When information overloads us, we need a reset. But how do we really surrender and let go of so much thinking? Today, Tracee discusses how Yoga Nidra can help us quiet the mind, unwind and understand our stories, and ultimately reach a place of discernment and clarity.
Tracee Stanley: My name is Tracee Stanley and I was brought up on Long Island. And I would say the quickest way for me to tell you where and how I got to where I am right now is, I was sitting on a balcony in South Africa watching the sunrise one morning and everything suddenly got very still and quiet. And in a moment I felt like I had answers to some questions that I had been asking myself for a long time. And I didn't know what had happened, but I knew that something really special and profound had happened that I couldn't give a name to. And I started to ask around and tell people what I had felt during that time and eventually I found someone who led me to a number of books. And we went into a spiritual bookstore, which was like the South African version of the Bodhi Tree. For those of you who are old enough to know the Bodhi tree that was in West Hollywood, that was like the seminal spiritual bookstore in the country.
Tracee Stanley: And I read all these books, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, books by Kahlil Gibran, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And I just started to understand that there was something more, and that may be for that one moment up on the balcony that I had got a glimpse of what that something more was. And that was what sent me on my journey to start finding out about meditation first and then yoga. Cut to me dabbling a little bit in meditation and yoga and then going into the Bodhi Tree and reading a translation of the Yoga Sutras. And when I read that translation, I realized that I was not doing the yoga that they were talking about in the Yoga Sutras and that I really wanted to try and find a teacher that could lead me to the promise of what they were talking about in the Yoga Sutras. So I started to ask around to some of the elders in my community that have been practicing for a really long time. And that sent me on my journey of studying and specifically studying in the lineage of the Himalayan masters and Sri Vidya Tantra.
Tracee Stanley: And then I opened a yoga studio and at that time I was actually a film producer. So my intention was not to teach yoga, but to have a place where people could come and practice and it would be inclusive and accessible. So I opened the studio on donation and lo and behold, about six months later, I found myself in a teacher training and then teaching yoga and realizing that that was much more fulfilling than producing movies. And so you can feel the trajectory from there. It's continuing to teach more and produce less until I finally was able to figure out a way to move in a way where I could be more independent in the film world and focus more on yoga. And so that's pretty, that's a short story, but that's pretty much it.
Jeff: Yeah. So when you were in South Africa on that balcony, you obviously weren't a teacher at that juncture, you were a film producer, a film executive. What were the questions that you were asking yourself that were revealed in that moment? Because not everyone is a yoga and meditation teacher or master, in fact, very few of us are. So I'm curious, were there specific questions? Were there something specific that you were looking for that hadn't been revealed to you on your path hitherto?
Tracee Stanley: Yeah, well first I would say that it was, that was the beginning of the journey and I actually wasn't a film producer at that time, I was modeling in South Africa. That's what I was doing there. And so I was really young and the questions that I had were really just more about what am I here for? Why am I here? And what I can tell you was revealed at that time was something hard to put it into words, but what words I can give to it is this idea of that I'm supported. That there's something bigger than me in the universe that is constantly supporting and guiding and that if I could just become quiet, I can tap into that guidance.
Jeff: And I read that one of the Sutras that came into, I guess relief for you was 136 and it seems to address a little bit of what you just said around quietness. Can you talk about that Sutra and why that was important to you and what then that opened up?
Tracee Stanley: Absolutely. So Sutra 136 that was the Sutra that I read, when I read that translation that stood out the most to me. And so the Sutra is viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī, which really refers to this idea that there is a light, an eternal light within us that is eternally radiant and that it is beyond our condition, it's beyond our experience. There is no stain at all on that light, and it's something that exists within all of us. And so part of the practice, especially in the Himalayan tradition, is really to be able to remember that that light is there and to have allowed yourself to do practices where that light can be revealed. So there's a lot of practices around exploring the cave of the heart, bringing in radiance, visoka practices. And that is, to me, the thing that underlies everything that I teach. Is that wherever we're going, it doesn't matter if it's a meditation class or yoga nidra practice, that we're always, at least in the back of my mind, is always paving the way.
Tracee Stanley: So that at some point we can, and I'll use the word tenderize, which has been at the tip of my tongue for a couple of months now. To tenderize ourselves so that we can surrender to the point, get quiet enough that we can actually remember that that light is there.
Jeff: Yeah. And how do we re condition our minds, I suppose to activate that memory? And I ask that because I am culpable of having a distracted mind, not all the time. And I'm cultivating practices that have, lessened that. But over many years essentially one falls into patterns of distraction. So much so that we don't even notice it. And there's a neuro-plasticity component to this that over all of this time of consistently chasing one external agent or something outside of us for contentment or happiness. And jumping from one thought to another, that we actually almost create these rivers in our brain that are patternized, that we become programmed and imprinted. And the effect of that is often anger or jealousy or resentment or rage or it can be expressed through a series of negative emotions. And in some ways, at least in my own personal experience, I've had to find ways to recondition my mind not to exist in this careless, distracted way.
Jeff: And when I successfully achieve that, then I am able to remember what you so beautifully call that light inside of me. But I'm wondering how you think about the memory, how do you access that memory?
Tracee Stanley: That's such a beautiful question because when we think of memory, we connect it to the idea of the mind and this type of memory that I'm referring to and when I say remember, right, it's not a condition of the mind, it's beyond the mind. So it's when we start to get caught up in the mind that we start to have problems as you just really talked about. And it's how do we really surrender and let go of the thinking because it's the thinking and the mind that a lot of times we identify with who we are. And so one of the beautiful things about yoga is it actually takes us through a journey, kind of through the koshas, through the the layers or the sheaves as they're referred to sometimes that cover the light of the soul. So if you think about this brilliant, radiant, effulgent, pure, pristine light that is you and that that has five coverings over it and the most gross covering being the covering of the physical body.
Tracee Stanley: Most of us, when we come into yoga, we start to feel like, Oh, I'm coming to yoga because I want to stretch, or because I want to get strong. And at some point you start to realize that you are more than just your physical body, that you're actually maybe energy because you start to feel tingling or sensations
Tracee Stanley: ... or energy moving. Then at some point you start to realize like, "Oh, I'm not aware that I'm thinking the same thought over and over and over again." That's the part where you're talking about, I feel, of the mind, right? That once we become aware that this brain of ours is continually thinking, but you are not your thoughts. Then you start to move into a place where you can move more into intuition, which takes you into more of a knowing. That's where you start to kind of tap into this idea of remembering in a different way. So you're remembering almost from a soul level, as opposed to from a thinking level.
Jeff: I was talking to our friend, our mutual friend, Scott [inaudible 00:00:56], the other day, and almost inadvertently we landed on it, that it's almost like a babushka. You know those Russian dolls that-
Tracee Stanley: Right, that's exactly what it is. It's a Russian doll. I actually use the Russian dolls in my class to teach the [inaudible 00:13:14], because that's the easiest way for people to think about it.
Jeff: I'd love that. I just actually ordered one, because I loved the metaphor so much. Because sometimes it helps us visual people to get a sense of deeper understanding around it. I've also torn apart Michael Singer's book many times and dogeared it and spilled copious amounts of coffee on it. I'm talking about The Untethered Soul. But that was the first introduction for me around that notion that I am not my thoughts, that I am not my feelings or emotions, and that there is a place where I can witness those things and not be them.
Jeff: I think, and we can talk about this later potentially, but the anxiety and the fear that people are feeling right now around our global pandemic, that there are tools and techniques to disassociate yourself with actually being that emotion. You can feel it, but it can come and go and you can witness it.
Jeff: But before we plunge down into the depths of Coronavirus, which of course is pretty much all anyone can think about right now, I want to ask you specifically about Yoga Nidra, because I think there's so much fascination with it. I wonder how you discovered that part of yoga, and what is it and what is its history and where does it come from and how is it useful?
Tracee Stanley: Well, Yoga Nidra is something that I was introduced to in 2001. I wasn't introduced to it by name, I was actually introduced to it through practice with one of my teachers, Rod Stryker. At that time, he was still teaching in LA and he had thought songs that he was doing, and he would end the thought song with a Yoga Nidra practice.
Tracee Stanley: I remember very clearly the first time that I did this Yoga Nidra, that it was so profound. The stillness and the quiet was so profound, that it reminded me of that day on the balcony. I also felt that I had tapped into just a different vibration, and I would try everything that I could to hold on to that vibration for as long as I could after the class was over.
Tracee Stanley: Then I started to try to read as much as I could about it, which at the time, there was not a lot that you could read, because people were not really teaching the practice. The Himalayan tradition was teaching the practice. [inaudible 00:16:29], the teacher of the Himalayan tradition that was regularly teaching these practices and the Bihar school had a book that was out that people were using, but it wasn't widely taught. It was much deeper than the best Savasana that you've ever had, like on steroids.
Jeff: Give me some of that.
Tracee Stanley: So, I started to kind of mimic what my teacher was doing and not really understanding what the practice itself was, right? So this is what happens a lot of times, is we start to parrot teachings, we don't really know what it is that we're doing. I started to feel like there's something more here. Then slowly but surely, more people started to teach more widely. I became familiar then with Dr. Richard Miller and I got a lot of his books and CDs and did a couple of workshops.
Tracee Stanley: So, Yoga Nidra, the first time that Yoga Nidra is actually mentioned in the scriptures, or at least one of the first times, because obviously we don't know exactly, because we don't have dates for a lot of these things, is in the Davey Mahatma, which is part of the Mahabharata. There's a story there that talks about Vishnu being asleep on a cosmic sea and he's kind of been asleep for thousands of years, and Brahma is basically sleeping inside of his navel.
Tracee Stanley: There are these two demons that come and the demons are basically starting to fight, they're going to create this war. Brahma knows that he needs help, but Vishnu is in this deep, deep dreamless sleep, right? He can't wake him up, he can't do anything to wake him up. So what he does is he actually appeals to the goddess. The goddess is the goddess Yoga Nidra, who actually is the goddess of the deep, deep dreamless sleep.
Tracee Stanley: He begs her with this beautiful song that talks about all of her attributes and her lunar qualities and her beauty and her nurturing qualities to please wake up Vishnu. If you can wake up Vishnu, then Vishnu can help me fight these demons, and then you can also help to put the demons under a spell that will help Vishnu to be able to destroy them.
Tracee Stanley: So this is really the first time that we talk about Yoga Nidra. So I'd like to just make the distinction between Yoga Nidra as a technique, because that's what we often hear. It's like, "Oh, I'm going to go and do Yoga Nidra." But if we think about Yoga Nidra actually as a goddess who's there to hold, support and nurture you, then it also kind of shifts of what we're doing away from something that's kind of rote.
Tracee Stanley: Yoga Nidra is a state of consciousness, which is somewhere between kind of sleeping and moving into more of a Samadhi, right? So we have waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Then we have the fourth state, which is known as Turiya. Yoga Nidra is somewhere in between there. So it really is a state of consciousness, it's a state of a where we move towards no thoughts, we move towards a place of what's called [inaudible 00:08:46].
Tracee Stanley: So it's the perfect practice for the person who is identified with the mind, right? Because part of the practice, as you start to move through the different progressions of being slowly, progressively led through relaxation, is to be able to kind of let go of the thoughts.
Jeff: That's really interesting. So would you say that it elicits a, I suppose, a deep sense of relaxation, but while still maintaining a sense of consciousness? I guess it's something that's best felt versus described. But I think it is important that the distinction that you're making is that it is its own state.
Tracee Stanley: Correct, yes. So the idea, and you might hear many teachers say to stay awake and aware, right? One of the things is because it is often described or translated as yogic sleep, sometimes people feel like, "Oh, I'm going to get to take a yoga nap. I'm just going to use this as a way to fall asleep." In reality, it's a practice to wake you up to your life, right?
Tracee Stanley: So we train ourselves to become awake and aware as we move through all of the states of consciousness and their transitions, right? So that we can remain awake as we move through these deep relaxations, kind of progressive relaxation practices and then deeper into the practice. There's another definition of Nidra, which is to draw forth from the void.
Tracee Stanley: So, where we're moving towards is this place of nirvikalpa, this place where there's an infinite void, but yet you're supported. So it requires a lot of trust and a lot of surrender, because you're really allowing yourself to be held by that which is supportless in itself.
Tracee Stanley: I feel like that's what people, when they really go deep into their practice, that that's actually what they're experiencing. That's why it feels so profound, is because you get to the place where you can let go of everything. You can let go of the identification with the body, you can let go of the identification of your mind and still know that you're supported and still know that you're not going to just ... I mean, it's the ultimate partnering with the unknown.
Jeff: Yeah. That's hard because the egoic mind wants certainty all the time. It incessantly seeks to know the future. And in that sense, kind of traps us in distraction and incessant craving I suppose.
Tracee Stanley: Right. I mean and that's the beauty of allowing yourself to just let go in a certain regard. And it's, the mind definitely wants to think. It wants to do its thing. But if we can slowly but surely start to let go little by little, there's more and more ease. And it doesn't mean that you have to, in order to do the practice right because there is no right way to do it, that you have to be in a state of nirvikalpa or some sort of stage of samadhi. It's really that you just practice being awake to what is arising, noticing it and letting it go. And the more you do that, the more you're able to have more information and know and feel, what do you actually need to feel supported?
Tracee Stanley: Because it's different for all of us.
Jeff: And in order to achieve and access this state, does it need to be facilitated by someone else? By a teacher?
Tracee Stanley: No, it doesn't. No. If you know the practice and you've done the practice enough, you can lead yourself through this practice.
Jeff: Mm-hmm. But not for beginners necessarily.
Tracee Stanley: I wouldn't say that necessarily. I mean I feel like the way to do it... And I'm in the midst of, I just turned in my manuscript for my book, so this is actually in there. But there is a way that after you do enough guided and led practice, right? Because you have to establish yourself in being able to stay awake and aware. Most people who are practicing yoga nidra, at least when I hear that they're starting out their practice, a lot of times they say, "Oh, I fell asleep. I can't stay awake."
Tracee Stanley: So you have to be able to start to decide, what do you want to use the practice for? Do you want the practice to give you deep rest and deep relaxation so you can feel refreshed, especially if you have insomnia? That's one thing, right?
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tracee Stanley: Or are you using the practice as a means to move towards more awareness and awakeness in your life?
Tracee Stanley: That is because-
Jeff: I raised my hand twice for both, but yeah.
Tracee Stanley: Right?
Tracee Stanley: Yeah.
Tracee Stanley: And so this is why I say that it's the healing self for the world is because it's an accessible practice for anyone and everyone.
Tracee Stanley: And there's so many different ways in which you can do it and so many benefits that the practice has. And so I think people just need to decide what is it that they want from the practice.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. And I wonder right now, given the extremely high levels of anxiety and fear related to this global pandemic that is revealing our human interconnectivity, like perhaps nothing else, I wonder how this practice can be applied and how it might be more important than ever. And I'll touch that in saying that I've done a number of podcasts on Coronavirus and COVID-19. And my approach has been kind of highly empirical.
Jeff: It's like, well, the more information people have about the science the more uncertainty is relieved. And that's a legitimate approach because I think people need scientific information and not just watch cable news networks that are sensationalist and et cetera. But this is actually, I feel, coming at it from a completely different perspective. And this is so relevant right now to so many people. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about its relevance in relation to the current global situation.
Tracee Stanley: Yes. I mean, what I would say is it's a practice that couldn't be more relevant right now for a number of reasons. One, is because we all need to be rested so that we can have the best immune system possible. Right? And we already know that rest and sleep help restore immunity. So that's one.
Tracee Stanley: Two, I would say that exactly what we talked about before, about being able to be tuned in to our intuition and our discernment and clarity. And to be able to see when the mind is thinking, when the mind is in fear, and to be able to establish ourselves a little bit more in a place of clarity. Because right now, what I'm sensing is confusion because the only source of information that we have is from mostly going online, looking up information, looking at the news. And a lot of times we're getting different information that's conflicting.
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tracee Stanley: Right? And so in order, we need to take a break from the overload of information, almost like a reset. And I feel like yoga nidra is a powerful reset. So for immunity, for relaxation, for being able to... We know that you can never, there's no such thing as catching up on sleep. Right? But I've been hearing from people that they are having sleepless nights, right?
Tracee Stanley: So the perfect thing to do in the middle of the day, I would say like around 12 o'clock or one o'clock in the afternoon if you can, is practice yoga nidra so that your body can get some deep rest and deep relaxation. And then when you awakened from your practice, when you come out of your practice, then you can just have a clear mind.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: It's funny when you're in your mind, the truth always has a story. And when you're in the emptiness, the truth just is, there's no story. And it's very hard to sometimes elucidate because it is a feeling, it is a sensation, it's an essence. Because I've been meditating regularly now for about six months. And just like anything that you do often to the degree that you can be better at meditation, I feel like I can drop in with greater ease.
Jeff: And I can sometimes pop into that place where the truth just is. It doesn't require a story or someone else's story or justification of some other story. It just is. And then back, I am again into my old animal self, needing to eat and drink and snuggle up on my wife and all that stuff.
Tracee Stanley: And so you bring up a great point. And so when you recognize truth, truth has a vibration. And that frequency of that vibration is different than you thinking. And it's different than the story. And so the more you can practice, whether it's meditation or it's yoga nidra, you attune yourself to that vibration of truth. You begin to know that vibration and anything that's not that vibration, you also know that.
Tracee Stanley: And so I feel like this, it's a tuner for us to be able to drop into that vibration that's closer to truth and further away from our own thoughts. And that's obvious. And that's the thing, is that yoga nidra is a full system of yoga in itself. It's a full system of yoga. It takes you through all of the eight limbs. So if that was the only quote, unquote yoga that you could do for the day, that's enough.
Jeff: I wonder what you think your role is in society right now. And I might, to take the pressure off you, might just say the role of the teacher. But you're welcome to personalize it, given everything that we've talked about.
Tracee Stanley: Well, I can tell you that what I feel like part of my role is. And I can't speak for anybody else, but it's exactly what we've been talking about this entire time. So you talked about the mind and we've talked about the koshas, right? And the Russian dolls. And the mind that, which is called manomaya kosha, is something that we want to be able to kind of transcend that.
Tracee Stanley: So to go back to the Russian dolls metaphor, if the inner most Russian doll has that brilliant light inside of it. Right? And there's another Russian doll and another Russian doll and another Russian doll. And then the last Russian doll is on the outside. When you look at that, those Russian dolls, when you see the big Russian doll, you don't have any idea that there's anything else inside there.
Tracee Stanley: Yeah.
Jeff: Right. But if you happen to know that, Oh, you know what? This is a nesting set. There's other dolls in here. There's a little doll that's going to be at the
Tracee Stanley: ... center, so you know that, but if you don't know that there is a light inside, that there's a brilliant light that's 10,000 times more brilliant than the sun, then you don't know that. The practice of yoga is to help us to start to let's say thin out, for lack of a better way of describing it, those coverings so that the light of the soul can shine through.
Tracee Stanley: And so that we can remember without having to use our mind, that light, and that we can connect to that light. For me, I feel like my part of why I'm here is to be able to remember for myself through my own practice every day. Then to be able to share whatever I can in a way that it helps to let that light shine through.
Tracee Stanley: That inherently means that you're moving through being able to see the mind thinking, to understand the stories that we all have, and to give people tools to be able to help them unwind those stories, and then sadhana to be able to establish yourself in the place where you know the story is a story and that you want to move towards a different story. Because we're, constantly choosing one story or another. The question is which story are you going to choose?
Jeff: Yes. Right now, given that the civically responsible way to live one's life is to engage in social distancing or social isolation, however you want to think about it, how does one access these teachings that are so important that essentially provide you with that sadhana?
Tracee Stanley: Well, I mean the wonderful thing is right now, this moment that there's a lot of people sharing. There's a lot of people sharing online their wisdom and there's a lot of people that have been sharing. I would say that you want to find teachers that have been steeped in their own practice because at the same time we're all sharing. You want to get a practice, you don't need to have a million practices, you just need one good practice and then you need to do it.
Tracee Stanley: I would don't get distracted by all of the kind of shiny objects that are happening. Find one practice and do it consistently. Dedicate yourself to that practice.
Jeff: That is such an incredibly great piece of advice. I'll tell you why, because I have thrown away my night table and or my nightstand and instead it's just like a pile of about 50 different books arranged like a small cityscape. I am attracted to all the shiny objects just because I'm curious and I'll read everything from, like I said, Michael Singer to Deepak Chopra, to Gabor Mate, to Caroline Myss to... All the gamut.
Jeff: I will, I feel like sometimes I'm spiritually speed dating or something, but when I do stick to a singular and simple and consistent practice, that is where I find, I guess this kind of peaceful groove. I heard Davidji once say he was giving a sort of a meditation, a lecture on meditation and he said something funny. He's like you can't brush your teeth for three hours the day before you go to the dentist and expect great results. He was, this is something that you do every day for a couple of minutes. I've tried to heed that advice.
Tracee Stanley: That's really great advice because the consistency is the thing that becomes cumulative. The practice cumulative, it doesn't need to be an hour long every day. You could literally meditate for three minutes in the morning, and three minutes before you go to sleep, but make it consistent and have a sense of devotion, a sense of gratitude, a sense of love for yourself and use that as the fertile soil that you're planting your practicing.
Jeff: Yes. You mentioned something and just in summary, I wanted to bring it up. You said a lot of people are sharing right now. I wonder if you think that amidst this global crisis, if there is a seed of our better angels coming forth, a re-prioritization that people are feeling and we haven't yet seen as of this date, March 19th the worst results of the pandemic, which may unfold over the next month or two. I wonder if you're optimistic about some form of new world story emerging.
Tracee Stanley: I'm totally optimistic because on the one hand we can say that we know that we'll never be the same. We'll never be the same after this pandemic is over. All of our lives are going to be affected in one way or another. We get to choose right now in some way. What do we want to start working on to be a better person in the world regardless of the outcome.
Tracee Stanley: I feel like that fire, and maybe that question is informing a lot of the sharing because there's so many people that I know who would tell me, I don't do technology. I don't want to know how to do Zoom. I never want to be on camera. I don't want to do. And they are figuring it out and they have moved beyond the fear and the self doubt and everything else to put their teaching forward because they know they're valuable and they know that they can help people.
Tracee Stanley: What I feel is happening is we're holding two pair... We're holding the opposites, right? We're holding the great fear of the unknown, the fear for our families, for our livelihoods, for everything that is to come, that we have no way of knowing. Then also the fear that our story, the story that we've been holding about ourselves is true. Right? But Instead of deciding that the story that I've had that I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough. I'm not cute enough. I don't have enough teachings. I don't have enough of this.
Tracee Stanley: We've decided to say, hell no, I'm moving forward and I'm stepping into my power right now because I want to be able to have a legacy because I don't know what the future's going to hold. So let me take my gifts and let me put them out right now so that people can be touched by them and that I can do something in the world that's meaningful because I've been hiding and it's time for me to come out of hiding. That's what I see happening.
Tracee Stanley: In that is this huge amount of creativity. It's creativity that people have been hiding for whatever reason, that's time to come forward. It's a paradigm shift that's happening on many different levels. The one that I am seeing in this moment on March 19th, 2020 is that we are moving beyond our fear of being seen and we are stepping into our power and we're claiming our gifts and we're giving them to the world. That's what I see.
Jeff: That is a beautiful and hopeful observation and the way that you articulate it resonates with me a lot. I will say just in summary that, I know you well, but I know so many people that have been deeply moved and transformed by you and your teachings. I know that this growing community is very, very grateful for you. So thank you for being you and for your work and for your fearlessness and for that empowering message that you just shared.