Yoga Nidra is the borderline state between Wakefulness and Sleep. It is a state of tremendous potential as we are able to make contact with our Subconscious and Unconscious mind spontaneously. The major benefits include Relaxation, Transformation, Learning, Creativity and Self-Discovery.
The modern protocol of Yoga Nidra was designed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Satyananda Yoga and the Bihar School of Yoga. He adapted practices including the traditional Nyasa kriya from Tantra to formulate a system that is today used by Yoga practitioners across the world.
The 8 Stages of Yoga Nidra
The order in which these 8 stages are practiced is important. Let’s understand why each of these practices works towards maintaining the threshold state of Yoga Nidra.
As we move from Wakefulness towards Sleep, our awareness of the External environment (conscious mind) fades away. Yet, before we enter the Dreaming state (subconscious mind), for a few seconds we are suspended in the threshold Hypnagogic state, where Alpha state vibrations dominate. In my next blog, I’ll cover our different states of Consciousness (unconscious, subconscious, conscious) with respect to the Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta states measured in CPS (cycles per second) of Brainwave activity.
Yoga Nidra state occurs once our awareness is withdrawn from the sensory inputs of the external environment. This Internalization is brought about by asking the practitioner to listen to the external sounds. This might seem the opposite of what we want, yet it works. Our mind is like an errant child – it will hanker to do the opposite of what we try to force it to do. If we force ourselves to look within, our mind will run amok to every external experience. Therefore by suggesting to listen to the external sounds, the mind quickly gets tired and becomes ‘internalized’.
Man is a creature of habit and continues to do today what he did yesterday; creating an unending cycle of habit. If we are to truly make a change in our life, we have to take up a Sankalpa or Resolve. This is how Sankalpa is defined in Wikipedia.
Sankalpa (Sanskrit: संकल्प) means an Intention formed by the heart and mind -a solemn vow, determination, or will. In practical terms a Sankalpa means a one-pointed resolve to focus both psychologically and philosophically on a specific goal. A Sankalpa is a tool meant to harness the will, and to focus and harmonize mind and body.
The reason we use Sankalpa in Yoga Nidra is because we are accessing our subconscious mind which is a fertile ground to ‘seed’ our Resolve. Our conscious mind is highly distracted and fluctuating, never allowing a deep resolve to take root. Our behaviour is based on our subconscious and unconscious mind; so to make a lasting change – we will have to delve deep into our subconscious and plant the ‘seed’ of change. We do this at the start and end of Yoga Nidra practice by stating our Sankalpa to ourselves in a short, positive sentence.
3. ROTATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS of different body parts
While Meditation requires Focus, Yoga Nidra is the opposite – it needs relaxation. Therefore, we move our awareness from one body part to the others (rather than focus our awareness), so that the awareness is constantly flowing.
Yoga Nidra works by relaxing the mind through the body. Each of our body parts is mapped on the brain. Different parts of our brain manage different parts of our body. The rotation of consciousness, derived from Nyasa kriya in Tantra, to relax all our body parts is not arbitrary. It follows a pattern of relaxing body parts so that the progressive brain areas along our sensory-motor complex are sequentially ‘switched off’. Our ‘motor homunculus’, the representation of man based the neuronal areas assigned to our various body parts, is proportionally reflected in the time allotted to relax each of those parts. This means that we spend more time relaxing our fingers then the rest of our limbs – just as more neuronal areas are dedicated to the sensory-motor functioning of the fingers.
We relax our right side and left side of the body, the front and back side of the body and the whole body. You can find the sequence in the Yoga Nidra audio link shared at the end of this Blog.
4. BREATH AWARENESS
Slowing down our Breathing is one of the most important ways to relax. By becoming a witness to our breathing, we initiate the Sakshi or Witness awareness. This is important so we relax but at the same time, we don’t completely sleep off. Maintaining awareness of the hearing of instructions helps us stay aware and breathing awareness also helps us relax deeper.
5. EXPERIENCE OF OPPOSITE SENSATIONS
This is one of the most fascinating parts of the Yoga Nidra practice! The practitioner is asked to bring their awareness to opposite body sensations such as heaviness/ lightness; heat/ cold; pain/ pleasure. Usually these experiences will never happen in such a short time. Different parts of the brain are activated when we experience these contrasting sensations. By practicing them immediately after each other; new neuronal circuits are established in the brain. The mark of a truly creative mind is if the body can do what the mind visualizes. We perspire when we bring our awareness to the sensation of heat and shiver when cold and so on.
Visualization is Yoga Nidra is done so that archetypes stored in the Unconscious and Subconscious may get triggered and come forth. These archetypes or ‘samskaras’ (impressions) are stored as image which are not easily understood and in fact lie hidden from our conscious mind. The visualizations like that of a full moon may trigger a memory of something beautiful or even tragic that happened to you on a full moon. In this way the imagery helps unlock hidden experiences, and we have a chance to understand this experience in a relaxed state and not in an emotionally charged state as it may have been the case in the past (when the experience happened). It is important to choose imagery to visualize that is universal whilst also keeping in mind unique cultural imagery.
This time the Sankalpa is taken when you are in the borderline state. It makes it more effective as it gets planted in the fertile ground of the subconscious. How often we take New Year resolutions only to let go of them in a couple of days/ weeks. This is because it is merely an Intellectual decision to make a change. Our conscious mind is always fluctuating. If we seed that Resolution in our subconscious mind, we have the will power to make this happen.
To end the practice, it is important that the awareness is one again externalized. This transition is important so that you move smoothly from the subconscious back to the conscious mind. So you effortlessly come out of the Yoga Nidra state.
This completes all the stages of Yoga Nidra. You need to follow this sequence. Don’t make too many changes as your mind begins to relax effectively once the routine is set. It might take a couple of times of practice.
About the author: Manish Pole has taught Yoga for 15 years. In 2010, Manish co-founded Total Yoga in Pune and later spread to Singapore, Bangalore, California, Dubai, Derby and Auckland. He lived and trained with Himalayan Yoga Master Bharat Thakur from 2003-2010, eventually working as the CEO of Artistic Yoga. During this time, he taught Yoga to some of India’s most famous entertainers, business leaders and politicians including Anoushka Shankar, Vinod Khanna and Sunil Bharti Mittal.
This was originally posted on Total Yoga website. To read the actual blog, click here.