A story about my personal journey of Hatha Yoga and Yoga Nidra
By Silvia Eriksson
Do you remember that time when you were a kid when everything seemed possible?
You would just think of something strong enough, and it would materialize?
I distinctly remember the difference between a sort of greedy need for something, and when I really felt strongly about a certain goal or endeavor – like a boy I liked, or a school project I wanted to finish. I would daydream about how a situation would play out, just imagining it in a way that would give me excitement and butterflies in my stomach, and sure enough, something magical would unfold. I mostly thought I was unstoppable, I could achieve what I wanted. If I really thought about it strong enough.
I also remember the point when that went away , and things changed for me. My early twenties, which really is a time where I found myself in some situations that I sometimes wished I had a retroactive Delete button for, and I lost faith in that innate “power” that I thought I had. I decided it was all just wishful thinking, and there is no such thing as magic. I stopped daydreaming, I stopped imagining, stopped writing my dreams and drawing my fantasies.
This was about the same time when I started to practice Hatha Yoga, a really slow class that I was going to due to an old accident and I was generally not very in touch with my body. It felt like I grew up way too fast and I had this sense of having been pushed into a corner of my body while the rest of it changed without me noticing, and that corner was my head and I had lost the connection to everything else.
So how come I was so much in my head but unable to connect to this positive thinking power I had as a kid? Is that just how it goes for everyone, is it really so boring to be an adult – everything is so analytical and harsh?
The answer came to me in retrospect, recently, even though the process the Hatha yoga started in me began on that first winter afternoon I ever stepped in a yoga studio. I remember that day, the class was excruciating for me, I could not touch my toes, I could not straighten my arms over my ear, my legs and my back ached throughout the whole class and sitting in a cross legged position was pure torture. But in the final relaxation when we were finally lying down, the teacher asked us in her soothing voice to think of certain parts of the body, moving from right to left, from head to toe. And there it was, that little butterfly came back to my belly, and I thought of a poem I wanted to write. I got inspired. About something, anything. It was amazing. I felt a Goodness all over.
I was not a dedicated yogi at the time, and soon forgot the butterfly incident, but the times I did go back to the class, I always felt the Goodness afterwards. It was not until much later after much more consistent practice I noticed how things were shifting for me.
Somewhere along the line I started to take my practice more seriously, I wanted to feel stronger, more flexible and “achieve” some postures in Yoga. So I did some Asthanga, Vinyasa and Hatha flow, and slowly my body was shifting. All the things I had read in yoga books by that time started to make sense, things were clicking. Finally after some years I could sit in a cross legged position. I could not intellectualize what was happening, but I knew I was peeking out of that corner of my head and feeling my whole body. I could touch my toes – my head was now closer to the rest of the body, it was blissful.
By chance I happened upon a class that included a Yoga Nidra at the end , and again, just like the first time, the teacher asked us to lie down without moving, place our attention onto different points in our bodies, like creating a map or a grid of it. This time she also asked us to think of an intention, or a resolve before the Yoga Nidra, a Sankalpa. I couldn’t really think of one specific thing so I dropped it, and just enjoyed the relaxation.
What did an intention have to do with relaxing and visualizing points in your body? The answer seems so obvious now, but at the time I was clueless. I still was not truly home in my body.
Shortly after this I did a 200 hour yoga teacher training and I started to get real nerdy about all the technical things in my practice, especially the anatomy portion of it. The training only dabbled in it, but it was enough to spike my curiosity. How come I live in this vessel and have no clue about what is in it and how it works? I came to the conclusion that this is what my yoga practice was doing, it was “spreading me” from my head to the rest of the body, and this curiosity was a result of maybe starting to connect to my body finally. It is just a first step really.
My practice changed. The teacher training’s technicality, all the workshops about anatomy and kinesiology opened my “inner-eye” into by body . As I was in postures, I was suddenly able to visualize internally what was happening in my muscular-skeletal system, which part was doing what, how one part affected the other.
It was (and is) an exciting journey – the one into the body, perhaps the most important one for me so far, because this training of my mind to focus and “spread” myself throughout my body and visualize what it is doing while I am doing it has slowly opened the door to the part of my mind that was lost since I was a child.
Now I knew what was missing, it was simply the connection to my body. Somehow I had grown away from the rest of it, and stayed just in my head without communicating back and forth, without letting my brain make neuro-pathways into the whole of it.
The visualizing, or the daydreaming, came back to me when I became fortunate enough to become a practicing Yoga instructor. Like most people, I was so nervous so be in front of people. I was not good about writing out my classes or making flash cards or any of that, but I did find a system to create my sequences and it was strangely like the process of when I was little, or daydreaming, imagining something unfold, seeing it and feeling it so clearly – without any attachment, just a knowledge that it was to be.
And so returned my connection to my child self, or at least partially. I was filled with joy for teaching yoga asana classes, it was exciting every time for me not only on a personal level but also for my career. I learned all over again how to execute what I dreamed of and what I imagined and as a consequence it rippled into my creative soul and the playful not so serious part of my brain.
A while later I came across an E-Course on the Yoga International website by Rolf Sovik about Yoga Nidra, and then it All Made Sense. That intention, the Sankalpa I was wondering about that first time I experienced the Nidra was only possible to be made in a state of quiet in the mind. So the practice that was only a relaxation for me before, became my door to that place like when I was a child of pure joy for something I truly believed in, something I wanted in my life without greed or desire but a wholly visualized “daydream” full of possibility.
Of course, Yoga Nidra was the purest form of visualization. First you allow the body to open and relax through Hatha Yoga and then you allow your state of mind to go to an almost sleep state, while still conscious – to a place of pure mind, where it is no longer chatting away into all different directions, and there your intention, or resolve – the Sankalpa was planted like a seed.
Like when I was a child, where my mind was not yet clouded, or filled with fear and disappointment, the Yoga Nidra brought me back to that state of clarity where all I was doing was essentially connecting to my body and visualizing my dream.
But none of that could have unfolded if I first did not learn to do the same in my Hatha Yoga practice and come back into my body through conscious movement while breathing and connecting into my limbs, through knowledge and mindful presence.
Slowly over time, this then translated to the same innate ability that was so easily lost – to freely and positively daydream in a creative way and manifest what I believe in. Nothing is impossible, but like anything else, the practice has its ups and downs and requires a gentle consistency, even the practice of Yoga Sleep.