Ref: Yoga Nidra, Yoga Publications Trust Dynamics of Yoga, Yoga Publications Trust
The most significant problem of our age is not hunger, poverty or drugs. The most serious problem we face is tension, hypertension, total tension. Tension is the primary reason for why we are suffering from many kinds of illnesses and disorders. The leading cause of death in developed countries, heart diseases and cancer also stem from tension. It does not only contribute in physical illnesses but also mental and emotional disorders. Many of us do not even have relaxing, revitalizing sleeps. Some of us suffer from insomnia while many others can not function without having excessive sleep. If we can free ourselves of this tension or manage to balance it, then we can also control our emotions, anger, hatred as well as high blood pressure or heart disease. We can start having real sleeps again, from which we wake calm, rested and with a smiling face just like a baby.
It is a two-word answer: Yoga Nidra. It isa systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. Nidra means sleep in Sanskrit. During the practice of yoga nidra, one appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness. It is in a state between being awake and asleep, but it is subject to neither. In modern psychology it is called “hypnagogic state”.
Most of us think relaxation is very simple, just recline and close your eyes. When we feel tired or tense we go to bed and sleep, have a few drinks and socialize or watch TV lying on the sofa; and we think that we are relaxing. But unless we are free from our muscular, mental and emotional tensions, we are never genuinely relaxed. The practice of yoga nidra is the scientific method of removing tensions. According to the results of long term practices of yoga nidra, those who adopt this technique in their daily routine soon experience profound changes in their sleeping habits as well as daily functioning. A single hour of yoga nidra is as restful as four hours of conventional sleep.
We have so far focused on relaxation and freeing our tensions by practising this technique. But through yoga nidra, we are not only relaxing but also restructuring and reforming our whole personality from within. You may again ask, how? And again the answer is, through the release of tensions, relaxation and gaining peace of mind. When one is under tension, his behaviour is influenced; and when he relaxes, he becomes natural. He knows how to behave, because the knowledge of truth is necessary for right behaviour. And knowledge of truth only comes when you are free of tension.
Outlines of the Practice
Yoga nidra is a very simple technique and can be learnt and practised from a tape recording. However, it is preferable for beginners to practice it under the guidance of an experienced teacher. It should be practised in a room that is free from disturbance such as bright light, total darkness, noise, insects, too hot or cold etc. Practitioner should lie down either on a yoga mat on the floor or on a not so soft bed in shavasana position (on the back, feet are 1 ½ feet apart, hands are a little away from the hips, palms facing upward). He/she needs to be comfortable and well adjusted before the practice begins. Then all that needs to be done if following the instructions – given by the teacher or pre-recorded tape – mentally, without concentrating or controlling the breath. The most important thing in yoga nidra is to refrain from sleep. Because if you fall asleep, you lose the awareness which you are aiming for in the practice. This certainly does not apply if you are practising it as a prelude to sleep at night.
What are the Instructions?
At the beginning of the practice the mind is directed to think of external sounds and to move from sound to sound with the attitude of a witness. After some time, mind loses interest in the external world and automatically becomes quiet. Then the mind is directed to choose a resolve (sankalpa) and say it mentally. Resolve should be a short, clear and positive statement like ‘I will be more aware and efficient’ or ‘I will be successful in all that I undertake’. The resolve should not be changed at every practice and results should not be expected overnight.
After the statement of the resolve, it is time for rotation of the consciousness by going through all parts of the body in a systematic order. This definite sequence begins with the right thumb and ends with the little toe of the right foot. And then it moves on to the left side with the exact same circuit. The practitioner should just repeat it mentally or be aware of the body parts that has been instructed. Visualization or concentration is not expected.
After the rotation of consciousness, physical relaxation is continued and completed by drawing attention to the breath. The mind is directed nothing but to be aware of breathing, with no attempt to force or change it. Usually greater relaxation is attained by simultaneously counting the breaths mentally. Awareness of breath not only promotes relaxation and concentration, but also awakens higher energies and directs them to every cell of the body.
Next comes relaxation of feelings and emotions. Feelings that are intensely physical or emotional are recalled or awakened, experienced fully and then removed. Usually this is practised with pairs of opposite feelings, such as heat and cold, pain and pleasure, love and hate. The pairing of feelings in yoga nidra harmonizes the opposite hemispheres of the brain and helps in balancing our basic drives and controlling functions that are normally unconscious.
The last stage of yoga nidra induces mental relaxation. In this part of the practice, the practitioner visualizes the images named or described by the instructor. The practice of visualization develops self-awareness and relaxes the mind by clearing it off from disturbing and painful material. This leads the mind to concentration (dhrana). And in advanced stages, visualization develops into pure meditation (dhyana). The visualization practice is usually finished with an image that evokes profound feelings of peace and calmness. This makes the unconscious mind very receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions. Therefore, yoga nidra ends with the repetition of the resolve. This direct order from the conscious mind to the unconscious is the seed enabling one to radically change his/her attitude, behaviour or destiny. It is very important that the resolve be stated clearly and positively.
The practice is then concluded by gradually bringing the mind from the condition of psychic sleep to the waking state.
What exactly is happening during the practice?
The answer is very simple. When the relaxation is complete, the receptivity is greater. When the consciousness is connected to all the senses, the receptivity is less. This is the secret of yoga nidra.
There are distinct levels of mind. The conscious mind is like hard soil because it has intellect and logic in operation. Intellect is a process of analyzing things. It does not accept everything but rejects as well. But the deeper consciousness is not like that. Whatever impression you plant within the subconscious mind can not be rejected. It will grow and the fruits will enrich every aspect of your life. Therefore, one should not be worried if he/she sleeps in yoga nidra. But still you should try to remain awake not try to sleep, unless you are practising it as a prelude to sleep.
Yoga nidra is essentially a method of pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), which is the fifth of the eight stages of yoga, defined by Patanjali. Awareness is progressively withdrawn from external world, the body, the process of breathing, the conscious mind and finally the unconscious mind. The mind gradually becomes one-pointed. In order to prevent the consciousness from becoming completely withdrawn, which would result in sleep, awareness is maintained by concentrating on the auditory channel (hearing sense). The rest of the terminals are disengaged and their connections in the cerebral cortex are dissociated so that no message gets through the motor organs. So this is what is called pratyahara, the withdrawal of senses. When the consciousness dissociates itself from both sensory organs and motor organs, contact between the sensory/motor cortex of the brain and the external world is gradually lost. As this occurs, the consciousness is progressively withdrawn and redirected internally towards its source.
According to the researches, the senses are being disengaged in a fixed systematic order, which is respectively smell, taste, visual capacity, touch and hearing. And this order perfectly corresponds with the order of the chakras that are respectively related to these senses (Mooladhara, Swadhisthana, Manipur, Anahata, Vishuddhi). This indicates that yoga nidra, in which awareness of the verbal instructions alone remain, corresponds to a stage of sleep at the very borderline between wakefulness and dreaming.
The brainwave patterns that have been collected from the studies also reinforces this information. When we are awake, fast rhythm Beta waves are predominant with a frequency of 13-20 c.p.s. When we are sleeping Theta waves become predominant and the frequency is 4-7 c.p.s. Between these two states lies a distinct and important bond of awareness and experience that is called hypnagogic state, as we mentioned earlier. This transient hypnagogic state is characterized by Alpha waves with a frequency of 7-12 c.p.s. and it rarely lasts for more than 3 to 5 minutes. It is accompanied by deep and progressive relaxation and release of muscular and postural tensions throughout the physical body and by loss of awareness of the external environment. As the waking state of reality dissolves, the dreaming state of experience replaces it. Yoga nidra occurs at this threshold of sense consciousness and sleep consciousness. During the practice, periodic bursts of alpha waves are interspersed between alternating periods of Beta (wakefulness) and Theta (sleep) predominance. By remaining aware and alert in the Alpha predominant hypnagogic state between these two, a profound experience of total relaxation is gained, which is not only far more beneficial than conventional sleep, but is also the doorway to higher states of consciousness.
From Theory To Practice
As explained above, yoga nidra is a simple and efficient practice that can easily be adopted to our daily routine and can be benefited for many aspects of our lives. Depending on the aim, the content of the instructions may change, but the systematic approach of the method remains the same. Some of the positive effects of the practise have already been mentioned before, such as improving the sleeping patterns, relaxing the body and mind and increasing memory. But there is and can be more to it. It is also beneficial during the pregnancy, for mensturational disorders, eliminating bad habits, restructuring the personality, increasing stress resistance, reducing high blood pressure. It is also being studied on experimental level for the treatment of certain diseases like cancer.
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