Rx for Stress: Deep Relaxation at Integral Yoga

An interview with Peter Karow

-By Sarah McElwain

Yoga Nidra is an essential part of the Integral Yoga Hatha practice as developed by Sri Swami Satchidananda. In your Deep Relaxation class, you’re taking it a few steps further. 

In a Deep Relaxation class I can go into greater depth. In the rotation of consciousness, for example, we go through every single part of the body, all 60 points. You can use simple relaxing imagery or elaborate guided meditations or single states like happiness, contentment, and feeling safe. People have to feel safe to be able to relax. Yoga Nidra is also great for coping with the effects of trauma. I follow the basic format of the Integral Yoga practice, which is an awareness practice that goes through the five koshas or energetic layers. 

People think of relaxation as just lying on the floor but it’s actually a very deep and powerful meditation practice that has many benefits. It’s something you can work at. You can develop the ability to drop into these states very quickly and easily. It’s like a muscle. People might feel like they can’t measure results the way you see improvement in strength or stretches. They don’t feel like they are doing anything but the simplicity of the practice is deceptive and amazing. 

Gia Grier

What long-term changes have you experienced or do you imagine your students might feel? 

The practice of yoga actually has some fairly profound effects on your brain chemistry. Most are probably short term. It stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. It stimulates serotonin known as the happy neurotransmitter. It stimulates GABA, which slows your thoughts and helps you become calm. It stimulates oxytocin, another happy neurotransmitter. It is also great for improving your sleep. 

Our subconscious thinks in terms of imagery. You can use imagery to trigger deep subconscious memories and feelings. It can be like a cleansing where you break old patterns or emotional scars. People struggling with certain things emotionally for years can loosen them. It’s not like talk therapy; it’s subconscious. The imagery triggers deep held patterns of thought and allows you to process them. I’m not saying that taking a 45-minute class will solve all your problems but over time it becomes almost like a yogic purification. These are all amazing things. 

This practice is totally safe. You can’t physically hurt yourself because we’re not doing anything physical. Anybody, any age, as long as they are cognitively able, can do this practice, It can be done in a wheelchair or a bed. People afraid to try other Yoga classes would feel very comfortable doing this practice. 

Most people come because it’s relaxing and reduces stress and anxiety. It can also help with healing. Neurotransmitters help with wound healing and managing pain. When you get into those deep states of relaxation the brainwaves change. Because your brain is so relaxed it’s easier for intentions to manifest. If you are recovering from surgery or an illness this can be very powerful. I’m not saying curing. I’m not making elaborate, crazy or unsubstantiated claims. I’m referring to the relaxation response that Herbert Benson wrote about. There is a lot of scientific research these days about the benefits of relaxation and meditation on the brain and body. 

Peter Karow is a long-time practitioner of yoga and meditation and is certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. A licensed Physical Therapist and a Health Care Administrator, he has worked in Health Care Administration for many years. 

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