Relaxation Archives - Embodied Living

Have you ever fancied achieving a blissful state of altered consciousness without having to rely on a trip of the chemical kind? Do you want to expand the capacity of your mind? Learn without effort? Reduce your inhibitions and improve your memory? Did you know that you can reach this altered state of consciousness and achieve all this by simply lying down for 20 mins?

The best sleep you will ever get

The literal translation of Yoga nidra is ‘yogic sleep’. Yoga Nidra is an ancient tantric method which can open new capacities of mind. It was brought to the West by the Indian guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in the 60s. We are not talking about any other practice that may be called the same thing. When I refer to yoga nidra in this article and in my practice I am talking about the systematic practice developed in the Bihar school of India.

This system of yoga nidra relates to a deep sleep state where the mind is deeply relaxed but with a wide open awareness and it is one of the deepest of all meditations, and brings an incredible calmness, quietness and clarity.

Supreme stillness

Yoga Nidra is a practice which leads awareness through many levels of mental process to a state of supreme stillness, receptivity and insight. Like all yoga practices it is the persistent practise that brings about real transformation and joy. It can be considered a form of meditation. However, in meditation you remain in the waking state of consciousness and gently focus the mind whilst allowing thought patterns, emotions and sensations to come and go. In comparison, in Yoga Nidra you leave the waking state, go beyond the dreaming state into a state similar to deep sleep, whilst remaining awake. It is a very powerful state for your brain to be in!

Yoga nidra is typically led by a qualified and trained teacher and lasts 15 mins to half an hour. You lie on the floor your back or, for some practices, sit in a meditation posture. And mentally follow the instructions that you teacher talks you through.

Changing brain waves

The practice induces brain waves that are predominantly delta (0.5 to 3.5 cycles per sec): the state of deep stillness and profound openess. When you first try yoga nidra you will experience the profound relaxation that the practice brings about. And you will almost certainly fall asleep! In fact, if you suffer from disturbed sleep patterns yoga nidra is a great way to balance and restore sleep patterns. However, at some point your practice will deepen and you will experience a moment, like a flash, where you experience the breath-taking depths of yoga nidra.

As in many yoga practices, you need to be patient. There is no right or wrong. If you fall asleep that is fine: and probably what you need at that time! Whilst this is not the ultimate state that yoga nidra aims for, it is certainly of benefit to mental and physical health and encourages the brain to slow down from its active aroused beta state (14 to 30 cycles per sec) to a calmer alpha wave range (8 to 13 cps).

The stages of yoga nidra

The methods that take you up the ultimate yoga nidra state are, in themselves, very relaxing and help to train the mind. The key stages of this technique are:

  1. progressive relaxation
  2. body awareness
  3. rotation of consciousness
  4. summoning of emotions and states
  5. control of physical states
  6. visualisation
  7. chakra work
  8. breath awareness
  9. sankalpas (affirmations) – a powerful method of reshaping your personality and experience of the world for the better


The term ‘yoga nidra’ actually refers to the state of consciousness that is achieved in the ultimate practice of the technique but it is often used erroneously to refer to the various methods listed above. It is the end state not the method that is eponymous.

Benefits of yoga nidra

The overall benefits of yoga nidra include:

  • total relaxation of all systems of the body
  • nervous and hormonal system efficiency
  • enhanced health
  • the ultimate way to de-stress (yoga nidra is HUGELY beneficial for the alleviation of stress)
  • elminate insomnia
  • mental and emotional relaxation


Yoga nidra in education

Educational innovators such as Dr Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian psychologist and the founder-director of the Institute of Suggestopedy in Sofia, are now utilizing yoga nidra to create an atmosphere in which knowledge is gained without effort. Dr Georgi Lozanov, recognizing that the state of active and relaxed awareness in students awakens the desire to learn, improves memory and reduces inhibition, has devised methods for teaching/learning of foreign languages that are three to five times faster, with the use of relaxation and music. As the class proceeds, the students effortlessly assimilate an enormous amount of knowledge, which, under conventional classroom conditions, would surely precipitate strain, tiredness and loss of concentration.

Yoga nidra is being tapped internationally as a means of improving conscious recall thereby increasing memory function. Yoga nidra is a promising technique that will revolutionize the teaching procedures in the future by enabling students to assimilate knowledge without much effort. There are students who want to learn, but their conscious mind is weak or unreceptive. Such children with learning disabilities can benefit from yoga nidra by absorbing knowledge through the subconscious mind. Such children can be taught by transmitting symbolic forms directly into his subconscious.

Reducing illness

Yoga Nidra has also been scientifically proven to reduce the ‘psychosomatic’ illnesses caused by the general under currents of tension that we live with:

  • diabetes
  • migraines
  • asthma
  • ulcers
  • digestive problems


Yoga nidra will help you reach a deep state of releasing, relaxing and letting go: but really its bigger benefit is an emptying of oneself into wonder.

Sue Tupling of Embodied Living is qualified to teach and practice yoga nidra.

Relaxation is literally about letting go. Nevertheless this needs to happen on three levels for us to fully relax. We need to relax on the physical, emotional and mental levels. Once we achieve this the benefits of relaxation are immense.

The benefits of relaxation

The benefits of true and deep relaxation include:

  • more energy
  • less ‘dis-ease’ and illness
  • fewer aches and pains
  • stronger immune system
  • more resilient/able to cope with stress
  • calmer and more confident
  • happier, more content and more fulfilled

People often want to relax to move away from feeling on edge, tired or exhausted. However developing the ability to relax on each of these levels means that we can actually use relaxation as a route to achieving our goals in life. This might include performing at our best under pressure, being more creative, being a better leader.

We don’t know how to relax

But how funny is it that when you tell someone to ‘relax’ or ‘chill out’ – perhaps because they look stressed – they have no clue as to how to do this. Good coaches or yoga teachers never tell someone to ‘relax’. If the person knew how to do this they wouldn’t be in class! Instead we show them techniques and behaviours they can use to achieve this for themselves.

The secret to relaxation

The secret to relaxation is letting go. Letting go of tension, letting go of effort. At every level – physical, emotional and mental. Interestingly this can be achieved through the breath. Specifically through the exhalation. The exhalation is used in yoga asana work to move deeper into a posture or for the more strenuous postures: deep forward bends, strong backbends, twists are all moved into on the out breath. Somehow the body is more ‘forgiving’ on the exhalation; stretches are allowed more and are somehow facilitated.

Exhalation is letting go

The exhalation is letting go because, unlike the inhalation, the out breath does not require muscular effort. To exhale simply requires a letting go of effort. So the intercostals, scalenes, trapezius etc – the key muscles of respiration – simply relax to allow the rib cage to relax. And the diaphragm, the king of respiration muscles, can let go of its hold on the lumbar spine and relaxes upwards and the air leaves the body through the natural process of letting go. The exhalation is passive: it requires no effort. It is simply a surrender to gravity.

Breathe out to relax

We can use the exhalation to relax and release in the body, which will help the mind to relax. As the body can relax into strong stretches on the exhalation, so the exhalation can be used to release tension in the body. The breath is the bridge between the body and mind: as the body releases so follows the mind.

In addition, by prolonging the exhalation we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response) by enhancing vagal nerve activity. This slows the heart rate and increases heart rate variability (HRV) thereby calming and relaxing the whole body-mind system.

The opposite of relaxation is anxiety and worry. And the most amazing thing about the exhalation is that it can be used to reduce and even eliminate anxiety. It is the best technique for anxiety disorders.

Read more about breathing and breathing practices here


What is our most precious commodity? It’s our energy. Energy management is more important than time management.  How we nurture and manage our precious energy is not only important for our health and vitality now, but it will ensure that as we grow older we will do so with vigour and vitality.


The source of all life

Whether it is yoga, aikido, martial arts, acupuncture, all these eastern philosophies recognise the human energy system. This energy – also known as Chi or prana – is our vital essence, our life-force: the source of all life. In a sense in have this subtle energy zinging throughout our bodies (and it is more electrical than anything else) we have the universe within us – for this is the energy that gave birth to the universe, universal energy). Without prana there is no life, prana can be felt in the body as different degrees of vibrations, warmth, power, pulsation, strength. We deplete this life-force when we get ill, through stress and tension (holding tension in the body creates blockages that prevent the free flow of this ‘subtle energy’) and through poor diet and lifestyle.

Worrying drains energy

Prana and the pranic body is the link between the physical body and the mind – hence any disturbance in the mind will affect our energy and also any physical ailment in the body will deplete our life-force. If we can learn techniques to manage our subtle energy we will remain strong and balanced (in mind and body) and be able to ward off any mental or physical illness and increase our inner power and strength.

Given that our brain is 2% of our body mass and yet consumes 20% or more of our calorific intake (your brain eats a kit kat and 2 packets of crisps a day!), it isn’t hard to see how worry and anxiety drains prana.  A busy, worrying mind uses up loads of energy and this totally depletes our subtle energy.  If we think of this pranic energy as a bank account – we were born with a certain balance and it is our responsibility to build on this energy throughout our lives so that we grow more vital as we age.

Mental tension and disturbance, through worrying and anxiety, uses up a lot of this energy and ultimately leads to illness and disease. In virtually all the Eastern philoshophies all illness and disease is a result of disturbance, blockage and stagnation of this vital energy (and this explains why my friend Howard has cured himself of the apparently ‘irreversible’ disease of Parkinsons).

What and where is prana?

Prana is the subtle energy that runs through the energy ‘meridians’ or channels of the body – the nadis. This electrical energy is intimately linked to the nervous system and the balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system. Hence mental and emotional balance (balance of these two branches) nurtures and strengthens prana. Whilst prana is not breath: breath is the biggest tool we have to manipulate prana. Hence the huge importance of breath and breathing exercises (pranayama) in yoga – these practices build our energy and vitality.

Prana exists in 5 different sections which all move constantly and in different directions (the vayus). A healthy section of prana feels tingly, full of life, vital and pulsating. Numbness, heaviness, cold, all indicate that prana is stagnant or blocked.  Blockage and stagnation destroy our prana – and this gives us some sense of the importance of asana in yoga – asanas remove all blockages (eventually), whether mental, emotional or physical so that our vital life-force can flow freely and keep us health and vital.

Prana and Consciousness

Prana is also linked to levels of consciousness. Most religions, faiths and philosophies agree that the purpose of human life is to expand our level of consciousness and to realise our true potential of self. Higher levels of prana help to elevate us to higher levels of consciousness and likewise (in my experience anyway) higher levels of consciousness help us to experience the higher levels of prana. Fleeting experiences of higher these higher levels: where consciousness becomes consumed in shimmering ethereal particles of ‘light’ moving in all directions simultaneously where the physical material body has dissolved and we, our consciousness, has no boundary, is limitless.

How can we manage our energy?

We can learn how to generate prana, nurture it, build up a huge store of it. But first we must learn to become aware of it – this requires a refinement of awareness (so come along to my yoga classes!).  Then there are three main ways of generating prana:


  1. Choose your environment carefully – it is said that living high on a mountain exposes us to more pure prana. We breathe in prana – taking the univeral lifeforce into our own body. So the quality of the air we breathe, and more importantly the level of prana in that air is important. Hence why mental illness and depression is higher in inner cities.
  2. Ingest the highest quality fuel – if we think of our bodies as a prana energy generation station, we ingest the fuel for the generation of our prana in 3 ways: what we breathe, what we eat and what we drink. So it is important to consider the quality of the prana in what we eat or drink. Natural foods that are closer to the source and have been through fewer refinements or processing have inherently higher levels of prana. Hence fresh vegetables, fruit and a more natural diet. Remember, our ancient ancestors were not meat eaters – but meat was a rare treat, certainly not an everyday event.
  3. And finally, and this is key, we need the proper rest and relaxation. Deep restorative rest and practices that reduce the domination of the sympathetic nervous system and restore vagal tone are essential. And this is not just about lying down and ‘doing relaxation’. but about learning a way of living that is expansive and spacious as we go about our everyday existence.

For more information check out the Embodied living blog or attend one of our courses or classes.

Listen to my Podcast talk about managing energy during stressful times

“Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.” Thoreau

It seems that I am in good company with my love of kayaking. Jeff Brown, Henry David Thoreau, Ray Mears all appreciate the power of this activity. After waking up today feeling down, I heard a little voice inside telling me I needed to go kayaking (a river and a canal run round the back of the housing estate I live on). After an hour or so on the water I felt so much better – energised, settled and ready for a productive day. I started to wonder what paddling can teach us about life and even business.

The six steps to power, freedom and joy (that I learnt through kayaking):

Seize the day

Waking up and spontaneously deciding, ‘whatever, I have got on today I can find time for this’ gives us a tremendous freedom and sense of control. We learn to play again. It takes some courage and it builds boldness and a sense of empowerment.

Socialise with like minded people

Too much of our time and energy can be spent with people with whom we are not well matched or who don’t enhance our life. I believe we need to actively choose who we spend our time, and our life with; because being in relationship with other people helps us to develop and enhance our self. Often those people can be very different to us but share a love of similar activities (actually I find it better if this is the case, but we often play it ‘safe’ by preferring people who are like us).

Simplicity is powerful

All we are is energy. Complicated depletes, robs us of our energy. Keep it simple and you will feel energised and motivated. Whether this is your business, your to do list, your yoga practice, your food or sex or just about anything. Strip life down to its bare essentials and you will be more of you!

Slow down and time expands

Time is relative. Stress is experienced when we have speeded up on the inside – we are ‘wired’ . When we slow down intentionally, we can expand (in our physiology and psyche) into that space created and experience a powerful state of ‘energised relaxation’, where we are focused, and simultaneously more productive and creative.

Serenity – make time for peace

Being with your self, and/or with nature, can be the most precious time spent. It gives us time with our thoughts, feelings and sensations allowing us to integrate and ‘digest’ experiences and bring more peace into our life.

Steadiness – take the rough with the smooth

It’s not what happens to us, its how we react to what happens to us (in our thoughts, emotions and feelings) that is the problem. The sun comes out, the clouds come down and it rains. It is calm and still, then the wind comes and the waves buffet us about. We CAN learn to ‘be with’ whatever comes, and not react to it, not get disturbed by it; then we start to see life differently and more energy to achieve whatever we want to achieve.

For anyone in Stafford or surrounding area who needs to learn to relax and calm their anxiety, hypnotherapy can be a good way to start. Anxiety can have many origins. Often we think it is genetic but that is often far from the case. There is what can seem a surprising link between anxiety and anger. If you think about it, we are often afraid of anger – ours and others – so keeping it down, under control can cause anxiety.

But also, if our anger (or any of our emotions for that matter) has not been embraced by others, and I am talking those important others in our earliest years (our parents or caretakers), anxiety can be a response. When I say ’embraced’ I mean two things mainly. That we are lovingly, physically held and embraced, for example a child having a temper tantrum. And that we are embraced in a more symbolic way, through accepting kind words. In this way, our powerful (negative) emotions are contained (or limited, to give it its psychological term), we learn that they can be contained, and not overwhelm us and we learn that all of us is acceptable. Thus we learn to accept ourselves, and trust all the responses that come from our depths.

If we don’t have this, we grow up with a need to repress or control parts of our self that we fear may not be ‘controllable’. Whilst I am not going into the detail of this important concept in this piece, I think that when I say it is important that we learn to love and accept ourselves – truly, madly deeply – most people will understand this on some level. By doing this work on ourselves, we can live with more freedom, spontaneity, creativity and energy.

This self hypnosis practice – based on the concept of learning to really love yourself – can be a good start: listen to the Loving Yourself practice here.

Our bodies and our minds are intimately connected and how we use our bodies has an impact – positive or negative – on our mind. If we are suffering from anxiety, depression or symptoms of trauma such as numbness or dissociation, practising standing postures can help to ground us and bring us into our bodies in a way that is beneficial to the mind.

For example, think about how you stand automatically. You may notice that your feet are all over the place. By simply bringing your feet together, in a mindful way, helps your feet know where ‘home’ is.

But to bring them completely together is quite difficult. We often stand with our feet quite wide apart. I am an experienced yoga practitioner and teacher, and in the last year or so, I have started to practise yoga standing postures with my feet together and the effect on both body and mind has been quite amazing.

What does ‘feet together’ really mean?

Whilst it can mean big toes and heel bone touching, a better alignment is when the feet are parallel and touching. And for this to happen the big toes come together and the heels are a little apart (see pic). If you draw a line on your feet from the mid point of your ankle to the radial edge of your second toe, those two lines should be parallel.

Watch this video to see this in action:

When I do my yoga practice in or from this position across a range of postures such as those shown below, I have found two major benefits: one is in the energetic nature of the pose and the other is in my connection to core.

Containment of energy

In order to stand in this ‘feet together’ position, I focus on pushing into the balls of my big toes, the shins rotate radially outwards a little and the inner thighs draw upwards and inwards (medial rotation). This pushes the seat bones out and gives space in the sacral joint, back of the hips and keeps the pelvis upright and neutral (which lengthens the psoas muscle) and thus honours the natural curvature of the spine. There seems to be more containment and control of energy – perhaps this is because the muscles used to hold this posture activate the bandhas (root locks) particularly mula bandha. This feels like l have more control over my energy, I feel calmer and more centred and in control.

It also helps me to feel significantly more focused – my mind has a more single minded concentration. My senses are withdrawn from external distractions to internal awareness (pratyahara) and I am more able to access the state of ‘flow’ (peak performance), a sense of heightened alertness but deeply relaxed simultaneously.Also moving into the postures from that feet together position is a neater, more ‘contained’ movement. It feels like energy is being conserved and there is less waste of energy. Connection to my coreBy working with the feet parallel and together like this, I feel a much stronger connection to my core. This feels like the difference between an elastic band that is taught ready for powerful action and one that has lost its elasticity. The core muscles that I feel involved here are not just the abdominals, but the pelvic floor muscles, the erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis in the back, and the diaphragm.

In addition, the latissimus dorsi, and the gluteus maximus (the butt muscle) are involved, and also the wonderful psoas muscle – the main muscle of walking – which is connected to the diaphragm and runs onto the thigh bone. In fact the psoas and the diaphragm working together are the two titans of our walking posture. Standing like this, the psoas feels long and free, and in fact it is said that a psoas that is free of tension allows us to connect to the present moment.

This sense of ‘core’ gives me a feeling of being pulled towards my centre and having access to a powerhouse of internal energy. I feel like one strong connected unit, operating from centre, and more able to hold strong poses with less effort. And, I suppose, more able to take life on.

The Benefits

Here are the benefits I have found and researched of doing these poses with the feet ‘together’ (as described fully above) instead of apart:

  • it increases muscular engagement with the inner thigh and therefore connects to the core better
  • it helps with stabilisation (squeezing action of the inner thighs)
  • the joints are properly stacked and the body is in good alignment – 90 degree angle of feet to floor, floor to ankles, ankles to shins
  • there is less negative force on the sacroiliac joint
  • it improves balance and reduces left/right imbalance
  • it engages the bandhas (root lock)

Because the psoas muscle is engaged with the diaphragm, our psoas is flexible and lengthened in this feet together posture, which helps to connect with diaphragm for optimal breathing (starts deeper and lower but feels us into the hips and chest/head), or power breathing, helping with ‘flow’ state of peak performance, with far less anxiety

What goes wrong?

Or what will prevent you being able to work with the feet togetherNot everyone may be functionally able to bring their feet together; this may be due to wide hips, bone structure etc. Therefore in your practice it is vitally important to listen to your body and not do something that will cause pain or discomfort. The main barriers and contraindications to working with the feet together, and doing it carefully and slowly, are:Tight hamstrings and hip flexorsThe hamstrings are three muscles in the back of the thigh that attach at the seat bones and end on the tibia – so effectively they run from the pelvis to below the knee. Tight hamstrings will significantly restrict forward movement and mean that we can more easily damage our spine, because the back overcompensates for the lack of flexibility in these key muscles.

Another muscle group that is often overlooked in such issues are the group of deep hip flexors. They are deep inside the hip, under more famous butt muscle, the gluteous maximus. They all attach to the inside of the inside of the greater trochanter which is the bulb at the top of your thigh bone that goes into the the hip socket. They fan out to different locations around the low pelvis. Please see the image left. They include: piriformis, and the gemellus. Because the deep six are under the gluteus maximus, typically one of the strongest muscles in your body, they are often overshadowed by it. If these are tight they can also restrict flexibility and cause back injuries.

But also bear in mind that the psoas muscle is intimately linked to our psychological wellbeing – a tight psoas will manifest in fear and anxiety, this is because of the psoas connection with the diaphragm and lower brainstem. Practising optimal breathing using the diaphragm will help to lengthen the psoas, which in combination, will thus help to reduce anxiety. In my experience, only around 5 per cent of the population are breathing optimally and this is inextricably linked with anxiety states.

Tightness in the iliotibial band

Tightness in this muscle is an underlying cause of back injury. The iliotibial band (IT) is a band of fascia that runs down the outside of the legs from the hips to the top of the shins. Remember, fascia is ‘plastic’ and not elastic like muscle, so is hard to change it. The tensor fascia latta (TFL) is the muscle that runs into this band, and this whole structure is often tight, which also causes very tight gluteal muscles. A tight TFL and IT band will pull the knees to the outside of the hips and put undue pressure on the sacrum. It will result in knee, back and sacroiliac problems. Therefore the TFL and IT band need to be stretched and lengthened over time. In my experience, these are some of the most important muscles to befriend in working successfully to access the many benefits of the ‘feet together’ position in yoga. We need to lengthen the hamstrings, the psoas and the often overlooked deep hip flexors as well as the TFL in order to safely work in strong yoga postures from the feet parallel position and also to avoid getting injuries.