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Tracee Stanley glows, and you might say it’s because she slept well last night. And the night before. And many nights prior to that, even; rest is a non-negotiable cornerstone of her routine. The yoga nidra expert and author of Radiant Rest knows the power of a good night’s sleep and its profound impact on not just inner-outer beauty, but our sense of personal power and purpose. As a former Hollywood producer for over two decades, Stanley understands the hustle of burning the candle at both ends, but she’s since moved to Santa Fe to bask in nature and dedicate her life to the self-healing techniques of rest. “Rest is radical because it is counter-culture. Our culture equates value with social status, material wealth and with the constant cycle of ‘doing,’” Stanley says. “Once we understand that everything we are looking for is not outside—but inside—of us, we will be much more fulfilled and able to let go of striving for outer validation and forsaking our sleep, rest, and health to get it.”
Read along to read her insights on body rhythms, sacred nighttime rituals, holding space to watch the sky, the physical books she thumbs through as she dozes off, and why stillness matters.
ON DINNER PLANS:
First, we should consider the things not to eat prior to sleep. I don’t have caffeinated beverages or dark chocolate after 1PM because I have noticed how it affects my ability to fall asleep, while foods like almond milk, dates, cherries and kiwis are said to improve sleep.
I’ve traveled to Bali a lot and they have some of the most amazing salads there, so I am always inspired to be creative with my salads for dinner. In fall and winter, I love simple fresh soups like cauliflower, broccoli or potato leek. I also like to rely on teas like fresh chamomile grown in my garden, oatstraw, lemon balm, peppermint or valerian root tea to help me sleep. I also might make a sleep tonic with dates, warm milk, ghee, turmeric, cinnamon, and almonds (the full recipe is in my book, Radiant Rest) to help with digestion and calm the nervous system. I try not to eat after 6:30PM because I like my food fully digested before I go to bed.
ON BODY RHYTHMS AND MANTRA:
When our circadian rhythm senses light, it's telling you that it's time to stay awake. Even though it doesn't seem like it's a big deal, it really is. It's one of the reasons why every day I watch the sky as the sun is setting so that my body receives the message that it's time to start winding down. It's one of my go-to tricks that I do when I'm traveling because even if I landed in a different time zone, I would make myself stay up to watch the sunrise and sunset so my body felt what was happening.
When I observe the sky, I often play a mantra called the Surya Gayatri Mantra; it’s a mantra that allows us to remember our own inner radiance. There are mantras that are said to diminish the darkness, and there are others said to expand the brilliance of the effulgent light—this one expands light. It’s very traditional that you would chant this mantra at sunrise, and then again when the sun is at its highest at noon, and then again at sunset. It’s a way of weaving ritual and weaving presence through your life.
The sunsets here [in Sante Fe] are pretty epic. It's one of the reasons why I moved here is because I wanted to be able to be in more connection with the sun and the moon and the stars. So, I watch the sunset and I chant Gayatri until the moment where I can no longer see the sun.
ON BUILDING A “REST NEST”:
I like to take a moment to gather things that I find comforting and cozy. I might often bring in a weighted blanket, or a cozy pillow. I also have these nice cashmere socks that are very soft.
I love to use this called Bhringraj oil. It's an Ayurvedic oil for tranquility. So I like to rub that oil onto my feet because it can absorb into your system more effectively. And it also helps without getting all your sheets oily.
A sleep mask or eye pillow is a wonderful tool to deepen your relaxation. The lack of light actually releases melatonin, which triggers sleepiness. Also the light pressure on your eyes from an eye mask or eye pillow stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system allowing us to feel calm and relaxed during our practice.
I also might put an essential oil into a diffuser while I'm creating the “rest nest” and use lavender, frankincense, or myrrh. You can think about how a mother bird will find any and everything possible to create a nest that's not only for rest—but it feels protective, it feels safe. It's almost like you're creating the swaddling for yourself to rest in.
ON THE SELF-HEALING BREATH:
Once I’ve set up my space, I connect with my breath. I start to notice the entry point of the nostrils. And the moment that my breath touches the nostrils, I attune myself to that moment and also to the moment where the breath leaves the nostrils. Diaphragmatic breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system—so, I’ll begin to watch the belly rise and fall, and then allow the breath to start to become even.
The parasympathetic nervous system can be also activated by what we call a one-to-two ratio breathing. We can start to inhale for four [counts] and exhale for four, and then gradually move to inhale four, exhale eight. And that will tell the body that it's time to relax. When the body becomes more relaxed, the exhale actually naturally starts to extend. And so essentially what we're doing when we consciously do this one-to-two ratio breathing, is that we're intentionally extending the exhale as though the body was already relaxed and it starts to move into that place of relaxation.
ON LETTING THE BELLY “JUST BE”:
As women, we carry a lot of tension in the belly. I think this has to do with body image and the idea that the belly is supposed to be taut and tight and slim. I've noticed over time through teaching yoga asana classes, that when I ask people to do this diaphragmatic breath or belly breathing, you really start to see the tension that's held. And a lot of it, I think, is also emotional tension held in that area of the body. What we can do is to start working with this idea of effortless breathing. So many of us really need to almost retrain ourselves how to breathe and how to be okay with allowing the softness to happen in the belly area.
We can begin with sandbag breathing, which is a type of breath training. Using a bag of rice or a book, something that has a little bit of weight, you can even use an ankle weight—place that on your abdomen, so you feel the resistance of the weight as you inhale. And as you exhale, you just allow yourself to let go and let the weight of the bag take the exhale. And then you do that for maybe three, four minutes of just feeling the resistance on the inhale and feeling effortless on the exhale. And then when you remove the sandbag, notice the effortlessness of the inhale now because you don't have the resistance, as well as the ease of the exhale.
One of the first things that I learned in my yoga training in the tradition of the Himalayan masters is to begin to create a new relationship with breath, it’s something we take for granted until we can't breathe. And we don't really think about this area of our body, this beautiful abdomen and this beautiful belly that, as women, can hold so much tension. It's a place that if you're going down into the lower abdomen, and to the pelvic region, holds these life cycles.
We're not often present to our breath, which is the greatest gift that we have ever received.
We're not often present to our breath, which is the greatest gift that we have ever received.
BREATH AS A MIRROR:
The way we breathe and the quality of our breath is a direct mirror and reflection of the quality of our mind. In yoga, if the breath is raggedy, or broken, or shallow, it is a reflection of what is happening in the mind. And we know that when it comes to the mind, we can't really control it that easily. I know I can't control it that easily. The way that we learn in yoga to control the mind, is through the control of the breath. The more we smooth out our breathing, the more we smooth out the hitches, make the breath an equal flow, then the more the mind starts to reflect that balance, that depth, that quietude.
If we really want to relax or allow ourselves to move towards sleeping, we have to pay attention to what is happening with the breath.
ON BEAUTY RITUALS:
I love to use products made by people I know. These days, I use Peace Balm by Kalmar, then I steam my face and spray with Rose Hydrosol from Life By Ritual. After, I’ll use Shri Chandra Facial Nectar by Aromabliss—that’s the last thing I put on my skin before bed. I may do a little facial massage if I have been speaking a lot during the day, or use some gua sha tools that are very relaxing. I might also draw myself a bath and play binaural beats to set the mood and slow down into my sensuality.
I’ll also fill up a cup of water with Detox Water Drops to leave at my bedside as it's very helpful with oxygenating the blood to optimize being in high altitudes.
ON FEEDING THE MIND:
I would recommend half an hour prior to sleeping that you turn off all technology, not only because of the blue light but anything that we ingest—news, social media—is going to cause the mind to continue thinking and processing. Just like you wouldn't eat before you were getting into bed, think about what you’re ingesting right before bed from a mental standpoint.
ON HER NIGHTSTAND:
I am currently reading:
Finding Refuge: Heart Work for Healing Collective Grief by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan
Knowing Where to Look by Light Watkins
The Spirit Of Intimacy by Sobunfu Some
Lucid Dreaming Workbook by Andrew Holecek
ON THE POWER OF SELF-REMEMBRANCE:
Yoga nidra wakes us up to our life because there's so much in the waking state that is concealed from us, that is only revealed in deep, deep stillness, and deep, deep breaths. And part of what is concealed from us is our true nature, our true essence.
The impact [of yoga nidra] is to reclaim your birthright of rest, and to know that you do not have to earn your way to being worthy of rest. Before the invention of the light bulb, we were resting when the sun went down.
When we practice rest, we dissolve everything that is name and form so that we can re-assimilate to our true nature, and have an experience of self-remembrance.
EXPLORE THE POWER OF TRANSFORMATIVE SLEEP:
Understanding the Vagus Nerve
Tracee Stanley’s Bathtime Playlist
By S LIFE MAG • September 22, 2021