardless of size, but knowing that you won’t be surrounded by lythe, stereotypical yoga bodies could be just what you need to help you walk through the door.
2. Being with others who are new to yoga – The language of yoga can be intimidating. When we know that we will be taken through the ABC’s, it can be a welcome relief.
3. Overviewing typical modifications for larger bodies – As earlier stated, all bodies are different, and still knowing a number of standard modifications for bigger bodies will dramatically increase your ability to modify many yoga poses (or other exercises you’ll find out in the world.)
4. Learning the underlying idea or “heart” of a pose – When we can figure out the main goal, idea or “heart” of a pose, we can choose other ways to achieve the same goal. For instance, say you’re in a yoga class and the instructor asks everyone to get on their knees for “camel pose,” but your knees don’t like that kind of pressure. Although there are many things going on with that pose, the “heart” is backward bending. And there are many accessible ways to backward bend. Voila! We can make our own modifications!
5. Knowing you can take your time – In a class dedicated to specific needs, we can slow down and trust that it’s okay to take the time to ask questions, to clarify, and to find what’s really best for each of us.
So, although we strive to provide this safety and support in each and every class, we like to make special offerings occasionally for just these reasons.
Whether you are new to yoga, or interested in coming back to it – a dedicated class may provide the community and connection you are looking for.
E.B. Ferdig is a yoga therapist and teacher in Portland, Oregon, and is a co-owner of unfold studios. For more about the E.B., please see: http://www.unfoldportland.com/instructors.html
E.B. will be offering Intro to Yoga for Bigger Bodies, on Saturday, December 21, 10am – Noon. Cost is $30 for the workshop, or $20 for each student if you bring a friend. Check out with discount code: FRIEND10.
When I tell people I am going home for Christmas, I feel a little confused. Isn't Reykjavik my home now or is Portland my home? I like to think I have many homes, Portland, Seattle, Reykjavik, AcroYoga, Samarya Center, unfold studios, etc. So what makes a place home?
For me the feeling of comfort, acceptance and familiarity are very important. And ultimately it is about knowing people and feeling supported by them. And sometimes knowing people isn't as important, but knowing people care for you because there is a feeling of connection, whether is because you have a similar hobby, spiritual life or mutual friends.
I fly into Seattle on my way to Portland. I am so excited to see my friends there and to see the Samarya Center, the place of all of my yoga training and my teacher, Molly Lannon Kenny. I had also planned to teach a workshop there. Recently I found out the Samarya Center would no longer be the Samarya Center. My initial reaction was one of loss and sadness. Very quickly I remembered what makes the Samarya Center feel like a comfortable place for me and its not a building or a location, but instead a feeling of acceptance, of heart centered and warm teachers, staff and students. The good news is that the Samarya Center has found a new location and you can help them make the move by donating to their relocating fund. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-samarya-center-matters-please-support-our-transformation
Wherever I am, wherever The Samarya Center is, it doesn't matter. We have the challenge to feel at home with ourselves and help others feel at home with themselves. Whether we are in a relaxing yoga studio or a dingy bar, can we be accepting, supportive and comforting and create "home" anywhere?
Community, to me, used to be an overused word that didn't mean much. Now, as I try to build community in Iceland and as I watch unfold's community grow, the word means so much.
Starting my life in a new country without many resources gave me the scary opportunity to jump into new communities or be forced to start my own. I needed support, friendship and collaboration somehow! Luckily, I was able to start teaching right away witch gave me the confidence and the clarity to start my own community by sharing what I love, yoga and AcroYoga.
Having something to offer makes things easier, but they still aren't easy. I can easily show up to teach, then just as easily go home afterwards without ever talking to anyone or seeing anyone after class is over. Instead, I set an intention to reach out to others with my best self regardless of what I got back, hoping that if I was open a community might start to form.
At unfold we have a passion to share yoga and awareness practices. By offering our most authentic selves, we know that some will be drawn back to Samarya Yoga and Integrated Movement Therapy. Some might only come once a week or to a workshop here and there, others will become future Samarya teachers or attend every event they can. By reaching out and accepting and appreciating involvement with unfold at any level we can build our social, physical and spiritual community.
Approaching community building with this kind of vulnerability can be difficult and humbling. After reaching out to a few Icelanders, I was able to get an AcroYoga practice going at the park. Rather than stopping there, I also invited everyone to ice cream after (Icelanders are obsessed with ice cream) hoping to take advantage of the chance to build connections. Only one girl took me up on the offer, but since she has invited more people to join the practice.
How can we do this more? How can we offer ourselves to others in a way that's loving and supportive?
In the Icelandic circus (which I am now a part of) there aren't many rules, but one of them is that you have to share what you know. You are not allowed to learn a new trick and not teach everyone else. I love this idea and the way it creates connections whether you're already deep in the community or you've just come in the door for the first time.
It can be hard to share yourself. There will always be fear that you won't be noticed or appreciated. That's Okay. I encourage everyone to put themselves out there and build community. Whether that means starting something new, or supporting those around you that want to spread their gifts. I
Written by teachers at unfold studios and guest authors.