Yoga nidra and the great unlearning

by Wendy Knerr, Restful Being Associate Teacher

If you come to a yoga nidra class, you probably expect to do something and to learn something. Most likely, you will: techniques you can use to access your innate ease and well-being. Yet the greatest benefits of the practice may not be a result of what you do or learn, but the extent to which you begin not doing and unlearning. Despite the seeming paradox of coming to a class to discover how to not do and to not learn, I still encourage it. Here’s why.

After years of practicing yogic breathing exercises, it took me several more years to unlearn to control my breath during yoga nidra practice. I feel a bit foolish admitting it, but I discovered (gasp!) that my body breathes itself! It does so without any effort or help, all day, every day. Until then, I had unconsciously operated as though most things wouldn’t get done unless I took decisive action. As a social and political activist, the concept of not-doing — of welcoming — struck me at first as passive and lazy. And as I faced sleep disturbances, chronic anxiety, depression and a number of foot and leg maladies, I immediately went into action: fix it, I told myself, no matter what!

Through a daily yoga nidra practice, I discovered that breathing happens, that physical sensations come and go, that things change … no matter what. Even a chronic pain in the body changes from moment to moment, but I was often unaware of it because l was so focused on resisting the pain or trying to fix it. Unlearning, not doing, and welcoming instead, has challenged my beliefs about how much effort is required to keep my body and mind functioning and in good health, and my life going in the direction of happiness and purpose.

I realize this may sound unrealistic: some people have serious problems, terrible pain, and tremendous suffering. That isn’t in doubt, and I’m not suggesting there is no place for medical intervention, fierce activism, breathing exercises and uphill battles. But if you are a chronic do-er and interested in inviting more ease into your life, the practice of welcoming using the techniques of yoga nidra may be worth investigating. Welcoming can help you to approach life’s challenges with a lot less struggle. You might also find that it opens the door to many more of life’s joys, too.