03 Nov Yoga Nidra – Blissful Relaxation
Yoga Nidra is a practice that is widely taught in many yoga studios around the world these days. The yoga nidra that we know now was adapted and popularized in the 1960’s by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1923-2009) from the Bihar School of Yoga. It originates from the traditional tantric practice of ‘Nyasa’, a ritual practice of touching different parts of the body while chanting mantras.
Here is a poem that Swami Satyananda wrote about yoga nidra:
Yoga Nidra – 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 a blissful, higher quality altogether.
When awareness is separate and distinct from the 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.
So what does yoga nidra mean to the lay person? Yoga Nidra is often referred to as a ‘psychic sleep’. Yoga Nidra is among the deepest possible degrees of relaxation and yet you are still fully conscious. Yoga nidra is actually a conscious deep sleep. The mind in Yoga Nidra is more relaxed than during a typical deep sleep. It is therefore a very good practice for people who have an agitated mind, and has been found to calm people and reduce tension and anxiety.
This practice has been widely studied and scientific research has found that symptoms of high anxiety such as headache, giddiness, chest pain, palpitations, sweating, and abdominal pain have been found to respond positively to yoga nidra. It also has been shown to help soldiers returning from war zones to cope with the effects of PTSD, (post-traumatic stress disorder.)
In Sanskrit, the word Yoga means ‘union’ and Nidra means ‘sleep’. In Yoga Nidra, the body, mind and intellect become completely relaxed, but at the same time the consciousness functions at a deeper level, with the result that the subconscious and unconscious realms of your mind open up. During the practice of Yoga Nidra, it is possible to relax at all levels: senses, body, breath, and your conscious, as well as unconscious, mind can also relax.
Yoga Nidra for me is an invaluable tool, which I use when my mind is agitated, or when I have not had enough sleep. It also works when I am sad, or when I need to take a break. I find comfort in yoga nidra at any time of the day, or night.
It is important to understand that Yoga Nidra is a state of consciousness, but what is consciousness? Consciousness is the act of being connected to the outer world through our senses. The senses are connected to the brain through what we call the “MIND’, which functions on three levels:
- Conscious: mind connects the outer world to the brain
- Subconscious: mind stores of all the experiences
- Unconscious mind: the ‘Real Self’ or ‘Atman’
In yoga nidra we attain stillness of the mind by going inwards and away from the outer world. This is but one facet of pratyahara that leads to the higher states of consciousness, (dharana “concentration with an object”, dhyana “meditation on the divine” and Samadhi “union with the divine”) as explained in the yoga sutras of Patanjali.
In yoga nidra we travel deep into the depths of our mind to heal the source of the thoughts/vrittis; we are at the very edge between sleep and wakefulness, while connecting to both our subconscious and unconscious simultaneously. We have the ability to no longer identify emotionally with our mind and body, but instead with our divine self, which then pervades our whole body.
Yoga Nidra was described in Adi Sankara’s Yoga Taravali, (translation by T.K.V. Desikachar and Kausthub Desikachar,) a eighth-century Vedanta and yoga master:
‘When mind has transcended maya (delusion), when ego has become static, when senses are no more functioning, and when all communications between the mind and the senses have been cut, when you and I no longer exist for a period of time, that is when Yoga Nidra starts.’
Here is a depiction of Vishnu practicing yoga nidra as described in the Purunas by Vyasa (1800 BC and 1500 B.C.). Vishnu (truth within) is floating on an ocean of milk, (representing human consciousness) upon a great serpent Ananta (representing our desires.) The heads of the serpent are turned inward (representing a peaceful mind). He appears to be sleeping, but his supreme consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness. Lakshmi (representing wealth, power and glory) rests at his feet, serving him. From his navel springs a lotus that carries Brahma the supreme. Next to him is a disc (the universal mind or awareness), a lotus flower (the revolving or changing nature of the universe), a conch shell (five universal elements), and mace (the cosmic intellect or knowledge)
If you would like to experience this ancient practice join my yoga class or click here to buy my Yoga Nidra CD which will help you on your chosen journey.