What do you find when you explore your mind? This unprecedented past year and all its challenges took our thoughts to uncharted territory. Anxiety was reported to be at an all-time high, and new, once fringe, stressors emerged to ask us all to look for ways to change and just...feel better.
But it’s more than that. Mindfulness and well-being practices shot to the forefront of lifestyle changes, and experts believe this shift is poised to help more of us than ever before.
John Vosler, longtime energetic body worker, yoga nidra guide, and meditation coach, chatted with Esalen’s Christine Chen about the mind’s role in advance of his upcoming workshop at Esalen, Yoga Nidra: Rest, Restore, and Rewrite Your Life, May 24-28.
Christine Chen: How do we clear our minds and shift patterns from the pandemic for a fresh new outlook on life?
John Vosler: In Yoga Nidra we drop beneath the mind and are able to create new and different relationships with the thoughts that arise within it. We begin to see that we are not controlled by the thoughts in our mind. We can be in a relationship with them as they are envoys that can be supportive and that allow us to make different choices. Not falling into old patterns but creating new ways of being.
CC: What types of patterns formed (in general) during the pandemic?
JV: Many of us were left alone and many felt stress. When we feel stress we tend to go to our medicating agents to help us feel better or take away the discomfort that we have. In both cases what we’re moving away from is feeling the experience, being with the feelings and emotions and by medicating, suppressing denial through social media, food, drugs, and even over-thinking, we’re moving further from feeling and being. Which causes even more stress. Yoga Nidra helps us with this dysfunctional relationship with sensation and feelings, allowing us to experience the sensation, and the energy of emotion and feeling. Making it functional and allowing us the experience, to the degree that we’re able, to be with the sensations and feelings just as they are.
CC: Can you help us understand Yoga Nidra a little more?
JV: Yoga means union and nidra means sleep — not unconscious sleep, but being conscious, awake, and aware while the body sleeps. A guided practice that uses body breath and awareness techniques to drop into deeper brain wave states, it’s a non-doing practice that uses the biological process of sleep to allow the body to heal, and helps with emotional integration and anxiety.
CC: Where does it take you in the body and mind?
JV: It doesn’t take you into the body and mind per se; you begin to recognize that the body and mind arise within you. 😉
CC: It is “sleep” - but it’s not… can you help us understand the difference?
JV: Again, it is sleep but not of the unconscious type you experience when you go to bed at night. In Yoga Nidra you are conscious and there’s a trace of awareness as the body restores itself in deep sleep.
CC: How is it facilitated? How can we feel safe in that practice?
JV: We begin by creating an inner resource or a safe place — a sensory experience that you create within yourself, a place where you feel safe and secure whether you’re in yoga nidra or in life. The practice can be done lying down, seated in a chair, or resting on our side. The beautiful thing about the practice is you can’t do it wrong.
CC: What are the habitual patterns it may address?
JV: It could be patterns of thinking and doing that keep you from being present to the moment. It could be habits, behaviors, tendencies, compulsions — the whole continuum all the way to addiction. Yoga Nidra can help you to begin to unpack these habits to see which ones are informing your experience and which ones are limiting your experience. By dis-identifying from patterns we could begin to create new ways of thinking and new ways of being. Making informed habits that support us. Creating intentions that will help you in life.
CC: How can Nidra and this workshop in particular address those?
JV: We will do a lot of resting, reflecting and Yoga Nidra. We then can start to unpack those thoughts and habits that are holding us back and start to create new intentions and habits that will inform our lives.
CC: What’s helped you during the pandemic and as we emerge?
JV: Gratitude. Being grateful every day for the opportunity to experience being. My practice, my meditation practice, my movement practice, and yoga nidra. Being able to see these so-called obstacles as opportunities. And being of service to my neighbors, family, and friends.
CC: Where do you see this practice going now that so many are interested in mindfulness, yoga, and well-being practices, in general?
JV: I believe that Yoga Nidra is the tool of our time. It’s one of the most transformational practices available to everyone — all ages, all people. It’s a non-doing practice — a practice of subtraction that allows everyone to awaken to their true nature.
Learn more about John Vosler.
John's workshop, Yoga Nidra Retreat: Rest, Restore, and Rewrite Your Life, takes place at Esalen May 24-28, 2021.
Christine Chen is the host of Esalen’s social media talk shows, Esalen Live! on Facebook and YouTube, and Esalen Presents on IGTV. Christine is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, a best-selling author, and master yoga teacher (ERYT500, ERYT300, YACEP) who encourages yogis to practice and live with purpose. Learn more.