Change Your Life with Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra - The Blissful Relaxation
Most people sleep without resolving their tensions,
This is termed nidra.
Nidra means sleep, no matter what or why,
But yoga nidra means sleep after throwing off the burdens,
It is of blissful, higher quality altogether.
When awareness is separate and distinct from vrittis,
When waking, dream and deep sleep pass like clouds,
Yet awareness of atma remains
This is the experience of total relaxation.
Relaxation does not mean sleep.
Relaxation means to be blissfully happy,
It has no end.
I call bliss absolute relaxation;
Sleep is a different matter.
Sleep gives only mind and sense relaxation.
Bliss relaxes the atma, the inner self;
That is why, in tantra,
Yoga nidra is the doorway to samadhi.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati
I was very lucky to learn yoga nidra ("yogic sleep" or "sleep with awareness"), a powerful raja (royal) yoga technique of conscious relaxation, during my first stay in India in 2004. I spent a month in a Bihar School of Yoga ashram in Bangalore, where I learned yoga nidra directly from a yogacharya (yoga teacher) who was a disciple of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati for most of his life. It is Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati, an outstanding spiritual leader and the founder of the Bihar Yoga Tradition, who adapted yoga nidra from tantric yoga and made it accessible to all of us. I am so very grateful to Guruji and my teacher for sharing this powerful technique, which since then has become a permanent part of my personal yoga practice and my yoga teaching. Thanks to yoga nidra, many of my friends, students and I personally have benefitted tremendously with essential positive changes in our lives.
Yoga nidra is a powerful technique of inducing complete and systematic relaxation on the physical, emotional and mental levels of our being. It uniquely unwinds the nervous system, which is the foundation of the body's well-being. One can rejuvenate in a short period of time - 30 minutes of yoga nidra is as restful as two hours of conventional sleep! Practised lying down, it does not involve movement - just listening and relaxing, therefore being suitable for any physical condition.
The practice of yoga nidra consists of different stages among which are total relaxation of the physical body, breathing techniques to promote deep mental relaxation, and guided visualisation to resolve suppressed memories and desires. Another very important stage of yoga nidra, which turns it into a life-changing method, is sankalpa (resolution) but it's a vast topic, and I would like to focus on it in my next article.
Yoga nidra practice has been investigated in many research centres around the world and showed extremely favourable results in many fields. The state of profound psychophysiological relaxation and metabolic rest that occurs during yoga nidra is characterised by decreased sympathetic and increased parasympathetic nervous activity, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, altered levels of «stress hormones» such as adrenaline and cortisol, and enhanced concentration capacity. This state was given different names such as «the hypnagogic state», «the creative surrender» and «the relaxation response». It is in this state that the awakening and mobilisation of prana (vital energy) happens naturally and with consistent practice, the ability to consciously control and direct prana throughout the body can be developed. This ability to use pranic energy at will allows a yoga nidra practitioner to access unlimited potential of inner healing power and improve any diseased condition of the body-mind system.
Doctors and healers in many countries now prescribe yoga nidra as a preventive and curative therapy for stress-related diseases. Stress is a contributing factor in everything from backaches and insomnia, to cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is estimated that stress is related to 40-80% of all doctor visits! Heart disease, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, arthritis, bacterial or viral infections, migraine headaches, asthma and respiratory aliments… have you ever experienced any of these problems? Unfortunately, most of us have illnesses or conditions brought on by stress or made worse by it. Fortunately, yoga nidra has been successfully used in the management of many stress-related diseases, and is proved helpful in both acute and chronic conditions.
Yoga nidra is also a successful therapy for psychological disturbances of all kinds - anxiety, depression, mood swings, etc. - as it helps remove emotional imbalances, mental fatigue and tensions. In yoga nidra, the subconscious mind is tapped to expose the source of psychic pain - previously suppressed emotions, memories and desires. Self-recognition and desensitisation of these painful life experiences follow spontaneously, and it can be safely re-lived and re-integrated into the conscious personality. When practising yoga nidra, you become your own psychotherapist - you follow the instructions and not the instructor. The instructor is only a guide who doesn't dominate your mind or will in any way. You do everything yourself, and when you become familiar with the technique you will not even need an instructor anymore. Yoga nidra helps you to recognise your own personal problems and systematically alleviate them.
You can also use yoga nidra to stimulate your personal growth. The combination of alert awareness and the deepest form of relaxation helps you to dive into the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. In this «hypnagogic state» the mind is exceptionally receptive, and its nature can be easily changed: bad habits can be given up more easily, personality can be re-shaped, and direction in life can be chosen more wisely. In yoga nidra state, you can also restore your creativity. We all have genius but we often cannot find it under the layers of tension and mental chaos. You might find that right after yoga nidra practice, your mind is clear and still, you feel inspired and engaged by your creative muse. This time is precious and can be used for writing poems or music, painting, sculpting or for any other creative process.
Applications of yoga nidra are very versatile, and one of them is to enhance the learning process by using our ability to absorb knowledge through the subconscious mind. Experiments show that yoga nidra is an extremely efficient means of increasing learning capacity and memory function. Many pioneering educators now utilise yoga nidra to create the state of active and relaxed awareness in which knowledge is soaked up without effort. If you are a scholar, you might choose to use the stillness of your mind after yoga nidra practice to study or memorise information.
The last (and for me the most important) use of yoga nidra lies in its meditative nature. If you find it difficult to meditate in a seated position, you should start with yoga nidra. Achieving deep relaxation and a perfect state of pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) brings out sensory inhibition that enables you to watch your mental activity. This can be more difficult to achieve while sitting but it is a necessary prerequisite to any meditation. Once you master pratyahara and relaxation, you will be able to get to the stage of dharana (contemplation), where your inner focus on one point helps you to detach from your thoughts and to reduce their number. This might eventually lead to dhyana - de-focusing or effortless focusing, the state in which you keep one single thought effortlessly and are continuously present in the now. This makes meditation a meaningful experience filled with spontaneous awareness and deep insights. Knowledge of truth only comes when you are mindful and free of tension. The ultimate purpose of yoga nidra is to take you even further into the state of samadhi where your body, mind and soul are completely united and become one with all there is. This is the true goal of yoga - UNION.
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