Yoga Nidra and Dreaming to Wellness with Heather Sanderson

When I started my yoga teacher training, I had absolutely no intention to teach. I felt very clear and certain about that and said so repeatedly (and adamantly) to everyone. I felt like I could barely do yoga then – so who was I to teach it? It wasn’t the point of me doing this training, I was interested only in healing – period.

My teacher encouraged me to stay open to the possibility of teaching, since I was doing all the work anyway. About halfway through the training there was a point where I had to decide which path to take – continue with the teaching certification or let it go. To help decide, our group were all asked to lead a five-minute guided shavasana. That felt simple enough to at least try, even if I was hesitant and five minutes felt like longer than eternity.

With my nerves trying to win me over, I asked my partner to lay down on her back, arms long beside her, and find a comfortable position. I sat down beside her and started offering a scan of the body – announcing each body part from the head down to the feet. As I sat there offering this first experience, I saw her physical and energetic bodies soften and let go. I actually witnessed the transformation in her (at least from my perspective) and something deep inside me shifted and resonated with excitement and knowing. There was a spark and I lighted up inside. I had never felt connection like that before.

Afterwards, the trainees were sitting in a circle sharing their experiences. When it was my turn, I sat with my eyes cast downward and darting up from time to time and said, “so… I… um… maybe sort of kind of… want to teach!”

Gone was the idea of “I have absolutely no intention to teach”.

Heather Sanderson

Heather Sanderson

Several years and yoga nidra trainings later, I smiled as I realized that my very first yoga offering was actually a short yoga nidra. It was the practice of yoga nidra that helped me step more fully onto the teaching path – a path and a practice that I love and now have so much passion to share with others!

The practice of yoga nidra takes many shapes and forms for many different outcomes. It is a guided meditation that you practice laying down on your back in shavasana. As you enter the practice you also enter a dream-like state where you come to a place in between being awake and asleep. This is called a hypnogogic state and, when sustained here for some time, you can access more of your subconscious and unconscious minds. As you’re working in this state many different things can arise - locked memories or emotions can rise to the surface for release or you may also find a place of deep relaxation. Yoga nidra can help relieve physical, emotional, mental, energetic and spiritual stress and can even help reduce chronic pain.

From a Tantra perspective, yoga nidra helps to bring all the cells of your being into awareness. It can help awaken parts of you that have, perhaps, been hidden. It can also help provide a safe place to bring up and release old trauma. From a neuroscience perspective, it helps rewire the brain and generate new neural pathways that, over time, aren’t so rigid and defined in their beliefs, creating flexibility. There are many benefits, including working with states of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. Ultimately, in whatever way you access yoga nidra, it is a tool that helps you to uncover more aspects of yourself and find the kind of healing you may need.

I sometimes laugh that it was offering this practice for the first time that helped me break through the rigidly defined way I was approaching my yoga teacher training. How appropriate!

What I love about yoga nidra is that you can get into the subconscious and sometimes unconscious realms and start to release stagnant energy, allowing more movement and healing to occur. In this way I find it different from, yet compatible, with dream work.

According to my Dream Work teacher, Douglas Grunther, “all dreams come in the spirit of healing”- even those scary nightmares that leave you feeling panicked in the morning.

Dreams are there to help whatever is stored in your unconscious to rise to the surface. Your dreams come to tell you to take a look at what has been tucked away – perhaps for your whole life or even inherited from ancestors or absorbed in other ways. Dreams naturally try to help you heal these parts that, perhaps, you didn’t want to acknowledge or see before (or maybe don’t even know are there). While it feels to me like a natural process that is happening anyway, there are ways to help the process along by actively working with a dream. From working with Doug, I’ve learned that when you can take the clues in a dream and make connections to what is going on in life, you start to bring healing to those areas of waking life.

There are many ways of working with dreams. The way I’ve been taught involves writing down dreams (even if there’s only a fragment or if you can’t remember them), learning different techniques to re-enter and incubate dreams, as well as sharing dreams with others in a constructive way to gain more insight.

Even if you don’t remember your dreams or can’t seem to find that “hypnogogic” state in yoga nidra, it’s all still there and accessible. By working with a dream or hearing another person’s dream or by simply being present in the room for a yoga nidra practice – it’s all working on some level. There’s nothing to rush or force – it all unfolds as you’re ready.

While a main focus in both yoga nidra and dream work is to bring what is unconscious into consciousness, it’s not to analyze or judge what comes, but rather to notice - to discover, explore, and understand yourself more so that you can live with more awareness. When you have more awareness, you have so many more choices available to you; more possibilities and whatever is hidden in the shadows of your unconscious isn’t in charge or “running the show” so to speak. In doing this work you also start to release the held patterns and beliefs attached to those hidden parts of yourself and find new ways to move and be – internally and in life.

- Heather Sanderson, Yoga Teacher and Healer, Journey Through Yoga

Join Heather for her Diving into Dream Space Retreat at Growing Heart Farm on September 22-24, 2017.