Day 44- Yoga Nidra

This time I wake up and I know I have slept less than six hours. I have probably slept less than four. I couldn’t fall asleep to begin with and when I finally did, I was woken up by an alarm. Andrew is going surfing early. He didn’t sleep too well either. The bed is covered in sand, the blanket feels like a big tablecloth and something has been biting us from underneath.

I lie down on my yoga mat, I can’t even contemplate moving, but I can’t get back to sleep now that I am awake. I need yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is a form of guided meditation that puts your brain waves into a level deeper than sleep, but where you remain conscious. It is considered to lie between sleep and Samadhi and can leave you feeling refreshed, revitalised and deeply rested. According to my friend and yoga teacher, Melanie McLaughlin, half an hour of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to two hours of sleep. It is Mel’s Yoga Nidra practice that I am listening to; a download from her website Meditate With Mel. Mel has the most beautiful voice for meditation. It is soothing, calm and gentle. In fact, when I die, I hope that it is Mel’s voice that is guiding metoward the bright light at the end of the tunnel. She radiates a natural yin energy and when I used to go to her weekly Yin Yoga class before working at a busy bar, people often thought I was stoned. Her yoga nidra recording is about half an hour long, which is a good length of time for me, as I don’t really feel like moving for another half an hour. I have also found shorter versions of nidra, for example Terry Oldfield’s Yoga Nidra CD, which has a ten minute yoga nidra. To give you an idea of just how refreshing yoga nidra can be, I used to practice this before a graveyard shift at a bar I once worked at. I would be starting at 11pm and working until 7 or 8am. The half an hour yoga nidra was enough to keep me going without coffee, red bull or anything else besides water and a piece of fruit.

When I first practiced yoga nidra I would fall asleep every time. My teacher suggested that I lay down with my forearm up so that when I started to drift off, the motion of my arm falling would wake me up again. Eventually I learned to stay awake for the entire process and can now lie down without falling asleep.

So this morning I am listening to Mel’s Yoga Nidra and short chakra balancing meditation at the end. It starts slowly and with the simple strums of a guitar in the background, Mel’s angelic voice gently guides me through the steady relaxation of my whole physical body. This is the core of yoga nidra and by the time she is at the chakra balancing visualisation, I am in a deep state of rest. At the end of the meditation, after coming back down through the chakras, I slowly open my eyes and take a good stretch. The kind one takes first thing in the morning after a full night of sleep. I move straight into a flowing yoga practice with energy and vitality.

After breakfast, I am still suffering from some really bad food we had yesterday. (The food in Chacahua is pretty much all bad except for a little bar run by an American and the seafood tamales sold by little girls). I lay down on the bed to allow my stomach to settle and hear a rock against the bars of the window. As I look toward the window another rock flies in and hits me on the leg. I go to the window and see two little kids with rubber bands. They stare at me blankly. “Oye que hacen, escuincles?!” (What are you doing, you little brats?!) They run away and I am left in peace. I do another yoga practice and then need a swim. Restless, I go for a long walk, heading towards some mountains that never get any closer. I see a vulture eating the remains of a puffer fish as I walk. I try to sit on a piece of driftwood, but there are some putrefying pelican remains nearby and I can smell the decay. This place feels like a wasteland. As I walk back I walk around a half eaten eel the width of my thigh that looks like it has been cleanly bitten in half. I shudder to think what ate it. As I walk back through this beach desert I realise I have walked too far and I am not even halfway back. I have no water and I can feel the sun burning my skin even through the sunscreen.

Before long we decide to head back to Puerto Escondido. One night here is more than enough. I grab one more mussel filled tamale and we jump on the lancha back to Zapotelito. I drop one of my thongs on the beach and don’t realise until we are already too far away to go back. I return to Puerto barefoot and tired. I jump straight into the shower; grateful for the yoga nidra I practiced. Without that I don’t know how I would have gotten through this day.

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Day 10 – breathing in 1:2 ratio

This morning I am building on the diaphragmatic breath and using a 1:2 ratio. After brushing my teeth, I sit on the spare bed in my brother’s house and close my eyes, using my hands to find slow diaphragmatic breathing. I start to count the inhale for a count of three and the exhale for a count of six. After five or six rounds, my breath is slowing down and I can inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight. I continue breathing this way for a bit and realise that my stomach is churning for some reason. I keep breathing but notice soon that my head is hurting. I can’t figure out why but before long I have a full blown head ache and my stomach is feeling a bit ill. I am wondering if it was the late night cheese snack I had and after a few more minutes I decide to stop fighting against my body and just lie down. It has only been 13 minutes.

I lie down flat on my back with my palms open in Savasana. I quickly feel better and find myself automatically returning to the breath count, inhale four, exhale eight. I feel my mind relax but not so much that I am sleeping and my head ache quickly dissolves and my stomach starts to settle. I continue breathing this way in an entirely relaxed yet aware state for another half an hour.

It could be argued that what I am actually doing is not meditation at all but closer to snoozing since I am still lying down on a mattress. Many meditation teachers have told me that sitting up is best as it keeps the mind more alert and lying down may cause you to fall asleep. In my experience, if you need to sleep then it will always take priority over meditation and if that is the case then you should just sleep. I used to chronically fall asleep in my teacher training during Yoga Nidra since we always practiced lying down so my teacher suggested I keep one arm up and as I would drift off, the arm would fall, bringing me back into my body. This quickly taught me to stay awake when listening to guided meditation and is an easy technique to use if you are worried about sleeping. I don’t like to think that there is any “wrong” way to meditate. If you feel sick, suffer pain in a sitting position or simply feel like you can’t sit comfortably without getting easily distracted then why not lie down? If you fall asleep, then you probably need it. If I can lie down and be aware of the long deep diaphragmatic breathing, counting the inhales and exhales for half an hour then who is to say that this is not meditation? In fact, it is rather enjoyable! I certainly feel the same sense of clarity and freshness when I finish and although I prefer to meditate sitting up more often than not, I don’t think lying down should be considered a “cop-out”, a cheat or lazy meditation. As they say on http://www.meditationoasis.com, “better to meditate lying down than not at all”!

(Meditation Oasis is a great resource for information, guided meditation podcasts and they even have an iPhone application. I will be exploring the many guided meditations available later in the year as I have been collecting podcasts and recordings from various sources.)