Over the past several months, our lives have been upended as we’ve witnessed and endured loss, hardship, and injustice. This is a time of tremendous grief. The world’s eyes have been opened to the truth of more than 400 years of systemic racism, while we grapple with personal loss and social isolation. We are in a time of great transition, and what we do in this space matters. We need to stay awake to everything that arises, especially our sorrow.
When we are weary from heartbreak, we must lie back and let the tamas (lethargy, inertia) of grief work on us in a different way—to get grounded and connected with the unconditional support of the Earth. Yoga Nidra can help us do this. As a technique, Yoga Nidra invites us to remain awake and aware while we experience different states of consciousness and the transitions between them. Practitioners are led through four stages of practice—diaphragmatic breathing, systematic relaxation of the body, visualization, and resting in spacious awareness—to reach a place between sleeping and wakefulness. In this place, they are still receiving the rejuvenating benefits of non-REM sleep. While this experience can feel profoundly restful, it is not merely a chance to catch some Zs. It offers entrance into the heart center and provides awakening and connection with our true nature. It’s a practice to wake us up to life. I think of it as a healing salve and believe it’s the practice for these times.
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This meditation is a journey through four stages of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and turiya, which is considered synonymous with samadhi (union). Research has shown that the theta brainwave state that’s generated while practicing Yoga Nidra is one of deep inward awareness and healing. Delta brain waves that are present during deep sleep are known to help our bodies naturally heal and leave us feeling well-rested. Studies show that advanced practitioners of Yoga Nidra are both simultaneously asleep and alert, which allows them to alternate between theta and delta waves. Over time, mastering this oscillation process enables them to transition to turiya.
What we need most when we are grieving is support. Yoga Nidra offers a chance to practice deep relaxation and presence while being supported.
Yoga Sutra (I:36), Vishoka Va Jyotishmati, describes a state of sorrowless joy that resides at the heart, a place free of grief and suffering illuminated by an eternal radiant light unaffected by conditions. It is here we can rest when we’re experiencing grief. By meditating on the heart and anchoring ourselves in gratitude, we can taste the radiance of this inner place, steady the mind, and understand that though we may be experiencing grief, joy is also present.
Spend two minutes in each stage before moving to the next one.
1. Get Grounded
Move into Savasana (Corpse Pose) or any comfortable position, using props as needed to fully support your body.
Establish an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks for all you have, beginning with your breath.
Remember that breath is a birthright, something we all have in common, and what connects us to the whole.
Practice inhaling into your belly and chest for 4 counts and exhaling for 8. Observe yourself being filled and cocooned with the frequency of gratitude.
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2. Feel Supported
Notice your body resting on the floor and the earth holding you.
Inhale: Invite waves of nurturing support to flow into every pore of your body.
Exhale: Release heaviness and sadness, composting back into the earth for 2 minutes.
Let go of counting your breath and observe its natural flow in and out.
Notice waves of thoughts and emotions without attaching to them.
Practice perceiving the pause between your inhalations and exhalations.
Count your breaths backward from 18 to zero. For example, think to yourself, 18, breathing in, 18, breathing out.
Experience more ease and surrender with each passing breath on your way to zero. If you lose your place, start again from 18.
Invite the earth to support you even more. Be effortless. Let yourself be held.
5. Deepen your Awareness
For three breaths, bring your attention to the base of your spine.
Then, for three breaths each, focus on the following energy centers: the womb or pelvic center, the navel center, the heart center, the throat center, and the third eye.
Return your attention to rest at the heart center.
Feel your breath moving in and out from your chest. Invite in gratitude and eternal radiant light.
For a mindfulness journal with prompts and practices, try The Mindfulness Journal.
6. Close your Practice
Deepen your breath. Move your fingers and toes, coming back to your body and the room.
Shift out of your meditation with gratitude, rolling to one side, and pausing for a few breaths. If you’d like, close with a prayer or blessing for your healing and the healing of the collective.
Complete with 10 minutes of free-writing or journaling on your experience or anything your session brought up for you.
About Tracee Stanley
Tracee Stanley is a Yoga Nidra and meditation teacher. She is the author of Radiant Rest: Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation and Awakened Clarity, available for pre-sale now (Shambhala Publications). Find her at traceeyoga.com.
Learn More For more about Yoga Nidra and Tracee’s teachings, listen to her podcast with Yoga Journal at yogajournal.com/yogashow.
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