We hear regular alerts from the medical industry that Westerners have epidemic rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance- and alcohol-abuse, all conditions related to high levels of stress in our consumer-industrial world that places enormous pressure on us to buy more, be more, and produce more. The answer often given by the medical industry is pills, which bring little relief and often create more problems than they cure. Attention is at last being given to the value of good nutrition, exercise and relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, for countering the ill effects of life under late capitalism. Julie Lusk, in her latest book Yoga Nidra for Complete Relaxation & Stress Relief brings us a new tool for achieving the latter.
The book itself offers pages and pages (too many!) of testimonials to convince us to give a try to this aspect of yogic practice, rarely heard of and even less practiced in the West. Early chapters of the book outline the destructive effects of stress on our health, our mental attitudes and our lives. Later chapters explain the process of Yoga Nidra and provide scripts so that one might perform it on oneself and instructions for facilitating it on others. The book is interesting reading, but the real benefit comes with the links it offers to downloadable guided meditations. I thought, to review this book honestly, I had better submit myself to them in order to have fully investigated Lusk’s claims.
When I first began to listen, I was very disappointed. A woman’s grating voice mechanically recited the instructions for the practice. I thought, “This will never relax me!” The annoying woman kept telling me, “Don’t fall asleep; be alert and awake!” and I thought, “Fat chance of falling asleep with your harsh voice grating on!” Half an hour later, I was sleeping more soundly than I have in a year! I had to do the first session, dedicated to bodily relaxation, three times over before managing to stay awake through it all. It certainly delivered on Lusk’s promises: my body felt like it had melted across the yoga mat and onto the floor. I thought, “They will need to pick me up with a spoon!”
The next two meditations added to the bodily relaxation visualization exercises intend to open the third eye chakra and lead one to the still, happy core of their being. I don’t know about this, but I can testify that it is a lot easier to feel content and gracious toward others when you are as relaxed as this training allows. The sense of bone-deep relaxation lasted for days after the first exercise. It is easy to imagine that one’s body, mental attitude and life would be well improved by encountering the world from the position of deep relaxation Lusk’s exercises afford. I continue to practice them the last hour before bed each day. I also continue to fall asleep in mid-meditation many nights. Ooops!
The system of Yoga Nidra takes this path: physical relaxation is achieved, by revealing and unwinding the stress habituation in the body. You will be astounded to find it there hiding in so many muscles, undetected until the light of the mind’s eye illuminates them! Then focus on the breath places attention on the energy body or subtle life force layer. This is a very pleasant stage of the practice. The third stage looks at the body as the holding tank for repressed thoughts and unresolved emotions. The subtle breath is visualized as “brushing or sweeping away” this destructive mental debris, leaving the practitioner buoyant with a feeling of lightness. The fourth stage builds upon the previous, with greater relaxation that opens the creative aspect, sometimes allowing insights unseen before. Finally, relaxation is so total that the mind opens to a space beyond words and thought, a place of profound stillness, one I have glimpsed only rarely in long weeks of meditative retreat. Imagine finding it in your own home every few nights!
One of the things I have always found quite remarkable is that it seems not to matter how much skepticism one brings to a practice that is truly potent; the results can be just as profound for skeptics as for dedicated disciples. I did not expect to be impressed by the book, with its grand promises and harsh-voiced guide person. However, I was wrong. This is a very worthwhile practice that will improve people’s health, mental attitude and life, helping them to cultivate and awaken their natural wisdom, and also their compassion for other sufferers along the paths of their lives. I loved the entire experience and recommend the book--and the practices--to all. I am a convert!
© 2016 Wendy C. Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D. (Philosophy), Professor, North Carolina A&T State University.