We can easily become creatures of habit. Our mental states and emotional inclinations can get repeated over and over again so that without even realizing it, we run the risk of living an emotional and mental life that is largely on auto-pilot. Neuroscientists refer to this dynamic-on the neuroanatomical -level as the Hebb Principle, which states: “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.
If we keep giving energy and credence to the same thought pattern, it will fix a groove in our neural circuitry. If that groove gets constant blood flow activation, it will gain traction, create strong synaptic connections, and become something like a cognitive habit. If a thought pattern becomes entrenched, there is usually a somatic habit that occurs concurrently. On the positive side, this capacity within us can open us to mental and physical resiliency, which will lead us into fulfilling our potentials. On the negative side, it can keep us locked into some debilitating and self-defeating mind states. So, what’s a person to do?
GUIDED YOGA NIDRA
My favorite practice for rejuvenating a weary mind and an overactive nervous system comes from the yogic tradition and is called Yoga Nidra. Nidra refers to a kind of deep resting state. Yoga Nidra is a therapeutic guided practice that, done correctly, will vitalize the body, regulate the nervous system and settle and recharge the brain and therefore, the mind. Big claims? No.
Yoga Nidra works. How do I know this? For over 20 years I have used yoga nidra as my primary means of rejuvenating my own body and mind. For many of those years I offered it to clients in my psychotherapy practice with remarkable results. Yoga Nidra has infiltrated into my yoga teaching and all the work that I do.
Yoga Nidra has an uncanny way of ushering the mind into a quiet, crystal clear awareness. My guess is that once we get Yoga Nidra studies into some state of the art Neuroscience labs, we will see how the practice strengthens the parasympathetic branch (the balanced “resting’ state) of the autonomic nervous system while quieting the sympathetic (fight/flight) mode. Some research scientists are becoming interested in studying Yoga Nidra and I hope to be a part of that scientific effort.
In 2009 and 2010 I was in the midst of cancer treatment, it was Yoga Nidra that I kept pulling from my toolkit when the going got rough. And it got pretty rough. Yoga Nidra (along with my medical team!) was a savior and I came though some aggressive treatment with my internal reserves intact. One of my doctors became curious about my “positive coping” and asked what I was doing to be having such a “remarkable recovery”. I told him how Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Mindfulness Practices were my trifecta. He said: ‘Whatever you are doing, keep at it!” I have!
I’m married to an ultra trail runner and witness, time and time again, just how much mental training and refined attention can enhance athletic performance. And, while performance matters, one of the wonderful benefits of mind/body practices is that we tend to enjoy our challenges so much more when our mind is not clouded with distraction, negative mind ruts and old, unconscious narratives.
Mindfulness is a way of training and inclining our attention into the present moment. Present moment awareness is a deliberate practice, which, like athletic conditioning, helps us to incline our minds away from rumination (past) or anticipation (future) and usher us into a wakeful state in the present moment. Some people call this “awakened presence”. My favorite definition of awakened presence comes from Lisa Dale Miller (author) “Seeing what is, as it is.” Mindfulness is something we cultivate over and over again by weaving the principles of it into our everyday, ordinary lives.
Yoga Nidra and Mindfulness practice work beautifully together; both enhance athletic training by cultivating an inner mental coach who will right you when your mind starts running amuck. There is a belief in the yoga tradition that comes from the yoga sutras, which is something like: As is the mind, so is the body. As is the breath, so is the mind. If our breath is jagged, our mind and awareness become fractured. If our thinking is fractured, our actions will follow suit and become unfocused.
The beautiful thing about these human dynamics is that we can choose to not be a victim of our habits. We can see them for what they are and we can learn to rotate our awareness and respond to life’s challenges with skillful actions, insight and grace.
My recording: “Yoga Nidra: Total Relaxation Practices for Adults and Teens” recording is designed to help liberate you from the grip of habit while lovingly nudging you towards the possibilities and potentials that are innate and ready to be freed. I can’t and won’t claim that this recording will make you a faster or stronger athlete (Elizabeth and Joe can do that!) however, I’ve no doubt that, by adding mind/body practices into your life, you will add a dimension to your training that is invaluable and will ripple out into many spheres of your life.
Whether you listen to an actual CD or a digital version, you simply push play; lie on your back and listen. Here is a direct link to a page that will give you all the info you need about both the recording and how to get it.
It’s available on iTunes and Amazon and, CD's are available through me. Instructions about how to use the recording are in the first track. The beautiful thing is, you lie comfortably on your back, push play and simply follow my voice. Yoga Nidra is done while laying still.