How to Have a Great Maternity Leave: Try Yoga Nidra (or meditation)

This past weekend, I drove back from the mountains, across snow-blown highways, to arrive in Calgary at 9am.  Why?  Because I had a unique opportunity.

For the last few years, I have dabbled in taking meditation workshops of all shapes, sizes and lengths.

I have also experimented with a few meditation apps (I’ll talk about these later in the post.)  I love that there is plenty of science and fascinating research to back up the benefits of meditation, but I also love the spiritual side.  It appeals to both sides of me…the academic, but also the student of metaphysics.

I first discovered meditation when I started going to Yoga in my 20s as an employee at Lululemon.  It was there that I realized that I was really just there for the savasana (the delicious part at the end of a yoga class when you get to just lie on your back with your eyes closed and chill.)

Once I learnt that savasana at the end of yoga classes,  was basically “meditation,” I sought out opportunities to take workshops. I LOVED the feeling of being so relaxed and could feel the benefits last for days afterward.

I attended a few meditation workshops run by Jane Sponiar for new mothers held at the Holistic Institute of Health and Fertility, where I was taking Mum and Baby Yoga.   I enjoyed these workshops, because she introduced us to different types of meditations in totally normal english language, without too much of the new age lingo.

There were visual meditations, guided meditations, walking meditations and traditional seated meditations.

It is important to try different styles of meditation because just as with workouts, there are different ‘flavours’ of meditation that appeal to different people.  Some people can sit and go straight into silent meditation and quiet the mind (I can do this when my life is fairly well balanced, but I struggle with it when I get too busy, or my back is particularly bad.)

My *very* visual and creative monkey brain loves a good guided meditation, where the teacher gives us visual images to focus on.  It gets things somewhat under control and relaxes me, and then I find it easier to enter the silence and reduced brain activity that accompanies a meditation.

Visual meditation techniques have been so helpful, in fact, that I wound up using visual meditations during my next two labours.  I’d visualize myself on a surfboard, paddling up and over a large wave just before it crests. Just like this image below. It timed perfectly with each contraction, which lasted about 30 seconds.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 8.25.21 PM

Though it didn’t eliminate the pain of each contraction, meditation passed the time by quickly and kept me calm.  I also had a few tracks that I played that helped me stay in a super relaxed place in the early stages of labour.  These were:

https://soundcloud.com/paddo-cosmo/healing-earth-edit-healing?in=caricar/sets/sleep 

and this one:

 

So back to my story, why did I drive to Calgary at 6am?

I had the opportunity to attend a Yoga Nidra Immersion workshop put on by the otherworldly Tanis Fishman, founder of the School of Sankalpa.

As with all things meant to be, the dots connected when I walked into the room at Yoga Passage and thought ‘huh, she looks so familiar!’.

I realized with a jolt, that out of all of the random yoga classes I had done over the past 8 years, the most meaningful ones were taught by this lady in front of me. The universe is crafty like that.  This is synchronicity at its finest.  Meaningful coincidences.

What was it about this workshop that appealed to me?

Yoga Nidra is a type of meditation that is also known as “yogic sleep.”  By guiding participants (most often through a body scan and visual meditation process) the brain enters a different state of consciousness.  It is a strange place that sits in the gossamer folds between wakefulness and sleep.  It is a place of profound, and deep relaxation.  You definitely don’t get there and stay there for the full Yoga Nidra (in our case these were 45 minute sessions x 4.) . You sort of flow in and out of consciousness and sleep, but you get a feel for the strange place in between as you transition in and out.

If you are familiar with metaphysical / new age stuff, lucid dreaming, or psychic channeling, it all happens in this stage. In the yoga interpretation, this stage is when we access our deepest subconscious and where our soul resides. For those of you scientifically inclined, I highly recommend reading this article on brain states that Tanis has obviously well researched.  Her resources section on her site is incredible, by the way.  The website for the Headspace Meditation app also has an extensive science library, which you can peruse here. 

The nice thing about Yoga Nidra and Meditation is that it has so much research backing it, and it was really nice to see quite a few professors from the University there that I recognized!

Each month, there are more and more research articles expounding the physiological and neuropsychological processes (and benefits.) Meditation also benefits us outside of the actual act (see article: meditation and has extensive residual effects, ) 

As a regular practitioner of meditation, I can honestly say that meditation, in general, has helped me in some ways, in other ways not so much. So here’s my opinion of it:

It has helped me hugely in becoming a fairly grounded, easy going person. I still struggle with anxiety in my body, but my mind and emotions are lovely calm domains for me.   (My body is still something I am trying to figure out – why my body carries anxiety.) . I tend to look at my life as existing in three domains, mind, body and spirit/soul.

I find it very easy to become clear-headed and focused in emergency situations, and am much better able to regulate myself emotionally day-to-day, which has been super helpful for staying calm when my toddlers are in that lovely intense toddler mode (I have a fiery high energy Scorpio and an earthy, stubborn Taurus.) I use meditation with the kids now and it has really helped our quiet times.  They ask for their 5-minute Headspace meditation on the app *every* night.

I still struggle with sadness though, when I am fatigued. Meditation has not helped this. In my case, I think this comes down to some issues with neurotransmitters (serotonin.)   Taking an SSRI has really improved how I am doing overall, which combined with meditation has been a key to mental wellness for me!   Both address causes of anxiety and depression at the root level – thinking patterns and levels of neurotransmitters.

Note: If I could address the restlessness of my spirit which is trying to figure out its purpose here,  and physical pain of my body, I’d be absolutely solid.  

Meditation has also benefitted me by giving me an opportunity to downregulate my nervous system, which in post-partum wants to be jacked up and on high alert.  This is probably a totally normal postpartum leftover from paleolithic days.  That is straight up biology and the reptilian brain wanting to protect its offspring.  The problem is, it causes the most crushing anxiety and stress in those early newborn days!  Meditation has been a great way to be able to observe, and become aware of anxious thoughts, instead of unconsciously engaged with them.  Jane Sponiar once described it as standing alongside a busy road.  When the anxious thoughts about your or your baby appear, it’s like a car zooming past on the road.  Do you get into every single car and go along for the ride, or do you stay on the sidewalk and just watch the cars drive by?  Meditation gives you the ability to stay on the sidewalk, observe and acknowledge the thought, and then choose to engage with it or not. Anxious thoughts still happen, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t own you and you don’t physiologically or emotionally respond to them as often.  It becomes a choice rather than a habit.  

With my first born, if she made the slightest snuffle down the hall in her crib, my body would just panic and shoot adrenaline out everywhere like a firework show.  I struggled with sleep and had some anxiety about walking alongside hills and cliffs with the stroller (I still have this actually, it’s my random fear I have with my kids.)

With my third baby born this past summer (after a good 3 years of regular meditation under my belt)  I haven’t struggled with this at all. I can fall asleep anywhere, I don’t feel high strung and panicky, just sadness if I am experiencing discomfort.  I practice naps and meditation intentionally as ways to downregulate my nervous system.

There are other ways such as baths, exercise, etc. and these are all wonderful techniques too!  Personally, naps and meditation are my jam, because they give my brain a break and are deeply restorative. As for the new mama danger filter? I experienced the nervousness around a cliff in Kau’ai this past December and the panic set in.  It was a bad moment for me, but I at least saw it coming and engaged with it consciously, because I did genuinely feel like the danger level was out of my comfort zone. I just wish I didn’t get so emotionally distraught over it and become irrational yelly mc yellerson with my husband!  (note to self: more work needed in this area.)

Other benefits of meditation?  Lucid dreaming and channeling. I now get messages or images on the regular.  I just don’t know what the hell most of them mean so I Just write them down in a journal, and hope they’ll make sense one day!

This is why the Yoga Nidra immersion this past weekend was particularly profound for me. I got several visions both directed to myself and others in the room.  I’ll write about them in another post for those who are of the spiritual/new age persuasion.

One other thing I wanted to mention with Yoga Nidra and why it is so amazing for you is that it puts the brain into a different state where it produces different waves – alpha waves.

When else does our brain get to hang out in that lovely place between wakefulness and sleep?  There are few opportunities for the brain to have space and time to produce alpha waves (this is what it produces during yoga nidra or meditation.)

I totally recommend you google alpha brain waves.  It is fascinating, and again, backed up by lots of science and evidence so it’s not woo-woo stuff.  Alpha waves are associated with creativity, strokes of genius, ideas, and solutions.  Studies on athletes have shown that they have a big burst of alpha waves in moments of peak performance.  This is also a state in which the brain is highly suggestive, and messages go right down into the deeper subconscious – which is why when you do meditation or yoga nidra, you can layer in affirmative mantras or messages, and instructors often do.

At the Yoga Nidra immersion, we were given four opportunities to go into Yoga Nidra (each one lasting 45 minutes which let me tell you, felt more like TEN minutes) and we were asked to set an intention for ourselves that we want for this year.

This is called a “Sankalpa.”

My personal Sankalpa was “I continue to come closer to discovering how I am meant to serve people.”  This sounds a bit vague, but it means that I want to figure out my purpose here.

I am a bit of a multi-passionate, with diverse interests but I haven’t landed on what I feel I can really do to serve other people – and I think it drives my anxiety to some extent because I feel like I am not living up to my potential, truth be told.  Most days I feel scattered and distributed among many interests, and feel like my effectiveness is diluted. Even though I LOVE everything that I do, I become paralyzed by the abundance of things I enjoy doing and let me tell you, it has been impossible figuring out what my niches are as a professional coach because I enjoy every type of client! 

With the Sankalpa chosen, we were guided into deep relaxation and alpha brain state with visual imagery (imagining things) or body scanning (scanning through your body relaxing each part.)   We were asked to silently state our Sankalpa to kind of “plant” it in our brain – or plant it in the universe – whichever you prefer to believe 🙂  Super interesting stuff, no?

Another wonderful thing that we did during the full day immersion, is we bought a journal along.  After each Nidra, most of us got up, wiped the drool off our faces ( you really do float in and out of consciousness, many people slept, some snored!) and recorded any thoughts, impressions, images that we had.  My first 2 out of the 4 yoga nidras there was a whole bunch of channeling going on.  3rd and 4th were profoundly relaxing and honestly, truly the “yogic sleep” for me where my body just wanted to relax and chill.  And chill it did.  I don’t think I fully slept, but I came out of those feeling deeply restored.  They say that one Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to several hours sleep.

So what did I get through in the 1st and 2nd Yoga Nidras?  In the first Nidra, the most profound thing was that I smelt my favourite childhood flower, hyacinth *very* strongly in the room, and saw a purple one in my minds’ eye.

During the second Nidra. I was feeling quite sad and was thinking of loneliness and isolation.  Lately, I haven’t seen much of friends as we all become busy with toddlers, various nap times, organized activities/sports, and some entering preschool. I spend a lot of time wondering if, with kids starting preschool and kindergarten, that all of our friendship circles will shift again, or if it’s just a temporary thing?  It is ever so different from the lovely days of first mat leave when we’d all hang out with our beautiful new babies, exploring the city together and creating memories.

Despite our best efforts, it’s just impossible to get schedules to align.  I’ve thought lately that it is a lonely period of time for us mamas when we are in the under-5 age range with our kids.  I kind of got on this thinking track in the second nidra, then slowly began to float in and out of sleep.  It was then that my mum showed up in my mind’s eye (I didn’t see an image of her but just felt her presence and kind of like a telepathic message that appeared in my mind.)

I felt her appear to my side and she actually admonished me kind of firmly with “you are NEVER alone!” (interestingly she was never this firm in real life, so it was weird that she was like this on Saturday) and there was then a span of time when it very, very obviously felt like she was standing right beside me.  It was interesting, and reassuring, and definitely the most obvious way she has shown up since she passed.  It was a lovely gift.

Other things that happened: Tanis was seated beside me for one of the Nidras when it was led by a different instructor.  I started seeing pictures of geometric black and white patterns, much like those rustic rugs you see or in native American art.  I also saw a crows’ head. Funnily enough on Tanis’ website, she has lots of geometric figures. I haven’t googled geometric figures yet but that will come at some point, as I see them alot.  I am sure that will lead me down another google rabbit hole of learning, late at night 🙂

These are all interesting things, for sure,  but I am not yet developed enough to connect meaning to a lot of the things I see/smell/feel (such as the hyacinth flower, wtf does that mean?)  As a personal reflection, I think the first stage of development is that you are more aware and notice things, pick up on images, sensations or messages – but then truly developing your psychic skills, is a matter of actually being able to understand the meaning of them.  That’s where I’d like to go eventually.

But for now, it was simply cool and interesting and good entries for my journal.  It’s fascinating even as a scientific, totally rational observer, to see what your brain comes up with in its most relaxed state.  The journalling was fantastic as rarely are we able to jot meditation impressions down, before they fade into the mists of the brain.

The only way I can describe this fading away, it is that it is very similar to a great dream.  You wake up, luxuriating in the memories of that dream, but within 5 minutes, it fades away into the deep recesses of your consciousness and you forget all about it.  It is the same with the things that come to you during meditation.

So what is my plan going forward? To continue trying to journal a few impressions I get during meditation *if*I get any, and to continue to enjoy the luxurious “bubble bath for the brain” that is meditation.  I’ll also be trying to get back to some restorative or yin yoga during which there are lots of lovely opportunities for deep relaxation and yoga nidra.

If you are curious, there are many fantastic apps,

For the children we use the Headspace app and the 5 minute “sleep” meditation for the kiddos.

For myself, I have been absolutely loving the free app Insight Timer, which is like a facebook of meditations! In particular, there is a meditation called “bone deep sleep” which I have YET to make it through, because I’m always fast asleep half way through!

If you are curious about Tanis, do visit her extensive resources page on her website, and she also has a few free yoga nidra videos on her youtube channel here!    there are tons of Yoga Nidra videos on Youtube but they do honestly vary in quality, and there’s a lot of shitty ones on there, trust me, I’ve tried a lot 🙂 I’d mostly recommend her channel or the free Insight App and choose one that is highly rated by users.

I hope this has piqued your curiousity about Yoga Nidra and/or meditation, it may be the most wonderful thing you discover in this, your Great Maternity Leave.

 

xo.

Carina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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