WHAT IS YOGA NIDRA?
Yoga Nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. The term yoga nidra is derived from two Sanskrit words, yoga meaning union or one-pointed awareness, and nidra, translating to sleep. Not sleep as we think of it, but rather a conscious sleep. Using various techniques, a state of conscious deep sleep that goes far beyond deep relaxation, to a place of intrinsic peace and quiet, may be achieved. Contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions occurs spontaneously in the threshold state between sleep and wakefulness. In this place, where the consciousness resides between external awareness and sleep, it becomes very powerful and can be applied in many ways; for example, to develop memory, increase knowledge & creativity or to transform one’s nature.
Yoga nidra introduces an ongoing process of increasing self-awareness, accompanied by a resetting of the inbuilt controlling and regulatory mechanisms of consciousness in the brain, creating superior autonomic stability, enhanced emotional control and an increasingly conscious destiny. During the practice of yoga nidra one is able to receive intuitive guidance from the unconscious mind. This guidance enables one to find the answers to all problems. One’s true nature and integrity manifest, enabling a meaningful and peaceful life.
In yoga nidra we isolate the brain and become introverted, while maintaining a degree of external awareness by listening to and mentally following a series of instructions.
WAVES & WITHDRAWAL OF THE SENSES
According to the Yoga Sutras, the systemized & scripted knowledge of Yoga by Patanjali, the term chitta represents the total area of human consciousness; imagine a large lake or an ocean. The term vrittis are the waves or patterns of consciousness that arise when an experience flashes through the mind like a pebble dropped into the water creates ripples or waves. When you look at any object through the eyes, it produces waves. When you hear a sound or think about something from the past, that also produces waves. Whatever the mind responds to in the form of an experience makes waves. Cognition in any form makes waves. These waves or vrittis are classified into five basic patterns: right knowledge, misconception, imagination, sleep and memory. This tells us that sleep is a mental formation not a state of total unconsciousness. There is a trace of cognition, which is the reason we are able to wake in the morning and realize if we slept well or not.
The Yoga Sutras also explain the importance of withdrawal of the senses. Sri Swami Satchidananda states “When the mind is withdrawn from the sense objects, the sense organs also withdraw themselves from their respective objects and, thus, are said to imitate the mind. If the senses are allowed to see outside, they try to grasp pictures of the outside world. If they are turned inward, they will see the purity of the mind and won’t take the color of the world outside.” Yoga Nidra allows us to turn our senses inward.
He also tells us how the battle with the senses is explained, in an esoteric way, as a battlefield in the Bhagavad-Gita. The battlefield is the world, the turbulent life, which distracts us. Arjuna, the individual self, is confused by it and goes to the Lord, Sri Krishna, for help. “Sir,” he says, “I have a limited capacity. I doubt if I can win the war by myself. You take the reins and drive my war chariot for me. Let me sit quietly behind You and do what You want me to do.”
When Krishna becomes his charioteer, Arjuna becomes more steadfast and calm. The chariot’s white horses –the eyes, nose, tongue, ears and sense of feeling—are called the pancha indriyas, or five sensory organs. These organs should be offered to the Lord’s service. When they are engaged in that manner they are controlled. Unless they are properly engaged, they will always drag the mind outside.
Scientific studies have shown that real relaxation through a regular yoga nidra practice improves a variety of physical and mental problems; boosting your immune system, lowering blood pressure and decreasing pain to name a few. There are widespread applications utilized with or without conventional forms of medical therapy in the management of diseases of all kinds, and promises to play a far greater role in the future as its potential is recognized by doctors, psychologists and healers. Because one hour of yoga nidra equals about four hours of typical sleep, mental clarity improves, energy increases, creativity & intuition will flourish and mood swings & emotional upsets are minimized.
Modern psychology as well as yogic philosophy, describe three basic types of tension, which are responsible for all suffering. Muscular tension relates to the body itself, which is easily removed by the deep physical relaxation attained in a state of yoga nidra. Emotional tensions, which stem from the dualities in our lives, are more difficult to remove. This is because typically emotions are not expressed freely and openly and many times not recognized at all. They are repressed and become deeply rooted. Yoga nidra can tranquilize the entire emotional structure of the mind. Mental tension is the result of excessive mental activity; a whirlpool of thoughts filling the mind. Experiences throughout our life accumulate within the mental body, affecting our body, mind, behavior and reactions. The science of yoga nidra enables a releasing and relaxing of these mental tensions, establishing harmony in all areas of our lives.
In yoga nidra, perhaps the most effective means of training the mind is found in sankalpa. Sankalpa is a Sanskirt word, which can be translated as resolve or intention. This is an important step in yoga nidra and a powerful method of transforming your personality and direction in life. If you know what you want to achieve in life, sankalpa can be the creator of your destiny. But first you must have direction. Swami Satyananda Saraswati says, “Most of us are floundering in the darkness, like ships without rudders, sails without sheets. We don’t know which way we are headed because we are being led, forced and pushed by the tempest of life. Using the technique of yoga nidra, however, we have a choice in life, and that choice is created by the sankalpa or resolve. The sankalpa takes the form of a short mental statement, which is impressed on the subconscious mind when it is receptive and sensitive to autosuggestion during yoga nidra. Sankalpa is a determination to become something or to do something in your life. Everyone has many desires and ambitions, however, most of them get lost, exhausted or destroyed, just as when you scatter seeds in different places, some may grow but most will not. Sankalpa is a seed, which you create and then sow in the bed of your mind. When the mind is clear, the sankalpa grows very well. If you first prepare the bed with fertilizer and manure, remove the weeds and grass, and then sow the seed, the plant will grow better. In the same way, you have the mind and you have an idea. If you prepare the mind and sow the seed properly, then it will grow in your life and become a powerful directive. The purpose of sankalpa is to influence and transform the whole life pattern, not only physically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. When sankalpa becomes the directing force, everything you do in life becomes successful.”
During the practice of yoga nidra you will lie flat on your back on the floor with your legs slightly apart and your arms by your sides with your palms face up in a gesture of receipt. It is suggested to cover yourself with a blanket, as the body temperature naturally drops in yoga nidra. Arrange yourself as comfortably as possible, getting all the wiggles out before you begin. After the practice begins you will not want to move your physical body in any way.
In order to reap the benefits of yoga nidra, a regular daily practice is highly recommended. If you are unable to do even the short practice on a daily basis, several times a week is then suggested.
After the first time I experienced yoga nidra, I knew immediately that it would become a regular part of my yoga practice. I also knew that I wanted to share it with others. I hope you enjoy the practice of yoga nidra as much as I do.
Yoga Nidra waves of change