Fitness Magazine

Friday Q&A;: Yoga Nidra, Restorative Yoga, Meditation and Savasana

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
Q:  I recently started listening to Rod Stryker's Yoga Nidra CD. I shut my office door at lunch, lay out my mat and this week have finally made it through the short session without falling asleep. (I don't like writing "made it", as that sounds like a burden and it's not, it's wonderful). This started me wondering about the difference in the expected results between Yoga Nidra, the restorative yoga that I sometimes do at night, meditation (which I'm definitely a novice at), Savasana...

I want to thank all of you for your efforts in sharing your thoughts. It is a gift that I appreciate very much.”
A: Thanks for this great question, about which I could quite honestly get long winded, since several of the topics are quite complex.  I will try to be succinct in sussing out a few helpful distinctions.  I’d like to start by talking about restorative yoga for a moment. The name kinda gives this one away: the practice of these supported asana are said to be restorative for the practitioner.  Well, on what level?  Could be physically, mentally, emotionally, or even spiritually restorative. These postures are usually done on the ground either sitting or reclining over supportive props. A few we have looked at on this blog include Supported Savasana, Supported Reclined Cobblers Pose, and Supported Child’s Pose.  Once you get set up in the pose, you are simply allowing your body to rest in the position you find yourself in. From there, you could conceivably do some sort of meditation or listen to a recorded yoga nidra, as this writer has been doing lately.  To view and read more about restorative yoga, check out Judith Lasater’s classic book Relax and Renew.
Savasana, which has come to be associated as the final pose of the physical practice of yoga in most classes around this country, is done in the supine position.  In its simplest form, you simply lie down on your back without any support other than your sticky mat. However, you could do a more restorative version, or at least more supported version, like our version with the shin bones up on a chair seat. Its purpose can be to simply provide a brief rest for the physical body following your active asana practice, or it could be an opportunity for a guided meditation led by your teacher or a recording, or a self-guided meditation such as simple moment-by-moment breath awareness.  It has been proposed by several of my teachers that Savasana has the purpose of allowing the practice to be integrated into our bodies and minds to assist in gradual changes brought about by yoga. It is likened to letting a cake “set-up” on the counter after baking in the oven to allow the flavors to fully blend and mix before biting in for a taste. I love those food metaphors!  Now I want a piece of cake!
Meditation is a huge topic, but suffice it to say that we often do several simple meditation techniques in modern yoga classes that are “mindfulness exercises” in which we keep bringing our awareness back to a predetermined focus for the period of the meditation. Paramount among several possible purposes is the famous one from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, to quiet the mental chatter or “fluctuations of consciousness” (as one translator put it).  However, there are other purposes both in the hatha yoga tradition as well as aligned traditions, such as the Buddhist tradition, including using your meditation to transform the suffering of others into an inner peacefulness.
And finally, the yoga nidra we practice today was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in the 1940s, and is discussed in his book Yoga Nidra. In his book, he claims to have developed this yoga nidra technique, which I feel is a kind of near subliminal suggestion or learning, by blending a seated meditation practice that is very old with more modern psychology techniques. And, just as in the CD our questioner has been listening to, even though you are encouraged to stay lightly awake and attentive during the session - which is usually from 20-45 minutes in length (a whole lot longer than our usual Savasana!) - you supposedly still get benefits even if you fall asleep.  In addition to the deep sense of relaxation that usually results, you are asked to set an intention or sankalpa at that the start of the yoga nidra. You are choosing, essentially, something that you want the yoga nidra to help you bring to fruition. You are asked to remind yourself of the same intention at the very end of the practice as well, so it is at the forefront of your consciousness when you are done.
So, these four tools of yoga share some similarities, yet they each have some unique distinctions as well. Hopefully this discussion will start to bring greater clarity to each of them for you. And they are all wonderful to practice, so try them out this coming week in your home practice to see what differences you can observe yourself.

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