Yoga Nidra is one of the best practices for newcomers to meditation and yoga. Developed in the 1940s by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in Rishikesh, India, Yoga Nidra (translated as “yogic sleep”) is the practice of conscious relaxation.
The practitioner’s inner awareness remains alert, but the body, mind, and psyche are calmed through a guided sequence that includes setting an intention, systematically relaxing the body, using visualization to relax the mind, and evoking positive emotions in the unconscious mind to open it to greater receptivity. Restful and liberating, Yoga Nidra is an ideal practice for those of us who feel pushed to our limits or stuck in an undesirable place in our lives.
A variety of resources are available to guide you through Yoga Nidra. Physically, all that is demanded of the practitioner is that they remain still and comfortable in Savasana (corpse pose) for about 30 minutes and remain awake and aware (i.e. don’t drift off into sleep.) The rest of the journey is created by your guide, which may be a recorded voice or a live person if you are attending a yoga nidra session at a studio or retreat. There is an endless variety of visualizations created for Yoga Nidra that include beautiful imagery and metaphors. As you learn about the practice of Yoga Nidra, you may even begin to create your own visualizations.
There are Eight Essential Steps in the Process:
- Preparation: The practitioner finds a restful position in Savasana. Props, pillows, blankets and eye bags can be used to ensure comfort. It is very important that the body remain completely still during the meditation.
- Resolve: Before entering the complete state of relaxation, the practitioner is invited to set an intention or resolve. This may be anything from feeling rested to improving health or breaking a bad habit. This practice is based on the theory that an open and relaxed subconscious is instantly receptive to thought. It is essential that this resolve or intention is be stated positively and in present tense as the subconscious fixates on negative language and can not hear the overall message. For example, “I will not lie,” is not as effective a message for the brain as “I am truthful.” Likewise, “I am rested,” is more effective than “I will not be tired.”
- Rotation of Consciousness: By guiding the mental awareness through a specific sequence throughout the body, the practitioner simultaneously relaxes the anatomical parts of the body and the associated neuropathways.
- Awareness of the Breath: Once the body is relaxed, awareness centers on the breath, the prime energy mover in our beings.
- Feelings and Sensations: Permission is given to the emotional self to let go of negative thoughts such as judgment, anxiety, and fear.
- Visualization: Here, the mind embarks on a journey of imagery and storytelling, usually with a definite goal, which relaxes mental activity.
- Ending the Practice: The final image of a Yoga Nidra typically creates a sense of joy, peacefulness, or calmness within the practitioner, making the subconscious self receptive to our intentions, which are restated in the mind at this time.
- Awakening: Awareness is brought back to the outer layers of the self gently by deepening the breath to awaken the mind and gently stretching to enliven the body.
Sleep is only restful for our sensate beings, our conscious minds, and our bodies. Sleep does not rejuvenate our inner selves, the subconscious and psychic, or spiritual, aspects of our beings; these are left to wander wild in the process of sleep, which our awareness interprets as dreaming. In Yoga Nidra, we remain alert in a kind of “psychic sleep,” guiding our beings to a state of genuine relaxation that can take us to a higher level of self-realization.
Benefits may include the following:
- Increased energy, feeling of restfulness
- Alleviation of addiction (over time)
- Alleviation of symptoms of some psychosomatic illnesses and chronic pain
- Improved memory and imagination
- Easing of mental and physical tensions
- Development of willpower
- Improved overall sense of wellbeing