Yoga Nidra is the technique of Psychic Sleep, or the Sleep of Awareness, also known as the Yogi’s Sleep. It is an age-old practice from the Tantras which has been re-discovered and developed for modern people and is now being taught all over the world in many different spiritual and non-spiritual guises. Originally, it was discovered and developed by the Yogis as a way of transcending sleep. A way of gaining the greatest benefits of relaxation during the time allotted for sleep without actually going unconscious or losing awareness. Nowadays, it is used as a method of freeing the conscious, subconscious and unconscious layers of mind from the accumulations of daily tension, which once learned and perfected, enabled the practitioner to enter the trance states of Samadhi and Self-Realisation. It has been evaluated that 1 hour of Yoga Nidra gives the equivalent rest of 4 hours normal sleep.
Although as modern people today, we may be overloaded with the hassles of daily life and feel very far from spiritual enlightenment, never-the-less, Yoga Nidra still is a sublime method of dealing with the states of mind which create and sustain those patterns of inner tension and conflict. Therefore, within the framework of your weekly Yoga Class, let us not forget the true nature and purpose of Yoga Nidra. Try not to think of it as just a “nice lie down” or “that bit of relaxation at the beginning,” but please give it the respect it deserves as a highly evolved technique of self-transcendence.
It cannot be mentioned too many times that the purpose of Yoga Nidra is not to sleep. If you make a brief commitment to yourself at the beginning of each practice “I will not sleep,” then you will find your awareness remains much more awake throughout. Only in the fully conscious state will the full benefits of Yoga Nidra be gained.
If you are practicing Yoga Nidra at home, choose a place which is clean and quiet and ensure that you will not be disturbed. Take the phone off the hook, close the door, protect against draughts, insects, and wind, close any curtains to exclude bright light, clear a space on the floor so that you will not be touching any furniture. Remove your shoes, loosen tight clothing, remove restrictive jewelry, remove glasses if you wear them. Lie down on the floor on your back and, when using a tape recorder, position the crown of the head towards the voice of the instructor. Cover yourself with a blanket. Close your eyes, then position the body as instructed to do so.
Lying Down – The Body Position
The best posture for Yoga Nidra is Shavasana. Under certain conditions such as later pregnancy, other positions may be used. Learn to take up Shavasana whenever Yoga Nidra commences. There will be a brief reminder of the posture, and once you set the body in the best position, you should remain perfectly still until the end of the Yoga Nidra practice. Any movement that you make will disturb the ever-increasing relaxation of the body. Even a slight scratch will break the absolute stillness and the process of sense withdrawal which you are trying to develop. If at all possible, try to lie still through all passing discomforts. They will disappear as you focus back into the technique. Check the body for any parts where you know you hold tension, any parts that are weak or need healing. Relax them consciously.
Sankalpa – The Resolution
At the beginning of Yoga Nidra, and just before the end, you will be reminded to repeat your Sankalpa – your resolution. The word Sankalpa means “determination.” It is not a wish, or a prayer, or a promise, or an airy-fairy sort of affirmation that you will lose interest in several weeks hence. It is a profound realization of something in your life which you are going to do. It is not something you want to come true tomorrow, or something in the future you hope might come true or a loosely worded projection of fantasy and desire. It is a sincere practice of exercising the will-power. Its purpose is not to make desires come true, or to gain profit from mental powers, but to help develop a new force of transformation from within yourself. For this reason, it is not something that someone else can decide for you. It should be phrased in a very direct, short and positive statement. Not something negative that you wish to give up, but rather something positive that you will do. “I will …………….”. It may not come to you on the first day. Don’t just make one up to fill the time. Wait and watch for a realization of something which is extremely important to you at this point in your life.
You may only start with a small but important thing in your personality, or you may have a long-term goal to work on. Either way, once you have chosen/ realized your Sankalpa, do not change it until it comes true in your life. Do not reveal it to anyone. Don’t pin it up on the kitchen notice board or the back of the toilet door! You don’t need to think about it at any other time in the day except within the practice of Yoga Nidra. Don’t be fickle and change it often because it doesn’t seem to be working. Give it time, and most importantly, give it practice. With regular use of Yoga Nidra, it will surely begin to manifest in reality.
Many people can testify to the unbelievable power and effectiveness of the Sankalpa made in Yoga Nidra. Many who thought that such a goal was far off, have been amazed at just how quickly the resolution made in Yoga Nidra can come true. This is because:- at the beginning of the practice when you are fully awake and full of worldly thoughts, the resolution comes through your waking consciousness but in fact, it has come from deeper in mind before that. At this stage, it is part of your mundane existence, just a worldly desire that you have and that you want to come true. But then later, just before the end of Yoga Nidra when you are reminded by the instructor to repeat the Sankalpa, that same thought or suggestion which is consciously remembered is then plunged strongly into the subconscious again, the state at which your mind rests just before coming out of Yoga Nidra. So a circuit of consciousness has been established. It is not like a normally repeated intellectual suggestion, but it is more effective because it is planted in a truly open and receptive mind.
This process has been likened to a seed, planted deep in the subconscious soil, where it lays dormant until watered and fed. Each time you repeat your resolution, even though you can’t see it working, you stimulate its growth deep down below your conscious understanding, and this continues to increase its power until it breaks through into the light of day and becomes a part of your waking life. Then you know you have made a great link between conscious desires, the will-power, the subconscious, and the unconscious mind. This is the true purpose of Sankalpa and Yoga Nidra.
Rotation of Sound Awareness
The next aspect of Yoga Nidra is to start the involution of the senses. That is to disconnect outside awareness and begin to relax inside, at the mental level. Initially, when you close your eyes and try to focus inwardly, the mind behaves like a naughty child. It does the direct opposite of what you instruct it to do! So we use this mischievous tendency to overcome itself. You will be asked to listen to all the different sounds that you can hear and to rotate your awareness from one sound to the next, and on to another different sound, and so on. This may not be easy at first. You may want to listen and analyze the sounds. They may trigger lots of thoughts from within your memory. Just keep on with the practice, moving and moving and moving restlessly from sound to sound, with the attitude of a witness. You should try not to be affected by any auditory information that you hear. This is continued for some time until the mind becomes very bored with this stupid game and it automatically switches off from outside sounds. This is the desired effect, but you may not achieve this for several sessions. It takes practice. After the sense of sound has been disconnected in this way, you should not have any further distraction from sounds for the remainder of the Yoga Nidra time.
Rotation of Body Awareness
The next phase of the practice is critical. It involves two things. One is to disconnect the tactile senses, and the other is to develop the link of mental/physical awareness. Just as we disconnect the sense of sound with the rotation of sound awareness, now we disconnect the sense of touch. Similarly, the instructor will guide you through a particular pathway of internal body awareness. Naming each part as you feel it, you move from part to part with awareness and detachment. Just naming, feeling and moving on, without stopping, all around the body.
As each part is encountered, there is a mental repetition of its name, and there is a brief moment of tactile awareness of each part. This creates an energetic and psychic pathway between the brain and that part of the body. For a brief moment, there is complete relaxation and healing connection to that part, but then it is left alone, and the awareness is detached from it as you move onto the next part. This part of Yoga Nidra will become quite spontaneous after some time.
Eventually, with practice, you will notice that you cannot feel your body anymore physically. It doesn’t seem to be there. And again, this is the desired effect. But this will only happen if: you stay awake to follow the technique; you lie perfectly still and do not move; you keep your awareness moving in a prescribed way. But many people are afraid of such an experience and protect themselves from having it by continually moving their body for one reason or another. It reminds them of death. Why do you think it is called the Corpse Pose! That is precisely the aim of disconnecting from body awareness, at least temporarily. To experience ourselves as much more than this physical body. To realize that we do have a consciousness which transcends this gross physical form. But perhaps you don’t want to know this, so either you fall asleep or wriggle.
As well as sense withdrawal, rotation of body awareness stimulates different parts of our brain which control each body nerve. When you are aware of each part of the body, you are psychically massaging the corresponding part in the brain and as well. You establish a connection between that part of the body and the brain. This can be evidenced by the many people with disabilities or lack of feeling in the limbs which give testament to experiencing a part of the body for the first time during this technique of Yoga Nidra.
Rotation of Body Awareness terminates with “Whole Body Awareness.” Awareness of no particular parts, but just the whole body together. It’s a holistic appreciation of physical oneness. And for many people with disjointed physical consciousness, this can be a profound experience.
From the physical and mental experience of body awareness, next in Yoga Nidra one progresses to yet another more subtle level of experience – that of the elements of breath and Prana. When the body remains perfectly still for some time, there is a definite slowing down of the metabolic rates of breath and heart rate. By lying still and watching the natural processes of breath in Yoga Nidra, greater relaxation of body and mind is achieved, as well as deep understanding of the nature of breath and its ramifications upon the body/mind complex.
Always in Yoga Nidra practice, we do not interfere with anything. The whole technique is nothing but a process of witnessing, of unaffected observance. It is not concentration. The aim is never to force the mind to concentrate. This would create mental tension – the opposite of the real purpose.
So when practicing breath awareness in Yoga Nidra, there is not to be any wilful change or effort imposed upon the natural breath as occurring at any moment. We watch – we just observe how the body breathes in its natural state of relaxation. You will learn; how, when first lying down, there is a rushed feeling in the energy of breath; and how, after some time of relaxing, there is a far more regular and peaceful experience of breathing.
Your awareness may be watching in a general way, being aware of the speed, the rhythm, the depth, the regularity, or the evenness of the natural breath. Or you may be instructed to focus breath awareness in a particular part of the body, a particular breathing or energy center, or within one of the many energy channels through which the psychic breath flows. All these patterns of awareness are simply methods by which we can develop our consciousness to understand what is going on inside – which aspects of our personality are the causes and which are the effects of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The breath is like a bridge between the body aspect and the mental aspect of our existence. Not only physical in its substance, and not fully mental, the breath is a psycho-biological link between conscious thinking, the feelings, and the mental or psychic imagery stored in the brain and the mind. Often during sessions of breath work such as Pranayama, and in Yoga Nidra as well, repressed material from the subconscious and unconscious layers of the mind surfaces. It bubbles up to the surface because the blocks and psychological barriers have been removed through the safety of relaxation. It is at this time we can look at things, observe them more clearly and see solutions to those inner conflicts. And this is why many people arise from Yoga Nidra feeling like a great weight has been removed from within. But all this can only occur if there remains awareness, in other words – NO SLEEPING.
Use of Mantra
Beyond breath awareness, tools such as Mantra and visualization are used to work directly on the unconscious levels on the mind. These are the normally untapped and unreachable areas of experience which only Yoga Nidra and Meditation can influence successfully. Use of a Mantra in Yoga Nidra is going completely beyond the rational, intellectual arena of experience. You cannot understand what it is doing with your normal thinking abilities. It is re-patterning, re-programming the very vibratory structure of ones inner mental make up. It is working on the inter-connections between thought, feeling, and action. It is working on the archetypes or universal symbols, called “Samskaras.”
Samskaras are like seeds, small compact forms which hold vast amounts of genetic information or mental impressions. These imprints may be stored in the potential/latent form, or they may be just sprouting, or they may already be well growing. It is like how a computer uses inner symbolic language to represent and deliver its information to the screen. What you type on the surface at the keyboard, is far different from the way in which that information is stored and processed inside the actual electronic workings of the computer’s memory banks. Some instructions or programmes are asleep; some are just waiting to be activated, and some are already in action.
The mantra is a subtle vibration of sound which gets into these mental forms and triggers their release. It wakes them up bit by bit so that you can see and appreciate that these things do still exist deep down. Mantra works effectively whether you understand it or not; whether you want it to or not; whether you believe in it or not. That’s because the ancient Yogis discovered these secrets of the mind’s workings and perfected effective ways to work within it from outside. In Yoga Nidra, a Mantra is repeated mentally, sometimes in time with the breath or the heartbeat or just at a spontaneous frequency. Just try to follow the instructions as best you can, and true understanding about Mantra will come as you experience the practice and its effects. When a mantra is used in a deep state of relaxation, its effects are enhanced many-fold. More about Mantra is explained within the section dealing with Mantra Japa Meditation.
The final guided aspect of Yoga Nidra that you will be introduced to in an Integral Yoga Beginners Course involves the use of visualization. Initially, the purpose of visualization in Yoga Nidra is just to practice psychic visual recall and disposal. You may not be very good at it, but that doesn’t matter. Just keep trying to do the best you can. One type of visual projection involves the use of archetypes. Simple, single images of symbolic meaning which when presented to the mind in deep relaxation, will trigger the release of psychic tension and realizations of spiritual significance. These may be religious symbols, nature symbols, geometric symbols or others. In essence, psychic symbols all have the same basic function, and that is to trigger direct perception of the object in focus and reveal the true nature of inner experience. Eventually, this ability will lead on to the faculty used in the method of Raja Yoga Dharana, or concentration upon a symbol. Visualisation practice develops the faculty of inner creativity – a great help to artists and creators of visual forms.
Another type of visualization which is popular nowadays is the “guided story” approach. For example, you are taken on a journey to a secret place, or to a beautiful land of dreams, or into a tunnel, where certain events occur in your mind, and these projections trigger past, present, and future experiences. Although they may be either relaxing or stimulating, these types of visualizations do not work at such a fundamental level of mental transformation as the single image visualizations. They deal predominantly with experiences of an emotional and “feel good” nature and this practice can be fraught with danger for the inexperienced teacher and student. There may be a great inner catharsis on one level but not quite a full resolution at another. There are therapeutic methods of properly releasing deep traumas through the techniques of Yoga Nidra, but these take many years of practice and understanding. So it is wiser to stay with the simple forms of visualization and not get carried away with images of fantasy unless properly used for therapeutic purposes under qualified guidance.
Chidakash and Hridayakash
Near the end of Yoga Nidra, after all the guided parts of sounds, body, breath, mantra, visualization, there will be a time of watching “the inner space” called Chidakash. Chidakash means “the space of mind consciousness.” Some people experience it as the area inside the forehead. Others experience it as the space behind the closed eyes. There is also a space called Hridayakash which is the “space of heart consciousness” inside the center of the chest. It can be felt like a large cave, both within you and surrounding you. Chidakash and Hridayakash are both used for brief periods of contemplation at the end of Mantra Japa Meditations.
Whichever space you are watching, or wherever you perceive it to be, the principle is the same. It is to be observed like watching a T.V. screen; as though you are a viewer to the movie of your mind, or as though you are a member of the audience to a stage play. If there are pictures – fine. If there are thoughts – fine. If there are feelings – fine. If there is nothing – that’s fine too. It is a time to let go completely of all efforts, of all impressions, of all functions of the mind and just to be in the space – but watching with detachment. The irony of the experience is that you are in the space, and yet space is within you. You cannot objectify a difference between you and it. This is the final experience of Yoga Nidra. To have awareness; to know that you are aware, without substance, object or subject; just to be in the space but also to be a perceiver of your self in the space. But don’t worry if you don’t get that experience immediately. Your mind may still be busy with mundane thoughts, or you may be afraid to have an empty mind, or you may still be caught up in some previous experience, or you may well be asleep or semi-conscious. It does not matter. It can only happen in its own time.
The true experience of Chidakash and Hridayakash cannot be created or manipulated in any way, or you lose it. It is very subtle and tricky, but with practice, you may experience what is written here. Even for a fleeting moment, or perhaps a long uninterrupted stretch, it is an experience which leads to the absolute depths of your being. At this stage, Yoga Nidra has taken you as far as it can. With regular practice, you will be able to go more directly to this experience, both within Yoga Nidra practice and within your daily waking life. What exists beyond that is a transcendental experience beyond even individual ego awareness. A complete merging. And that is what is known by the Yogis as “Samadhi.”
What has been outlined here is only a summary of some aspects of the subject of Yoga Nidra. Further reading and study may be gained from the texts recommended near the back of the book and are available from the outlets listed there.