Working Opposites for BalanceSep 19, 2022
Find out how working on opposites is a key element to yoga nidra to allow us to gain the full emotional and mental benefits through balance.
Opposition is a form of polarity where two opposites create a structure through their balance. Thus, the universe needs polarity to create existence. Your reality requires an inner world that balances your outer world relationships and experience of life. The opposition of the past and future does not provide what is aligned in the present. A way to clear the mind, emotions, subconscious and unconscious is the yoga nidra work of opposites.
What are Opposites in Yoga Nidra?
At this point in the practice, the teacher guides you through opposition sensations - these can be physical, emotional or feelings. A standard beginner approach is sensing the heavy and light sensations of the body. It is possible that the practice can take part also in the breathwork when focusing on the opposite sensations of the inhale and exhale.
My opposite sensation practice had a profound impact on me. It gave me the most space between my emotions and experiences, and pain management after my head injury. I discovered the ability to control my experience through witnessing my shifting sensations with my thoughts because this is a practice that will empower you to change your thoughts to change your life.
Control your experience of life through choice.
What it does to your brain
The practice invokes an electrophysiological response in the brain that tells the central nervous system about the sensation changes to make due to the consciously perceived sensation requested by the teacher. The brain fires signal repeatedly until it displaces the body into feeling the sensation being created in the mind. This is how thoughts become things and your reality.
The trick of this practice is that it experientially shows how consciousness can determine and direct experiences felt by the physical body. It brings awareness in the conscious daily life of moments when you can choose to change your response.
The advanced practice works with more challenging emotional sensations such as fear, rage and aggression that are triggered by the reptilian brain (hypothalamus, amygdala and limbic system) in the fight, flight or freeze mode (sympathetic nervous system response to danger). With sufficient yoga nidra practice, the advanced practitioners can submit voluntarily to such extreme emotions whilst preserving this state of ‘witness awareness’.
What are the benefits of practicing opposites?
- Practicing balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain for improved functioning. This can help with problem-solving, language, imagination, analysis, rhythm and much more.
- It’s excellent training for those with pain issues. With a great deal of commitment, discipline and motivation the mind is trained to perceive pain differently and manage the residual sensations.
- The practice develops emotional control. With practice, you begin to work with emotional sensations such as joy and sorrow. Training emotional responses in this way can begin to build awareness in the conscious daily life of emotional responses. With regular practice, it is possible to bring the opposite emotions into simultaneous awareness without conflict or contrast.
- This repeated practice enables a less attached life that connects more easily to blissful moments. You may notice an increased perceptional awareness, emotional control and increased conscious destiny arise from deepening into opposites practice.
“Choice of attention—to pay attention to this and ignore that—is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.”
— W H AUDEN
iRest Approach to Sensations
Richard Miller’s iRest yoga nidra was developed to aid those who have suffered trauma and has received several studies showing how it benefits those with PTSD. I usually recommend this type of yoga nidra practice to those with trauma backgrounds similar to my own. It is broken into 3 stages as your practice gets more advanced:
- 1. Opposite feelings - current feelings in the body are witnessed for example cold, warm, comfortable etc.
- 2. Opposite emotions - observe and proactively create emotions. Where and how in the body do you feel this emotion?
- 3. Opposite thoughts - proactively engage and observe thoughts and images, such as “I am strong” - how is this experienced in your felt-sense body?
The practice may intentionally be disquieting the mind and memories. This brings to the surface what deeply can serve you in discovering joy and wellbeing. The goal is to surf and ride the sensations as a witness throughout the practice. Opposite sensations may be avoided because you fear the outcome of facing the sensation or emotion. This is a fairly safe method to clear some of these deeper hidden opposites to find more balance and joy in daily life.
Satyananda Approach to Sensations
In Satyananda’s school of yoga nidra the opposites work is connected to the muscular patterns of tension and release in body sensations. The aim of the practice is to develop willpower on the emotional plane. For an advanced practitioner, it is the path to bliss and an enlightened path, where one can remain in witness consciousness whilst experiencing extreme primal emotions from the reptilian brain.
- Hot/ Cold
- Heavy/ Light
- Joy/ Sorrow
- Pain/ Pleasure.
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