Habit Stacking Your Meditation Practice

Having a regular meditation practice can have numerous positive effects on your life. Meditation has been known to reduce stress, increase control over thoughts and emotions, and induce a feeling of calm, which can help in high pressure situations. However, like any other habit, it can be difficult to build and maintain a regular practice to get all these benefits.

Habit stacking is a relatively new personal development idea that helps people build positive habits that improve their life. It’s based on the idea of willpower as a finite source that runs out throughout the day. If we each have only a certain amount of willpower each day, then we can run out and find it difficult to make ourselves do anything new. We can run out of willpower simply because we’ve had a busy day, full of decisions and actions that we use our willpower to make happen. If we have a job that is full of tasks we don’t particularly like but must do, by the time we get to the end of the day, we are out of willpower and end up sitting on the couch and watching television.

This is where habit stacking comes in. We all have a lot of habits that we perform just because they’re habits. In the morning we get up, make a cup of tea or coffee, and brush our teeth, or whatever our morning ritual is without thinking about it. This is because the actions are habitual. We don’t have to use willpower to brush our teeth, we just do it. Putting the kettle on is a trigger that makes us brush our teeth. The idea behind habit stacking is that we set up a chain of habits that leads automatically from one behavior to the next. That way, we don’t use any willpower at all to perform the behaviors.

You can create a habit stack at any time of the day. If you prefer to meditate in the morning, you can add the habit before your breakfast. You get up and turn the kettle on, which leads to you brushing your teeth and then making a cup of tea. You finish your tea, which leads to you sitting down and meditating. After the meditation, you go onto the next habit in your morning ritual. At first, this won’t come naturally. It will take willpower to add the habit to your morning. You will have to remind yourself, your brain will rebel, and you will find yourself skipping it. But if you persevere, sitting down every day at the same time and after the same chain of activities, it will become second nature. And before you know it, you will automatically sit down after your cup of tea and meditate without thinking about it or arguing with yourself about it. It’s just habit.

You can use this trick to add all sorts of behaviors into your life. At first it can be difficult, it can take dedication and work, but once the habit is automatic you will no longer have to use any willpower to perform the behavior. The best idea is to start small, add one habit at a time, and try not to skip performing it, even if it’s only for five minutes. That way, you will one day wake up and realize that you’ve been meditating every day for months and never even consider taking the day off from it. It will be as normal as brushing your teeth, and that’s a good addition to your daily schedule.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra (Sanskrit for “dream yoga”) is a powerful technique of the Yoga Tantra tradition.

It is both a state of mind and a practice which creates an altered state of consciousness. Yoga Nidra enables us to relax and heal our being, to expand our ability to imagine, entering into the realm of the subconscious and the super-conscious. It feels like your life magically changes, and it helps you reach a state which some call “enlightenment.”

Yoga Nidra, although tantric at birth, can be classified as part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga of the Raja Yoga system (a well-known coding system of the Yogic practices of Patanjali). In fact, at least three of the Eight Limbs of Yoga can be found in this practice:

  1. Pranayama: Control of Prana, the vital energy force, through breathing exercises.
  2. Dharana: Concentration or “single focus”. Cultivation and intensification of inner awareness.
  3. Pratyahara: Gaining mastery over external influences. It is the art of senses and withdrawal from influences of the mind that do not serve us in the path of enlightenment and/or liberation.

Introduction to Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra originated in India and comes from a very ancient relaxation technique known as Nyasa, which was a powerful tantric practice to achieve deep relaxation. When Nyasa was adapted by Swami Satyananda, who simplified the method while preserving its essence to help common people to understand it, Yoga Nidra was born.

This technique allows us to relax in a conscious way where the mind remains in the threshold between the dream world and consciousness. As we enter the state of relaxation, the external stimuli get blurry and disappear, and our consciousness starts fading. It is in this horizon where we can get our mind to perform at its max.

Note that when we are learning to master this technique, we usually fall asleep. External stimuli will then wake us up, (in my case, I was shaken by another Yoga Nidra student who had been disturbed by my snoring!).

With practice, our mind learns to stabilize at the level of “Nidra,” to the level of “conscious sleep.” This is a level where the mind is very receptive and allows us to connect with very deep spaces of the psyche, visualizing our problems, fears, and conflicts in order to face and clean them, and find mindful solutions.

How to Practice Yoga Nidra

First, learn with the guidance of an experienced teacher, or by following a recording. Once you have mastered the technique, you can practice by yourself.

Practice in a room with pleasant temperature, well ventilated but without air drafts, and in dim light.

Get super comfy when practicing Yoga Nidra. You don’t want to lose your concentration because your clothes are too tight, you got itchy, or you are cold. For this reason, clothes should be comfortable without elastics, or folds, and it is recommended to lay on your back on a mat in Shavasana, covered by a blanket.

If you notice that the lumbar area does not rest on the mat, you can place a cushion or a folded blanket under the knees to create support only if, when relaxing, these areas do not become heavy and produce pain or discomfort.

It is not advisable to practice Yoga Nidra for people who have had epilepsy episodes, or those who have had psychotic outbreaks!

When reaching the state of deep relaxation, we might submerge ourselves in old traumas that have not been resolved and could cause restlessness and loss of control. In this case, it is advisable to re-establish calmness and try to “observe” the situation as a spectator. Basically, being aware that you are not living it. This is called “witness consciousness”. In order to get out of the situation of anguish, it is enough to become aware of your body’s weight on the mat, to perceive a sound from outside and, thus, temporarily suspend the practice until it can be resumed later.

There are no immediate results with Yoga Nidra, so don’t feel bad if you fall asleep. In this case, as with all the Yoga techniques, practice makes perfect. Little by little and with consistency, we can master the Nidra state and achieve the balance we need in our lives.