If you’ve been practicing yoga for awhile chances are you’ve heard of yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is “yogic sleep” or as my husband calls it “advanced napping”. Sounds pretty good, right? You get to lie in Savasana (corpse pose) the whole time while you’re systematically instructed through a deep relaxation exercise. Yoga nidra guides you through the koshas, or layers of your being and drops you into deep relaxation where healing and true restoration can occur. The sequence of cues relaxes the body and awakens the unconscious and subconscious mind. The benefits of yoga nidra are plentiful and range from better sleep to reduced stress and beyond.
You don’t need to know what the koshas are to get all of the benefits of yoga nidra. Benefits of the practice are numerous and range from better sleep to stress reduction and beyond. Plus, anyone can practice yoga nidra and therefore receive its benefits.
The practice of yoga nidra can trace its roots back to India, where it was developed and expanded upon, most notably by the Bihar School. Yoga nidra has been studied across continents and the practice is backed by science… and I’m not talking about pseudoscience. In this post I will list out just a few of yoga nidra’s benefits. Also, if you’re interested in a free guided yoga nidra you’ll find a yoga nidra script here and a nature inspired yoga nidra recording here. Don’t worry if you fall completely asleep during the practice, it just means that your body needs to rest.
1.) Yoga Nidra Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Yoga nidra has been proven effective in reducing stress and anxiety. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that yoga nidra was more effective than meditation at reducing both cognitive and physiological symptoms of anxiety. In the United States there has been a dramatic increase in hospitalizations due to stress in both men and women. Chronically elevated stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine lead to increased inflammation, heart disease, fatigue, stroke, sleep disorders, and chronic prain. It’s important that we make time for our health now, so we don’t have to make time for our dis-ease later.
Another study looked at Heart Rate Variability, which is a sign of autonomic nervous system balance and found that yoga nidra (alone or preceded by an asana practice) improved Heart Rate Variability. The practice of yoga nidra shifted the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what governs our relaxation response, commonly referred to the “rest and digest” response.
2.) Your Body Has An Opportunity to Heal: Yoga Nidra Slows Down Your Brain Waves
Yoga nidra guides the student into the deepest state of sleep where the brain produces theta (4-7 hertz) and delta waves (1-3 hertz), but the student remains conscious throughout. According to Theta Healing, “Theta State is a state of very deep relaxation; it is used in hypnosis and during REM Sleep. The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second…Theta waves are always creative, characterized by feelings of inspiration and very spiritual. It is believed that this mental state allows you to act below the level of the conscious mind.”
Delta waves on the other hand, are the slowest waves at 1-4 cycles per second and are experienced during deep dreamless sleep. When our brain waves have slowed down to the delta level, it is when our body has an opportunity to rest, restore and heal.
3.) Yoga Nidra Can Help Heal Trauma
Yoga nidra can be used to heal from trauma. According to an article in the Boston Globe, “In 2006, the Department of Defense conducted research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the efficacy of yoga nidra on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. This led to the incorporation of yoga nidra into weekly treatment programs for soldiers in several VA facilities across the country.”
4.) Yoga Nidra Reduces Chronic Pain
Our bodies naturally want to heal and yoga nidra gives our body the time to do just that. Remember those delta waves I mentioned earlier? And the parasympathetic nervous system? Yoga nidra helps switch us out of doing and into being so we can rest. According to the same Boston Globe article before “the US Army Surgeon General endorsed yoga nidra as an intervention in treating chronic pain”. The practice of yogic sleep gives the body time to rest, recover and restore, which thereby brings down inflammation and improves the function of the immune system.
5.) Reduces PMS Symptoms
There have actually been a handful of studies on the efficacy of yoga nidra’s ability to reduce PMS symptoms. According to one recent study, “… patients with menstrual irregularities having psychological problems improved significantly in the areas of their wellbeing, anxiety and depression by learning and applying a program based on Yogic intervention (Yoga Nidra).”
So if you’re feeling low energy, anxious, depressed, or irritable carve out a little time for yoga nidra. When aunt “Flow” is in town, I’ve found it to be super beneficial. I’m less agitated, my energy improves, and I’m overall more “even” emotionally.
Yoga nidra improves sleep and reduces insomnia. Insomnia and sleep deprivation contribute to mental disorders, stress management (or lack there of), and immune suppression. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults and young adults get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Yoga nidra trains the mind and body to relax and move more easily into the deeper states of sleep. Forty-five minutes of yoga nidra is equal to up to 3 hours of sleep!
Sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing. Poor sleep and insomnia can lead to more than just irritability and bags under your eyes. If you’re sleeping crummily (is that even a word?) you might experience:
poor memory and trouble concentrating
heart disease, heart attack & stroke
increased blood pressure
a weakend immune system
Yoga nidra is a good way to supplement your sleep if you’re not sleeping well at night. You could try yoga nidra during your lunch break or give it a try right before bed — go ahead and crawl into bed and prepare yourself for a restful night of sleep.
7.) Reduces Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
The benefits of yoga nidra and other deep relaxation practices may even extend to those with type 2 diabetes. According to a recent Huffington Post article, “A recent study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found yoga nidra may reduce the symptoms of diabetes and help control blood glucose levels.”
8.) Plant The Seeds of Future Growth
The work done in yoga nidra with a sankalpa (an intention or positive affirmation) can facilitate life altering changes in one’s thought patterns, relationships and achievements. It is a tool that the yogis have been using for many many years to achieve great feats. Working with a sankalpa helps create new sattvic impressions in the mind and can move us to a state of clarity, aligned with our dharma, and connected to the wisdom of the divine. Examples of popular sankalpas are “I am love”, “I am the witness”, and “I am radiant, divine light”, but feel free to come up with your own.
As you can see, the benefits of yoga nidra are numerous. If you haven’t tried it already, I encourage you to give it a shot. It doesn’t require any special props, you can practice at home in your pjs, and you can’t really do it wrong. I encourage you to find a recording that resonates with you and practice that. There are many resources out there! I even have a yoga nidra recording on my YouTube channel and I have a couple of yoga nidra scripts (one yoga nidra inspired by nature and the other inspired by the ocean) that you could use to make your own recording. Join my newsletter if you want to hear about live Zoom yoga nidra classes or upcoming trainings.
Welcome beautiful human! I’m excited to share this yoga nidra inspired by the ocean with you. This yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, is inspired by my short time living by the sea in Santa Barbara, California. I used to love taking the pups over to the beach for a romp in the surf and when the tide was just right I would find all kinds of little gems — sea glass, perfect little shells, and polished stones. We often saw dolphins and seals (or sea lions?) playing in the surf. I often wondered if they were just as enchanted by us as we were by them. It was a beautiful place to call home.
If yoga nidra is new to you, check out some of my other yoga nidra resources:
We’ll practice yoga nidra in shavasana. If you’re not comfortable in shavasana, find a comfortable seat or lie on your side. For shavasana, slide a bolster or folded blanket underneath your knees and another blanket or pillow underneath the back of your head. The body temperature tends to drop during yoga nidra, so a blanket over the top of your body is usually really nice too. Let’s drop into this ocean-inspired yoga nidra.
Preliminary Relaxation For This Yoga Nidra Inspired by the Ocean
Take the next couple of minutes to get really comfortable. Adjust your props, your clothing and remove any distractions from your space. Once we’re in the practice of yoga nidra, you will want to remain still for the duration.
Settle in. Take care of any last-minute wiggles and invite in a sense of stillness and calm. Close down your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Without changing your breath, simply witness it. Witness the rise and fall of your breath at your belly. Witnessing this sacred, natural rhythm. Unhurried. Unrestricted. Stay with the rise and fall of your breath.
Witness its ebb and flow. Your inhale releases into your exhale and your exhale surrenders into your inhale. PAUSE
Yoga Nidra Sankalpa
In yoga nidra we work with a sankalpa. A sankalpa is a positive “I am” statement that is true at the core of who you are. It is your essence simplified into a short positive “I am” statement. Bring into your mind’s eye your sankalpa. Once it has formed, repeat it quietly and internally to yourself three times. PAUSE
Remain aware of my voice and be still throughout the remainder of practice. The practice of yoga nidra begins now.
Rotation of Consciousness
Remain aware of my voice and do not sleep. I will guide you through a rotation of consciousness all you have to do is follow along and move your awareness from point to point within your body.
Move your awareness to your mouth
Become aware of your tongue
Lower row of teeth
Upper row of teeth
Space between your lips
Top of the head
Back of the head
Tip of the nose
Space between the eyebrows
Now go to the right hand
The right hand thumb
Palm of the hand
Back of the hand
Sole of the foot
Top of the foot
Right big toe
Now Go to the left hand
The left hand thumb
Palm of the hand
Back of the hand
Sole of the foot
Top of the foot
Left big toe
Right shoulder blade
Left shoulder blade
Back of the neck
Back of the head
Right inner ear
Left inner ear
Roof of the mouth
Right collar bone
Left collar bone
The whole head
Both arms together
The whole right leg
The whole left leg
Both legs together
Whole front body
Whole back body
Be aware of the whole body. PAUSE
Breath as Prana
Now bring your awareness to your breath. Experience your breath as it is. Follow its natural tide without altering it. Experience the pranic tide of your breath as if your whole body is breathing. Vibrant, white light flowing in and out with each cycle of breath. Waves of sparkling light washing over you with each inhale and falling away with each exhale. Each inhale peaking like a wave of prana cresting and then giving way to the exhale. Experience the peaks and valleys of your breath like the waves of an ocean. PAUSE.
Now count each breath. Count down from 54 to 0. Inhale 54. Exhale 53. Inhale 52. Exhale 51. If you lose count simply begin again. PAUSE
Now bring your awareness to an experience of pleasure. Welcome the feeling of pleasure into your being. Hold your awareness on the experience of pleasure.
Now bring your awareness to an experience of pain. Meet the feeling of pain with equanimity. Experience it fully. Hold your awareness on the experience of pain.
Now bring your awareness to your body. Feel your body, mind and soul contracting. Becoming smaller and smaller.
All at once, the body expands. The mind expands. And the soul expands. Body, mind, and soul expanding into the infinite, boundless.
Now bring your awareness to the experience of holding tightly. Experience the gripping in your body and mind.
Now bring your awareness to the experience of letting go. Experience the release in your body and mind.
I will now describe images to you. Experience them without attachment and allow them to wash over you.
Your bare feet on the earth
You see a meandering path
Tall tufts of grass line the trail
Follow the path toward the sound of the ocean
You glimpse the ocean’s glimmering waves
The sea is calm
Your path gently gives way to a wide stretch of golden sand
You see the vast expanse of sea stretches out before you
The sun dances off the crest of each wave
Your breath in sync with the rhythmic pulse of the ocean
Miles of shimmery sand in each direction
Seabirds dart and dive
Puffs of clouds drift overhead
Dolphins play just beyond the waves
You walk over to the edge of the water
With each step little crabs scurry away
You stop and roll up your jeans
The water flows over your toes
Tiny shells, little gems, and sparkly stones turned and tossed by the gentle sea
A perfect shell washes up to your feet
You reach down and pick it up admiring its perfection
You peacefully slide it into your pocket and walk along the beach toward distant cliffs
A large piece of driftwood provides a spot to sit and rest
You turn your gaze toward the horizon and you take in your surroundings
A sense of ease washes over you
You reach into your pocket and pull out the shell
You turn it over in your hands, one, two, three times
You see a tiny inscription — it’s your sankalpa
Now, repeat your sankalpa internally to yourself. Speak it into the deepest layers of your being with meaning and intention. PAUSE
Gently bring your awareness back to your physical body lying on the earth. Experience your breath as the waves of an ocean. Sensation coming back. Arms. Legs. Torso. Head. Without opening your eyes, find a bit of movement. Little movements to start and finally a full body stretch. The practice of yoga nidra is complete. When you’re ready, roll over onto your side and pause there for a breath or two before coming up to a seat.
I hope you enjoyed this yoga nidra inspired by the ocean and beaches of sunny California. If you would like to learn more about yoga nidra, join me for a yoga teacher training or retreat. Both are great ways to learn more about this immensely healing practice.
This use does not convey the right to borrow from this script or to reproduce it in any way. No part of this script may be reproduced, distributed, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, digital copying, print, audio or video recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Hey beautiful soul. Have you ever wondered what to do with your hands during meditation? You’ve probably seen meditators, yogis and even the Buddha himself using hand positions called mudras for meditation, but you’re not sure what they mean or why they’re making shapes with their hands? When I began my yoga journey, nearly 20 years ago, I didn’t even know there were meditation hand positions and I certainly didn’t understand their significance. These days we have so much more information at our fingertips (pun sorta intended) and I thought I would share some meditation hand positions that I’ve found profoundly impactful in my own meditation practice.
Welcome to the Practice of Mudras: Hand Positions for Meditation
Hand mudras are hand positions for meditation. However, they can be incorporated into your yoga practice off the cushion — when you’re commuting, navigating a challenging situation, or even when you’re doing your asana practice. These mudras are more than just shapes that you make with your hands. Ayurvedic practitioners have been using these mudras therapeutically for hundreds, if not thousands, of years!
Mudra is the Sanskrit word for gesture. Just like a gesture in your daily life, each mudra has a meaning or intention. Much like a mantra, they can be used to focus your mind on an intention and direct your energy internally. The energy I am referring to is called prana. It is often called our life force energy. It is the energy that flows through our nadis and chakras.
If you’re familiar with the Eight Limbs of Yoga you can easily use these mudras during dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). Check out my book The Little Book of Mudra Meditations if you want to learn how to incorporate 30 different mudras into your practice. You’ll find practice guides and guided meditations.
Let’s get started.
Gyan Mudra (Gesture of Knowledge)
The most iconic meditation hand position is gyan, also spelled jnana, gyana, gian. Gyan is nearly identical to chin mudra and these two mudras are used interchangeably and although different, there isn’t much consensus on their distinguishing features. Go figure. I’ve done my best to outline the differences between chin and jnana mudra in another blog post you can find here.
You’ve likely seen Hindu deities, the buddha, sages, yogis, and meditators all demonstrating Gyan mudra.
How to Practice Gyan Mudra or Chin Mudra
Bring the tip of the thumb and the tip of the index fingers to touch and extend the middle, ring and pinky fingers long. Rest the wrists on the thighs/knees and turn the palms of the hands upward to create openness and receptivity or turn the palms of the hands down toward the earth for more grounding. I also like to bring one hand in front of the heart and one hand to the thigh.
In this mudra the thumb represents divine wisdom or universal wisdom and the supreme soul, while the index finger represents the individual soul. With that in mind, uniting the thumb and index finger unites the individual soul with that of the supreme soul. If the thumb is brought over the top of the index fingernail it represents the surrender of the individual soul to the supreme soul.
Dhyana Mudra (Gesture of Enlightenment)
The Buddha was often depicted practicing Dhyana Mudra while seated in meditation. In Dhyana Mudra the right hand is always placed on top of the left hand. It represents wisdom and enlightenment and the left hand represents the illusory world of maya. Use Dhyana Mudra in your meditation practice when you need a little extra help with focus and concentration. I find that this mudra helps me find calmness, clarity, and a sense of peace during times of stress.
How to Practice Dhyana Mudra
Bring your hands in front of your lower abdomen. With your palms facing upward, place your right hand on top of your left. You can bring the tips of the thumbs to touch to form a circle or triangle, but it’s not necessary. Hold the mudra for the duration of your meditation practice.
Buddhi Mudra (Gesture of Perception/Intellect)
Buddhi Mudra is another great hand position for meditation. This mudra assists our meditation practice by improving our intuition, psychic development, mindfulness, clarity and understanding. Use Buddhi Mudra in meditation when you’re seeking wisdom, insight and guidance and when you’re feeling lost, stuck or need answers to big questions.
Like Varuna Mudra, it works on the water element in the body and it can help manage disease related to lack of water in the body, think kidney and bladder health.
How to Practice Buddhi Mudra
Bring the tip of your pinky finger to touch the tip of your thumb. Extend your index, middle, and ring fingers long. Rest your hands on the tops of your thighs with your palms face up.
Varada Mudra (Gesture of Generosity)
Varada Mudra is a “new to me” mudra… well it’s new to my practice. Hindu deities are often depicted with this “boon granting” mudra… think Lakshmi and her golden coins. I like this hand position for meditation because it feels kind and loving and generous. It feels like the name implies. Varada translates as “boon giving”. It’s a mudra for abundance, generosity, compassion and charity. It symbolizes an offering and also a welcoming. I personally like to incorporate this mudra into a loving-kindness or heart chakra meditation.
To Practice Varada Mudra
With your right hand, bring the back of your right wrist to your thigh, open your palm and gently stretch your fingers down toward the earth so the palm of your hand faces away from you. Your left hand can take another mudra that resonates with you. Personally, I like to place my left hand over my heart and think of love flowing into my heart space through the palm of my left hand and love flowing through my right hand to those who need it. A gentle cascade of love flowing to me and through me.
Vajrapradama Mudra (Gesture of Unshakeable Trust)
And finally, my favorite mudra, my go-to, Vajrapradama Mudra. This is the mudra for unshakeable trust. It’s grounding and heart-centered. It calms the nervous system and helps us find and trust the wisdom of our heart. It’s particularly potent during times of challenge or frustration.
To Practice Vajrapradama Mudra
Bring the hands in front of your heart. Interlace your fingers and rest your open palms on your heart.
If you would like to deepen your meditation practice hop into my upcoming yoga teacher training. You’ll find a supportive community, inspirational practices, and accountability.
As always, feel free to reach out with questions about mudras, meditation or yoga teacher training. I’m here for you.
It’s time we talk about grief and sadness and loss. This year, 2020, has been full of both large and small losses for many of us… from losing the life we knew and loved to losing friendships/community/connection to the loss of our small businesses/income to the loss of loved ones. Just in our family, we have lost a grandfather, two uncles, an aunt, and our sweet pup Jedi is doing his best to fight off a very aggressive form of cancer. It’s heavy, and we’re doing the best we can, the best we know how. If you are grieving right now, know that I see you and I hold you in my heart. I invite you to join me for a restorative yoga for grief practice.
Restorative yoga is such a beautiful practice when you’re grieving. It’s an opportunity to feel held and cared for whether you’re practicing alone or in a group. It gives you time to heal, rest, and restore and it gives you time to bear witness to and acknowledge your emotions and thoughts without judgment and time to receive the teachings of your higher self, guides, and ancestors. Carve out this time to hold yourself in your heart space.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”
Here is the thing, grief can’t be quantified by the type of loss. The only way your grief can be measured is by how it is felt by you. So don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve or if your grief is excessive or “not enough”. We grieve because we loved. Your grief is part of this human experience and it will help build resilience as it is expressed and resolved.
Restorative Yoga for Grief: The Practice
Today I really want to share a few yoga practices that I use when I feel the weight of grief descending. I hope that you will find the following restorative yoga for grief practice helpful. The following practice will take between 20 and 50 minutes if you follow the suggested times.
Below the infographic, you will find descriptions on how to set up your props and modifications if you don’t have props. You can use all kinds of things that you likely have around the house like blankets, couch cushions, pillows, and books. If you keep scrolling you’ll find some info about the effects of grief, a handful of tips to help you on your healing journey, and a few resources.
Five Restorative Yoga Poses for Grief
These five yoga poses can help you through the grieving process. I will explain how to do each pose in detail and offer modifications if you don’t have all of the props. If you have questions about the poses, please feel free to reach out.
Child’s Pose gently grounds are energy and can help heal our first chakra, Muladhara. Muladhara Chakra, our Root Chakra, is our center of security, support and safety. After a loss, we may lose our sense of security, safety, and support, which is why I like to start a restorative practice for grief with Child’s Pose. When you’re practicing Child’s Pose think of breathing into the backside of your heart, the back of your lungs and your back body. Allow each cycle of breath to soften the armor surrounding your heart.
Place your bolster lengthwise in front of you and place your folded blanket over the top of your bolster. Bring your knees just wider than your bolster and slide the short edge of your bolster between your knees. Bring your hips back toward your heels and lower your torso down to your bolster. Rest your forearms down on either side of your bolster and bring one ear down. Halfway through your pose, bring the opposite ear down.
This is my favorite restorative yoga pose. It helps open the front body from the groin all the way up to the throat. I, however, like this pose for how it can balance and heal the second and fourth chakras. The second chakra, Svadisthana, is our center of creativity, sensuality and sexuality. The heart chakra is our fourth chakra. In Sanskrit, its name is Anahata and it is our center of love and compassion. Anahata chakra can become blocked by grief. Salamba Supta Baddha Konasana helps heal the second and fourth heart chakras by creating space that allows for the flow of prana.
Most people don’t have access to a million props, so I’ll walk you through setting this pose up with a minimal amount of props. First, place your blocks toward the back of your mat. The one farthest away from you should be placed on its middle setting and the one closest to you should be placed on the lowest setting. You can have a couple of inches between the two blocks or they can be touching. (No blocks? You could use a couple of pillows or a stack of books instead) Then place your bolster (or pillow, cushion, a stack of blankets) on top of the blocks, so you’re essentially building a ramp. With another blanket, make a long roll that’s at least 3 feet long.
Take a seat in front of your bolster with your sacrum nice and close to the short edge of the bolster. Bring the soles of your feet to touch and wrap the blanket around your feet. It will go over the top of your feet and then wrap underneath your ankles/shins (it can also potentially support your thighs) Then release your knees out to the sides, like the pages of a book. Slowly lower your torso down onto your bolster, rest the back of your head down and release your arms by your sides. Turn the palms to face upward. This will help facilitate the release of your chest and heart space.
If your chin is jutting upward try to lengthen your cervical spine or support the back of your head and neck with another folded blanket. If you feel like you need support for your hips, slide blankets, bolsters or cushions underneath your knees and thighs.
Hold this pose for 5-10 minutes. If at any point it starts to bother your hips, lengthen your legs long.
Props: 1 Bolster
I find this restorative twist to be really soothing to my own nervous system. I’ve even been known to fall asleep in this pose. In general, twists help to balance and heal our third chakra, Manipura, and they cultivate samana vayu. Manipura Chakra is our center of will, determination and drive. If you’ve ever had the wind taken from your sails, do some twists (corework is also deeply healing for the third chakra– but that’s for another day). Samana Vayu is the air that integrates. Working with samana vayu can help us integrate, assimilate and adapt to new circumstances.
You only need a bolster for this pose. You could also use a stack of blankets or cushions again. To come into the pose, place your bolster lengthwise in front of you. Sit with your right hip close to the bolster and then bring your right thigh close to the short edge of your bolster. I like to stagger the legs, but you could also allow them to be in a more stacked position. Turn your torso toward your bolster. Lengthen your spine long and then lower your torso down. Your forearms should rest on either side of the bolster. Bring either ear down. You can always switch the direction of your gaze at any time. When you’re ready move slowly as you switch sides.
Legs Up the Wall helps balance all of our chakras because the spine is nice and long in this pose. It’s also a gentle inversion, which helps bring blood to the head and heart. I like this pose because I feel both grounded and elevated after coming out of it.
This is one of my favorite grounding poses. Bring your bolster right up next to the wall lengthwise. You could easily skip the bolster or use a folded blanket or two. To come into the pose, sit on your bolster with your left hip, then mindfully lower your torso down to the ground. Roll down onto your back and extend your legs up the wall. You can place an eye pillow over your eyes to help turn your focus inward. It’s kinda tricky to do yourself, but placing a sandbag on the soles of your feet is deeply relaxing and comforting.
Hold this pose for 2-5 minutes.
Props: 1-2 bolsters, 1-2 blankets, 1 block (as a modification)
I love a traditional shavasana, but this side-lying version is just so magically calming and soothing. It really gives that sense of being held and comforted. It’s a great pose for when you’re feeling out of sorts. I highly recommend it.
Place a folded blanket or pillow at the top of your mat. At the bottom of your mat, you can place another blanket. This will make the pose comfier for your feet and ankles, but it’s not necessary. Then lay down on your right or left side, rest your head on your pillow or folded blanket. You can place your bolster or folded blanket between your knees (like in the illustration) or keep your bottom leg straight, bend your top leg, bring the leg forward and rest your knee and shin on your bolster (my fave). If you have another bolster I like to support the top arm with it. If you don’t have a bolster you can rest your forearm on a yoga block, a pillow, or stack of blankets. Feel free to get creative.
Make sure you’re super comfy in this pose. I consider shavasana to be one of the most important yoga poses in an entire practice, whether that yoga practice is restorative or active. Take your time setting up, settle in, and then let go of the need to adjust, fidget, or monitor your surroundings.
Hold this pose for 5-15 minutes.
Restorative Yoga for Grief: Practice Letting Go in a Million Little Ways
The beautiful thing about restorative yoga is we get to practice letting go in a million little ways. By softening the muscles of our face, letting go of tension in the belly, surrendering into the support of our props, etc. Little by little, we find peace. I will be recording this practice and uploading it to my YouTube channel soon. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone else hold the container, keep track of the time, etc. And I am more than happy to do that for you.
The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Grief
I would like to speak a little to the physiological and psychological effects of grief, so if that interests you, feel free to keep reading, if it doesn’t, go ahead and stop here.
You might wonder why I’m including science in a post on restorative yoga for grief, but the way I see it, we’ve been blessed with these human bodies that allow us to experience the world so fully. Shouldn’t we know how it works? Shouldn’t we be able to recognize the signs our body and mind give us, so we can heal and not be bound by pain and dis-ease? I also understand that there is a time for learning and a time for healing (although not mutually exclusive I know in my heart that it is easier to focus on one or the other). Take what you need and leave what you don’t.
Grief in the Body
The wave of sadness that accompanies loss can make just getting through the day challenging. When I write about grief in the body my heart breaks just a little more knowing that so many of us are suffering. Grief, much like fear, elicits our body’s stress response and causes an increase in stress hormones that have a whole array of effects on the body. Under normal circumstances, the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system work in concert to allow us to move between “rest and digest” and “fight or flight” with ease. However, elevated stress hormones in addition to the sheer weight of grief can lead to a multitude of problems and persistent stimulation of our sympathetic nervous system.
Grief and Cardiovascular Health
This may seem obvious, but grief affects the heart and is associated with heart and cardiovascular issues like irregular heartbeat, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and Broken Heart Syndrome.
Grief and the Digestive System
The functioning of our digestive system is also impacted by grief. As stress hormones shunt the blood away from the digestive organs, some of the bereaved experience diarrhea, constipation, IBS, bloating and flatulence, nausea/queasiness, lack of appetite, binge eating or emotional eating, and reflux or heartburn. It is also common to lose or gain weight while grieving.
Grief and Sleep
Grief affects our sleep too. When my sleep starts to degrade the whole cookie crumbles and I struggle to keep myself together. When I sleep too much I’m a sluggish, achy mess. Anyone else experience the same? Grief affects our sleep in a myriad of ways from insomnia to oversleeping. Sleep is supposed to be a sacred time for restoration and healing. Without proper rest fatigue sets in, our ability to focus and concentrate declines, and our motor coordination is impaired. If you or someone you know is grieving ask/offer help so the bereaved has ample time to rest. Restorative yoga and yoga nidra can both be helpful during the grieving process and beyond.
Grief and the Immune System
Even our immune system is affected by grief and the onslaught of stress hormones. Have you ever gone on a vacation after a period of being super stressed only to get sick? That’s because those pesky stress hormones have been suppressing your immune system. The same thing can happen when we’re grieving. One study found that after loss of a loved one people are more likely to experience a physical health issue and another study found that “bereaved people demonstrate higher levels of systemic inflammation, maladaptive immune cell gene expression, and lower antibody response to vaccination compared with non-bereaved controls.”
Grief and the Musculoskeletal System
And finally, grief can manifest as physical pain and fatigue. Some experience body aches, headaches and stiffness, while others experience muscle weakness, limb heaviness, and decreased coordination.
Mental Health and Grief
Grief is caused by a painful or traumatic event that impacts our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It can be experienced as acute grief, which is experienced 6-12 months after loss and persistent grief which is experienced beyond 12 months.
Remember that everyone experiences grief differently, you may recognize some of these experiences in your own grieving process and you may not. Some people experience depression, anxiety, or nervousness. Grief might manifest as apathy over their own wellbeing– an inability to make healthy meals, to exercise, to keep their living space clean, etc. Sometimes the bereaved develop unhealthy coping mechanisms and they turn to alcohol, drugs, food and unhealthy relationships.
They may experience overwhelm and anxiety if they are having to navigate planning a funeral or execute a will. Others may experience brain fog and have trouble planning and organizing. They may have a hard time thinking and will think more slowly or be confused more frequently. And sometimes the mind gets caught in a cycle of rumination and becomes preoccupied with images, memories, and thoughts about the past and the loss.
Emotional Health and Grief
Any type of loss, in particular the loss of a loved one or pet, is devastating. The waves of sadness that accompany loss are more than just unpleasant, they can feel inescapable and overwhelming. And they can leave us feeling empty and depleted. There is no need to rush the grieving process. Again, it is an important part of being human. Give yourself the time and space to experience it. Allow it to move through you and take this time to take care of yourself and your needs. Get comfortable asking for help.
I think that while we’re talking about emotional health and grief it is a good opportunity to mention the 5 stages of grief according to grief expert Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her books On Death and Dying and On Grief and Grieving. The five stages of grief are:
Denial and isolation
I won’t talk too much about the five stages of grief, simply because there are so many resources already available on the internet. I will say that not everyone experiences the five stages and not everyone experiences the five stages in the order listed. As I’ve said multiple times already, everyone experiences grief differently.
Grief and Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) grief and sadness are associated with the lungs. The lungs, on both a metaphorical level and physical level, bring in the new and let go of the old. Intense stress or grief can be experienced as shortness of breath, faintness, tightness in the chest or throat, and shakiness in our voice.
In TCM each organ is considered either yin or yang and it is paired with a complementary organ. In this case, the lungs are considered yin and they are paired with the large intestines which are considered yang. When the lung qi (chi) is low, one is susceptible to colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. When lung qi is strong, one’s sense of smell is sharp, they breathe easily, they think clearly, communicate well, they’re open-minded, and they are able to relax and let go. If someone is having a difficult time letting go of the past or letting go of a loved one and their experience is characterized by intense sadness and grief it may indicate that their lung qi is low. Practices like yoga, qigong and tai chi along with acupuncture and traditional herbs can help elevate lung qi.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Grief
Establish Healthy Routines
Do your best to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day.
Set a gentle schedule for yourself that includes time to just be.
Move your body every day. It doesn’t need to be anything big. Walk the dog. Walk with loved ones. Do yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.
Eat healthy meals. Ask friends and family for help. Keep it simple.
Reach out to friends and family for support. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Spend time with a trusted friend– preferably someone who is a good listener.
Talk to a Professional
Talk to a grief counselor.
Give yourself time.
Give yourself time to experience it all. Meet yourself with love and compassion. Be present with the way you’re feeling. Share the same love you would share with a child with yourself.
Acupuncture and massage may help relieve tension and achiness.
Focus on gratitude and treasure happy memories as they arise.
Here we are, nearing the end of 2020 and it seems like many of us are struggling with our mental health, myself included. My meditation and yoga practice plus time out in nature have been my saving grace, what about you? You might be here because you read my book, The Little Book of Mudra Meditations, or maybe you’re here because you are looking for tools like mudras or meditation to help manage your anxiety.
Anxiety can show up in a variety of different ways… from feeling frozen in place, having irrational fears, and being unable to move forward to racing thoughts, panic attacks, and sleepless nights to irritability and agitation. Please remember to treat yourself and loved ones with kindness and compassion when you (or they) are dealing with anxiety.
In this blog post, I will share some of the tools, hand mudras specifically, that I use to help move through anxious moments. I’ve found these four hand mudras for anxiety, combined with a few minutes of breathing and meditation can help shift my perspective from anxiety-ridden to grounded and calm, or at least to be calmer and more grounded! If you are experiencing anxiety, I encourage you to find someone you can talk to… a therapist, counselor, or even a trusted friend. Hand mudras are a wonderful tool for healing and are often used in addition to traditional therapy and complement it well.
Why Do Mudras Work?
Hand mudras work for a handful of reasons — pun intended. Mudras are basically intentional yoga poses for your hands. Mudras direct your prana (life force energy — like chi of Traditional Chinese Medicine) and focus your intention and awareness. They are usually combined with meditation, although some can be used during your yoga practice, walking around town, or while navigating a stressful situation.
A Brief History of Mudras
Some of the hand mudras date all the way back to the Vedas, an ancient Indian text over 4000 years old. Hand mudras, or gestures, are used in yoga, Indian dance, and Ayurveda. Ayurveda is yoga’s sister science of health and wellbeing. It looks at your ENTIRE being and seeks to restore balance through lifestyle, diet, etc. Beyond India, hand gestures are used across cultures to convey intention, for example, hands in prayer, peace fingers, fingers crossed, etc.
You can use hand mudras for anxiety to feel more grounded, stable, supported, peaceful, content, calm, capable, secure, trustful, and less agitated. And those are just a few of the benefits I have noticed in my own experience and while working with my yoga students.
Four Mudras for Anxiety and Healing: Bhu, Apan Vayu, Kalesvara, and Chinmaya
Bhu Mudra For Anxiety
The first mudra for anxiety that I would like to introduce to you is Bhu Mudra. Bhu means “Earth” in Sanskrit and is linked to the Hindu Mother Earth goddess Bhumi Devi. She is sometimes simply called Bhudevi. In the Hindu pantheon, she is the consort of Vishnu’s avatar, Varaha. Bhumi Devi, much like Mother Earth herself, is considered a mother Goddess and as such, she is a nurturer and sustainer of life. Like Lakshmi, she brings abundance and blessings. Her iconography often depicts her holding a water vessel, a bowl of sacred herbs, a blue lotus, and demonstrating Abhaya Mudra. Abhaya mudra is the mudra for fearlessness. By calling in the energy of Bhumi Devi we are asking for her assistance to move through fear, to nurture and nourish us, and ground us in our connection to Mother Earth.
Bhu Mudra Benefits
Stability, security, and sense of safety
Groundedness & rootedness
Reduces stress and anxiety
Helps us move through fear with ease
Connection to the nurturing energy of Mother Earth and goddess Bhumi Devi
How to Practice Bhu Mudra
If it’s possible, I would encourage you to sit on the ground, however, I know that sitting on the ground isn’t always practical, so any upright seat will do.
Gently fold your ring finger and your little finger into your palm and gently place your thumb over your ring and little finger.
Extend your middle and index fingers long.
Bring your arms down to your sides and gently place the tips of your middle and index finger down onto the earth.
If you’re seated in a chair, ground your feet into the earth and place your middle and index fingers onto your thighs, just above your knees. The palms of your hands will face downward.
Bhu Mudra Meditation
Find a comfortable seat on the ground (if possible). Settle into your seat, bring your hands into Bhu Mudra and bring your index finger and middle finger to gently rest on the surface of the earth. Perhaps even wiggle them around a bit and feel the blades of grass, the softness of the soil or firmness of the stone. Take a moment to close down your eyes and simply become aware of your connection to the earth beneath you. Become aware of the weight of your seat settling into the support of Mother Earth and feel the connection of your fingertips against her skin: earth, soil, grass, stone, etc.
Cultivate and sharpen your awareness
Bring your awareness back to your seat and as you inhale envision a golden light flowing up through your seat, up through your chakras along your spine, up through the crown of your head. Then as you exhale envision this golden light pouring down from the crown of your head over the surface of your skin, down your arms to your fingertips and down to the earth. Golden light flows down the front and back of your body, down your thighs, legs, hips and pelvis down to the earth. The surface of the ground beneath you is alive with golden light. Your body is enveloped in golden light.
As this light continues to flow up your spine and then down the surface of your skin, envision every cell of your body being nurtured, held, and supported by the sweet energy of Mother Earth. Like a mother caring for her children, she takes away your pain, your stress, your worry. She takes away your fear of the unknown and she churns and composts it into that which is rich, fertile, and nourishing. Invite her nourishment to flow up the central channel along your spine and allow it to cascade down through your body.
Stay with this imagery until you feel calm, grounded, and peaceful. Sit for a moment or two longer and then slowly and mindfully transition back into your day.
Perhaps an affirmation resonates more?
When working with Bhu Mudra you might find it helpful to work with a mantra or affirmation. I particularly love this affirmation by Jennifer Reis, “My roots run deep into the core of the living earth.” If the above meditation doesn’t resonate with you, try using an affirmation like the one here or create your own.
Apan Vayu Mudra for Anxiety
Apan Vayu Mudra is another mudra that works with the Earth element. It is thought to increase the earth element (think grounded, stable, supported, safe), the fire element (action, heat), and akasha/ether (space/void) and it down-regulates the air element. According to Ayurveda, excessive air element in the body can lead to nervousness, flightiness, erratic behavior, and even panic attacks.
Apan Vayu Mudra, according to the ancient rishis (seers in India), is used to promote heart health and should be used during a heart attack while on your way to the hospital. This mudra is occasionally called the Lifesaving Gesture for the Heart. To be honest, I was quite skeptical when I heard that it could be used during a heart attack, but a small study published in 2017 shows promise. However, a much larger study needs to be done to really know and understand its efficacy.
That being said, I don’t practice this mudra for heart health (although I know that it’s working its magic there too). I practice it when I’m losing my sense of calm, when my mind starts racing, when I’m nervous, and even before public speaking. I use this mudra for anxiety when I am in the moment… I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, so let’s get right into the practice.
Benefits of Apan Vayu Mudra
Calms the mind and nervous system
Lessens panic attacks
How to Practice Apan Vayu Mudra for Anxiety
When possible, I like to practice this mudra in a comfortable seat — if that’s not an option, sometimes I’ll do the mudra and jam my hands in my pocket, not traditional, but sometimes you do what you have to do.
Bring your index finger down to the base of your thumb.
Then bring the tips of your middle finger and ring finger to the tip of your thumb.
Keep your pinky extended long.
Place your hands on your thighs or knees
Practice for up to 30 minutes.
A Pranayama & Meditation for Apan Vayu Mudra
Unfortunately, many of us aren’t taught how to breathe properly. We’re taught to constantly suck in our bellies and we carry loads of tension in our back and shoulders — our breath potential is wildly limited. Our breath is one of the most powerful tools we can use to regulate our nervous system.
Dirga Swasam, Three-Part Belly Breath
We’ll start with a yoga breathing technique called Dirga Swasam. It’s essentially a full belly breath. To practice Dirga Swasam, bring one hand to your belly and one hand to your heart. Inhale and send your breath down to your belly. Your belly expands, then your rib cage expands, and finally, your collarbones lift. As you exhale, it’s the reverse: collarbones drop, chest softens and the belly draws toward the spine. Balance the length of your inhales and exhales. You might find it helpful to count your breath, usually, a four-count breath is a good place to start. Breathe like this for 3-5 minutes or until you feel calm.
Now let’s move on to Square Breath. This is one of my favorite breathing techniques. I find it incredibly grounding. However, if you felt like Dirga Swasam was challenging or holding your breath causes you anxiety I encourage you to stick with the Dirga Swasam practice a bit longer. For square breath, all parts of the breath are the same length. I like to use a four-count. One round of breath goes like this: inhale for a four-count, pause at the top for a four-count, exhale for a four-count, and pause at the bottom for a four-count. You might find it helpful to envision a square. If you lose track, don’t worry about it. Simply begin again.
Feel free to stay with the breath practices above or add on a mantra. When I’m nervous and anxious I find that my meditation needs to be easy. If it’s not easy I get stuck thinking about whether I’m doing it right! So the mantra I like to use is “I am”. Inhale “I”. Exhale “am”. The Sanskrit version is “So hum”. Inhale “so”. Exhale “hum”. I like to use the Sanskrit version because I can hear the sound in my breath, but choose the version that works for you. Recite the mantra quietly and internally to yourself for 5-10 minutes.
Kalesvara Mudra for Anxiety
I have an affinity for mudras that bring awareness to our heart center, our essence, and Kalesvara is no different. The gentle pressure of thumbs against the sternum, even if I’m overcome with grief or stress of frustration this mudra helps anchor me back into this essence. This mudra not only brings our awareness to our heart, the home of the divine, it also creates the shape of a heart and a temple. How perfect is that?
Benefits of Kalesvara Mudra
Calms the mind
It has a cooling effect that can reduce agitation
Helps create space between our thoughts, so we can respond vs. react
Reduces anxiety and stress
Can assist with addiction recovery
Can assist the process of habit change/evolution
Quiets the constant bombardment of thoughts and brings them under our control
Can help calm our emotions
How to Practice Kalesvara Mudra
In a comfortable seat bring your hands in front of your heart.
Bring the pads of your middle fingers to touch and the thumbs to touch.
Fold your little finger, ring finger, and index finger in so the second knuckles touch. You’ll see a heart form.
With the middle fingers extended you will see the shape of a temple.
Gently bring your thumbs to your sternum.
Hold the mudra for 10-20 minutes each day. This can be broken into a couple of smaller practices. Sunrise and sunset are potent times for mudra and meditation.
A Heart Meditation for Kalesvara Mudra
In a comfortable seat, bring your hands into Kalesvara Mudra. Thumbs to the sternum.
Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your heart center. Take a moment to connect with the sacred rhythm of your breath and your heartbeat.
Now envision a tiny flame within your heart center. This flame represents your highest self, the divine within, and your true essence at your core. It is good; it is beautiful; it is love; it has your best interests at heart.
With each cycle of breath invite the flame to grow. Each breath fans the flame of your essence. Golden, white light emanating from your heart center, your temple. The white light expands and fills every cell within your body with divine essence. As this knowledge and wisdom settle in, realize that you are good. You are beautiful; you are enough; you are love, you are loved, you are divine. Allow this wisdom to wash over your body and bring you peace.
Chinmaya Mudra for Anxiety
Chinmaya mudra is the gesture of awareness. It is translated as supreme wisdom or awareness and is a tool to tap us into the ancient wisdom of the divine. I like to practice Chinmaya mudra when I know that I am ruminating on something… maybe I made a mistake or I’m not sure how to go forward and I am consumed by it.
I’m typically a “good” sleeper and fall asleep with ease, but occasionally I am struck with anxiety-induced restlessness and insomnia, and usually, it’s because my mind is fixated on something. Chinmaya mudra can help anchor awareness into the present moment, the breath and the physical body, and unburden our mind and heart by helping us process our life experiences with ease.
Much like Apan Vayu mudra and Vajrapradama Mudra, Chinmaya Mudra helps bring awareness to our inner innate wisdom, the wisdom of the heart and it teaches us to trust this wisdom.
Benefits of Chinmaya Mudra
Helps lengthen the breath and promotes the function of the breath
Improves the flow of prana
Creates a sense of rootedness and support
Promotes trust in our inner wisdom and intuition
Helps release lethargy/stuckness/weight gain
How to Practice Chinmaya Mudra for Anxiety
Bring the thumb and index fingers to touch like you would practicing chin mudra.
Then curl the middle, ring, and little fingers into your palm.
Whether you practice seated or lying down, you can practice with palms up or down. I find turning the palms down provides a more grounding experience.
Chinmaya Mudra Meditation
Find a comfortable posture… this could be seated or lying down, just make sure that it is not distracting. Bring your hands into Chinmaya Mudra and close your eyes. Take a moment to center. If you’re struggling to center, bring your awareness to your breath and lengthen out your exhale breaths. Notice the physical sensations as your breath flows into your nostrils, through the nasal passages, down the back of the throat into your lungs, and then follow this breath as it exits your body. Follow your breath until you feel centered. When you feel centered you can repeat the following mantra, “I trust my intuition. My higher self and my intuition work together for my highest good. My intuition teaches and guides me as I move through life’s challenges.”
I have one other mudra that I practice for anxiety and that is Vajrapradama Mudra. It’s a mudra for unshakeable trust and courage and it helps me move through those moments of feeling insecure or incapable. I’ve already gone over Vajrapradama mudra here on the blog, so I’ll just link it here.
I hope that you find these mudras for anxiety helpful. I encourage you to choose one that resonates with you and stick with it for a bit. Please feel free to reach out with questions or join me on a retreat to learn more.