Does That Yoga Class Count?
The Truth Behind Yin-Style Yoga Practice
Do you ever feel like you’re “cheating” on your regular yoga anytime you opt for the Yin or Yoga Nidra class? I know that when I first started doing Yin Yoga I thought it was somehow cheating, that I wasn’t doing “real yoga”. I recall feeling the urge of needing to get somewhere, to feel like I was doing something or making some sort of progress during my first few Yin Yoga classes. At that time, it didn’t feel like I was actually practicing yoga. Of course, I now know this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
It all started the day I sprained my ankle and my daily power yoga practice that I had come to know as the “Real Yoga” came to a screeching and abrupt halt. I found myself limited to the more gentle yoga and meditation classes, such as Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra. I had no idea I was about to embark on a blissful journey. You see, being a strong-willed, determined, always-on-the-go A-type myself, being forced to slow down was very uncomfortable for me in the beginning.
However, my dedication to a personal daily yoga practice persevered and I found myself taking a Yin Yoga class daily and practicing Yoga Nidra nightly. I started to search through the videos on Gaia and pick out the more gentle Yin and Yoga Nidra meditation style classes. I started to learn that I was not cheating on my regular yoga, but I was actually beginning to practice the “real yoga”—whereas before I was just practicing Asana (only one aspect of yoga).
I began to learn the importance of quieting the sun energy, or energy out and strengthening the moon energy, the energy inside. It is imperative to allow the body to recharge, working its way from the outside, inward. It’s amazing what you can feel on the inside when you can still your body and quiet your mind long enough to experience it.
Just when I thought my practice had reached an all-time new high, I stumbled upon the practice of Yoga Nidra, which was life-changing for me! In Yoga Nidra the body lies still on the floor, you have no physical movement, so there are no physical restrictions, which means pretty much anyone can do it. It’s known as “Yogic Sleep,” although you will not fall asleep—or at least that is the goal anyway.
I say this because it is very hard not to fall asleep during the sessions as you drop down to an altered state of consciousness quickly, and it takes practice to remain awake during your entire session. In Yoga Nidra, practitioners explore the fifth element to yoga called, Pratyahara, which literally means sense withdrawal. During the Yoga Nidra session, we set our intentions or affirmations, otherwise known as the Sankalpa, which allows the change to take place at the subconscious level. For those of you who don’t already know, the subconscious is what is running the show here, not the conscious mind, as one may think.
After all of the different types of yoga I’ve tried, it’s my Yoga Nidra practice that I come back to every night, with joy, and because I’ve experienced its healing powers first hand. Let this be a reminder that in the practice of Yin Yoga, the practice of surrender, we go inside and work our way from the outside in—this is by far a more advanced practice of yoga. We are going beyond the asana and using that to help us move on to the next step as we evolve in our practice.
If you’re ready to give Yoga Nidra a try, the practice that I do every evening before bed is the Yoga Nidra Practice by Armand Sagredo, and can’t recommend it highly enough. Be open to the practice and you will quickly see healing and miracles occur in your life.
Benefits to Practicing Yoga Every Day
In a recent study aptly titled, Neuroprotective Effects of Yoga Practice, the brains of experienced yoga practitioners were compared to those of non-practitioners with similar health profiles. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers at The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health were able to identify regions of activity and growth. As a result, this study found that:
- A regular practice combining breath awareness, physical postures and meditation can increase the volume of gray matter (brain tissue) in different parts of the brain, effectively reducing the naturally occurring, age-related decline of brain cells. With most of the observed gray matter volume changes having occurred in the left-side of the brain, the implication is that yoga shifts the automatic response of the practitioner from fight-or-flight (right-brain, sympathetic nervous system activation resulting in acute physical stress) to rest-and-digest (left-brain, parasympathetic nervous system activation promoting calm and relaxation)
- The areas of the brain indicating the greatest change in gray matter were those directly related to sense of self, attention, spatial/sensory awareness as well as stress reduction. These findings provide a potential neural basis for the benefits of practicing yoga. The observed benefits were greater in those who practiced more often over a longer period of time supporting the notion that a consistent practice of yoga every day is more effective than an intermittent one