The Art of Mindful Relaxation: The Heart of Yoga Nidra

The Art of Mindful Relaxation: The Heart of Yoga Nidra

by Ed Shapiro

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486824413
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 08/15/2018
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 1,248,848
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author


Together with his wife, Deb Shapiro, Ed is the author of 18 books published in more than 20 languages on personal development, meditation, and social action. The couple lead meditation retreats and personal development programs worldwide and acts as corporate consultants and personal coaches, working with CEOs and senior management. They hosted the television series Chill Out, which was rated the most popular show on London's Channel Health TV.

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CHAPTER 1

Seeking Peace

Ever wonder what the biggest problem in life really is? Yes, it's stress! And the remedy? Profound dynamic relaxation. This is a true story: I met John at a stress-release workshop I was teaching in Scotland. He was a schoolteacher in a run-down area of Glasgow. As if that wasn't hard enough, he was a history teacher, a subject that most of his pupils were completely uninterested in — perhaps the history of rap music but certainly not of kings and queens! Teaching had become a source of immense stress; John would regularly lose his temper and was planning to quit. I saw him again a year later at a follow-up workshop. John looked refreshed and radiant, so I fully expected to hear that he'd gotten a different job. Instead, he told me that he'd become head of the department. The difference? John had done nothing other than Yoga Nidra, the relaxation practice this book teaches you, and he did it every morning before going to school. This had led to a state of deep acceptance and mindful relaxation. As a result, both his attitude and approach at work had radically improved. Being mindfully relaxed is the ultimate life-changing gift we can give ourselves.

Ever since the beginning of time we have encountered stressful situations, starting with cavemen who had to hunt for food and the resulting fight-or-flight dilemma when confronted with wild animals. The stress-producing factors may be different now but they have the same effect. It's quite amazing to me that after thousands of years we still haven't figured out how to relax!

Unless we can look at stressful difficulties with mindful awareness then all we really do is create more stress; a tense mind creates greater tension, while a calm and clear mind creates clarity and positivity. When we are stressed everything becomes an irritation, no matter how well intended. Friendships are lost and families broken as achievements and possessions become more important than kindness and caring.

We can't hide from stress, but we often take being stressed for granted without doing anything about it until it becomes unmanageable. We know what we have to do, but believe that relaxation can be accomplished by indulging in mindless and distracting activities. At times this is true. But more often it's an escape from our inability to cope in a world of conflicting ideas, pressures and prejudices. As the anxiety becomes too much to handle we begin to look outside ourselves for help, such as to alcohol, drugs, or therapy.

Stress throws us into regrets of the past and fears of the future and so we lose the ability to be in the present moment. Meanwhile, guilt, shame and blame create unimaginable scenarios, as the ego-mind is constantly preoccupied with itself. Such is our "normal" state of being!

You may need to ask yourself: Do I get upset or angry when matters don't go as planned? Do I need to be in control, or can I allow events to take their natural course? Do I always think I am right and that others must be wrong? Am I able to see things as they are without prejudice or bias? Do I bear grudges and hold on to things or can I let go and move on? These are important issues to look at honestly in order to become more tolerant, kind and easeful.

Confusion and misunderstanding make us desperate for change, but we don't know how to bring about the transformation we yearn for. So we change the superficial things, like our hairstyle or clothes. We may even have a facelift or hair transplant. All we want is to be wanted! But if we change our lives from within then our outer self will also transform. Being at ease has a hugely positive effect on our looks, health, on others, and the world we live in. What more could we want?

The Workings of the Mind

We are surprisingly ignorant about our mind, this brilliant instrument of ours, and have a very limited idea of how to delve deeper to discover its true depth and magnitude. We go to professionals to fix us, or we take prescribed drugs to calm us down. But instead of turning to external "cures," we can get to know the variations of our psyche; just as we care for our body we can learn to care for our mind, to keep it clear, creative and peaceful.

A stressed mind buries itself in chaos and confusion. We react to simple issues as if they were matters of life and death, we vacillate trying to make a decision, and easily get angry or upset over small incidents. The mind is like the flame on a candle that can't exist without wax to burn; it's always searching for fuel to power its thoughts by reaching outward for satisfaction through the senses, which act like magnets, attracting and distracting at every opportunity.

Due to the mind's tendency to be scattered and unable to focus we don't know how to trust ourselves. Ever notice how mental chatter can go on endlessly, flitting from one subject to another, as we get lost in memories, create fantasies or act out dramas? Most of us take it for granted that this is the way it is: this is just who I am! We overanalyze and immerse ourselves in insecurities, doubts and fears.

As our energies disperse we get run-down and depressed, so stress easily becomes distress. Feeling overwhelmed, we avoid, deny, hope it will go away, or become distracted by mindless activities like partying, watching too much TV or binge eating. We get absorbed with anything that helps us sidestep our problems, anything that will even temporarily divert our attention.

Sitting in an easy chair with our feet up has become synonymous with being relaxed, as has saving up all year for a vacation. Running away from our problems seems like a good solution but we rarely get the true rest or relaxation we long for. We are in a hurry, racing through life, getting nervous and irritated; rushing to work, rushing to eat and rushing to sleep, we wonder why we get so tense. So then we rush to go on vacation in order to relax!

But wherever we go and whatever we do, there we are, along with all our conflicts, stresses, irritation, mood changes and depression lurking behind our every action. A selfish mind causes tension, is unstable and unaware. Beneath it we really do want true happiness, but we get lost in our attempts at finding it. We can be in prison behind bars and be free, but we can walk freely in the world and be enslaved.

When life is going along smoothly it's easy to smile, but if someone hurts or abuses us, can we still feel okay? Constantly confronted with situations that bring up frustration, irritation or anger, we long to overcome our limitations, but then we get triggered again and want to shout or even hit someone. Except that if we hurt someone we ultimately hurt ourselves, as such negativity will affect us physically, emotionally and mentally. If we can really grasp the consequences of negativity we will grow in greater awareness.

The mind and body are our instruments, our vehicles for moving from one state of awareness to another. It's possible to experience extraordinary levels of consciousness when we expand the mind and are enriched by the vast wealth available within us. As the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Man's mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension."

Relaxation and Mindfulness

Relaxation is relatively simple, yet it is highly misunderstood; we think: "If I do this or that I will relax and then I will be better." But our relaxation will stay both superficial and temporary if we don't bring mindful awareness to it. Mindfulness means paying attention to something, focusing awareness on it, and awakening that awareness in our whole being. When we are mindfully relaxed we are consciously aware of letting go on a deeper, long-lasting and profound level.

The practice of relaxation I teach is Yoga Nidra, which comes from the ancient yoga sutras. The long-lasting effect of Yoga Nidra is a mindful relaxation that permeates our lives, influencing our every thought, word and action. Mindfulness enables us to let go of repetition and compulsiveness. We begin to respond confidently rather than mindlessly reacting, develop more positive attitudes and make clearer choices. Circumstances are neither good nor bad; it is our response that makes them either positive or negative. Change the response and we change our world.

Nothing in life is permanent; the thoughts, desires and beliefs we had yesterday may not even pertain to today, regardless of how much energy we put into them. We try to solidify everything, to hold on and make our existence secure, yet at any moment the rug can be pulled out from under us, and everything changes. No matter who we are, life is temporary; there are no guarantees, no real security. Indecisiveness and wanting things to be different from how they are inevitably cause greater confusion. We make plans, but they always change. I often ponder John Lennon's words from "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)": "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

But all is not lost! Life need not be a hopeless mess, nor do we have to be at the mercy of our thoughts. It is possible to change our way of being. We just have to find out how to use the keys that unlock the vast treasures within. Mindful relaxation clears out the storehouse of negative past impressions embedded deep inside, creating a fresh new slate; it is an attitude, a state of mind, and a way of being. It is the key to greater awareness. Think of the stressed mind like a mirror that has accumulated much dust. We have to clean and polish this mirror, for only then can we see our true reflection.

CHAPTER 2

The Journey

Many of us have gone on some sort of quest looking for answers to our questions, problems or the meaning of life, maybe travelling to the East to seek guidance, to the South to meet shamans, or going to numerous seminars and workshops. It was during my own journey to India that I first discovered Yoga Nidra and recognized its far-reaching effects.

I grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s. It was a tough time; always there was a sense of frustration and fear in my neighborhood, of being troubled. It was unfriendly, even antisocial. But by the late 1960s I'd moved into Manhattan and noticed a change with a new energy growing, a consciousness-expanding change. It was the era of the hippies and became known as the "love generation."

At first, a group of friends and I created a communal lifestyle in the heart of New York City. We became vegetarian, took LSD, read esoteric books, and studied Zen meditation and Buddhism. We read Alan Watts, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the philosophers and transcendentalists. These inspired us to delve deeper and find more of their meaning. But we were also looking for a teacher, someone who was a living example of all that the books were saying.

I was changing. I felt love everywhere, an inner joy was always with me, leading to profound experiences. Yet it all seemed so contrary to the life I grew up in that it was hard to know what was real and what was my imagination. Here I was, a kid from the streets of the Bronx. I grew up avoiding street fights, going to high school dances, even winning New York City dance championships, hanging out at Studio 54, and now I was getting a spiritual calling?

I was told about a holy man who had come to Manhattan from India. He was a Swami who taught yoga and apparently radiated joy, unconditional love and peace wherever he went. At that time, the idea that happiness could be found by relaxing and quieting the mind was unheard of, or that we could individually experience deep peace or bliss. This was too esoteric, too mystical. It was more common to think that having a good time meant going to a faraway island, partying at a fancy hotel or watching a cool movie! In fact in those days a Swami was usually depicted looking into a crystal ball, and a yogi would have his legs wrapped around his neck in contorted positions.

We went to see this Swami. He had long hair and a long beard, and he wore saffron-colored robes. It was an extraordinary moment. True teachers emanate peace, tranquility, loving-kindness, warmth and bliss; they are magnetic and you feel drawn to them from deep within. This Swami was the first teacher I'd ever met, and definitely the first person I had ever encountered who radiated such qualities.

I began to understand that the state I was witnessing in the Swami was pure egolessness; his very existence was for others, which he expressed in all his actions and teachings. That first meeting was enough to show me that divine qualities could be realized within. In particular, he taught that leading an unselfish life is the most rewarding path to follow, as desire (for accolades, for wealth) is an endless chain that never ends and can only bring pain. To lead a selfless life, however, can bring deep joy and insurmountable happiness.

We started attending yoga classes, learning hatha yoga and pranayama (postures and breathing exercises), purifying our bodies and cleansing our minds. I began spending more and more time engaged in my practice, determined to make my life a reflection of higher ideals, of meaning and service.

It was then that I met another Swami who was visiting New York City from India. Still a novice, I was unsure what to expect. After a welcoming dinner I was asked to escort this second Swami to his car. As I walked with him he seemed very different from the Swami I was used to: the first was tall and graceful, gentle and sensitive in his manner, while this one was short and solid, precise and blunt. He told me that the other Swami was like a loving father, but he himself was a military captain. That statement, along with the time I spent with him, sparked a longing to train with him. So when I was invited to India to stay at this Swami's ashram (a spiritual community), I was ready to go.

It was 1968. People all over the United States were going through radical changes. I knew Tim Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Alpert (who is now known as Ram Dass) and other contemporaries who were influencing the consciousness of so many, but I wanted to find out for myself the root of what was going on within me. So when folks began heading West to San Francisco with "flowers in their hair," I headed East.

While living at the ashram in India I was taught Yoga Nidra. What this ultimately showed me was that unless we are truly relaxed we can't progress; our forward motion is handicapped by our inability to go within and ease the inner stresses we all have. All of our past is registered deep in our minds, determining our motivations and actions. To release these blocked energies we need to relax enough so we can explore the boundlessness beyond the content of the mind.

True Change Comes from Within

How we react to stresses and tensions is the root of most of our personal problems, as they throw us off-balance and we become less able to function fully. There are over seven billion people living together on this planet and we all influence each other, even if we are unaware of it. We can communicate anywhere and everywhere instantly, yet simultaneously there is deep misunderstanding that keeps us feeling mistrustful and in a state of confusion and fear of each other.

Having made great advances in science and technology, we are still primitively slow in understanding ourselves and there has been little progress in unfolding the vast realms of the unconscious mind. While we have been happily conquering outer space we have discovered very little about inner space! Yet, we are all here together, experiencing the same difficulties. No one is higher or lower than another, no matter what one's position or status in life. The king, president, beggar and thief are all part of the same reality.

I felt this most strongly when my wife Deb and I met the Dalai Lama in India. Deb went to touch his feet in the traditional manner but he made her stand, saying, "We are all equal here." Yes, we all breathe the same air and walk the same earth; and if a rich man and a poor man were both held under water, I guarantee that their only thoughts would be for breath, not for riches or wealth.

Unfortunately, we often lose sight of this. Most of us carry guilt, shame, anger and fear around with us like a sack of antiques filled with issues from the past and worries about the future. This leads us to becoming self-centered and uncaring about what happens to others as long as we are all right. In the process we lose touch with the basic qualities of giving and compassion, dominated by our fear of being without. The pain we feel in ourselves we then blame on others; we are at war with each other just as we are at war within ourselves. So how can we be at peace in this world if we are not at peace at home?

What we can do is let go of how we think things should be and stop blaming others or the world for how we are, stop blaming ourselves for being incompetent when we fail or make mistakes, and stop putting ourselves down for being stressed and thinking we will always be this way. We can change!

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Art of Mindful Relaxation"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ed Shapiro.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Part 1 MINDFUL RELAXATION

1. SEEKING PEACE

The Workings of the Mind

Relaxation and Mindfulness

2. THE JOURNEY

True Change Comes From Within

Why Are We Here?

3. WHY WE NEED TO RELAX

The Biochemical Effects Of Stress In The Body

What Really Is Stress?

Being versus Doing

4. THE COURAGE TO CHANGE

Self-delusion And The Ego

Peace Is Within

5. THE RELAXATION EFFECT

The Relaxation Response

Cultivating The Relaxed Mind

Committing to Relaxation

6. STARTING TO RELAX

Breathe Deeply

Think Creatively

Imagine Freely

7. MAKING FRIENDS WITH OURSELVES

Self-acceptance

Overcoming Obstacles

8. MAKING FRIENDS WITH OTHERS

Communicating and Sharing

Appreciating Our World

9. OPENING THE HEART

Unconditional Happiness

Loving Kindness

10. PERCEPTIONS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

The Five Bodies or Koshas

The Chakras or Levels of Consciousness

11. EXPANDING THE MIND

Being At Peace

The Next Step

Part 2 YOGA NIDRA

12. YOGA NIDRA PRACTICALITIES

The Right Place

Making Friends With Your Monkey-mind

Stages of Practice

Sankalpa or Resolve

Visualization

13. YOGA NIDRA PRACTICE

Short Yoga Nidra

Long Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation

Yoga Nidra: Awakening The Chakras

Biography

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