Yoga Nidra is a technique that is becoming very popular nowadays. Sometimes it’s confused with common relaxation techniques and sometimes with visualization.
It’s vital for Yoga practitioners and teachers to understand what Yoga Nidra is, where it comes from and most importantly, the way it works.
It’s essential to differentiate Yoga Nidra techniques from other techniques of visualization, or progressive relaxation.
Yoga Nidra refers to the “State of consciousness” and techniques used to achieve that state. The term “Yoga” refers to the aim (Samadhi) and the path (Hatha yoga, Raja Yoga, Laya Yoga etc.).
Yoga Nidra as a “state of consciousness “
Yoga Nidra is composed of two words, Yoga that means “union” and refers to one-pointed awareness and Nidra which means “deep-sleep”.
The word Nidra refers to the state of consciousness where there is “no consciousness”, where the organs of knowledge (jnanaendriya) and the organs of action (karmendriya) are shut down, deep sleep is exactly that state.
Patanjali, in the Yoga sutras, explains the meaning of yoga in the famous verse
“Yoga chitta vritti nirodaha” PYS 1.2
“Yoga is the extinction of the ‘movement’ of the mind”
And explains that there are 5 “vritti” or “mental modifications”:
“Pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smitayu” PYS 1.6
Right knowledge, wrong knowledge, imagination, sleep (Nidra), and memory.
So Nidra is a “Chitta Vritti”, it’s the unconscious aspect of our consciousness.
Yoga Nidra is the state where we “master” this vritti. Where the light of awareness dispels the darkness of the unconsciousness.
According to the Yogic tradition, our existence is experienced through three state of consciousness:
Wakeful state of mind –conscious mind- jagriti
Dream state- subconscious mind- swapna
Deep sleep- unconscious mind- sushupti (nidra)
The wakeful state of mind is when we’re awake and able to experience external “objects” through the senses and we are able to experience the flow of time.
The dream state is when we are dreaming, so we still have experience of an “inner reality”. Here the experience of time is “different” from the wakeful state.
Deep sleep is when we experience the unconscious state. Here there is no experience of time.
We are constantly in all three states at the same time, but since our awareness is limited, we usually experience one state at a time.
Let’s use a metaphor to explain the existence of all the 3 state of consciousness simultaneously:
Let’s say that the sky is our experience of reality, Sunlight the wakeful state of mind, moonlight the dream state and stars and the darkness of the universe with deep sleep.
Our “reality” shifts from day-sun light, night-darkness with moonlight or without.
During daytime, the light of the sun doesn’t allow us to be aware of the moon and stars, but even if we cannot see them, they are still there in the sky.
At night time during a full moon, the light of the stars are invisible to us because of the moon, but still, the stars are there, even if we cannot see them.
According to the Yogic tradition, there is a fourth state (Turya), this is the conscious awareness of all three state at the same time, when our awareness extends to all three states, when we are able to “see” the sun, moon, stars and the entire universe at the same time.
To deepen understanding of the four states of consciousness I suggest you study the Mandukya Upanishad.
In tantra this three states of consciousness are called the three cities, Tripura, and are represented in the famous Yantra called Sri Yantra.
The Sri Yantra is a representation of the entire existence, the entire manifestation, the entire universe. In the Sri Yantra, the creation and dissolution of the cosmos are “explained”.
Yoga Nidra is the state of awareness during the “nidra” state, it’s the state of consciousness during deep sleep. When we travel behind the “sun” and “moon” and connect with our deepest and unknown aspect of the inner universe.
Yoga Nidra as technique.
“At the point of sleep when sleep has not yet come and external wakefulness vanishes, at this point the Supreme Goddess is revealed.”
(Vigyana Bhairava Tantra)
Yoga Nidra is different from common meditation techniques, in meditation we are sitting in a comfortable and steady position (Asana) where there is a balance between relaxation and alertness, we are in a wakeful state of mind and keep this state of mind witnessing the activity of the mind.
In Yoga Nidra we lie down allowing full and complete physical and mental relaxation, the body position allows the consciousness to shift from the wakeful state of mind to dream or deep sleep, the aim here is to keep the awareness active, while the state of consciousness moves towards deep sleep.
The practice of yoga nidra has been devised and adapted in the form we know today by Swami Satyananda Sarawati (Bihar School of Yoga).
According to Swami Satyananda the Yoga Nidra technique is performed in 8 stages:
Preparation: First relax your body by lying in Shavasana. This is a position that minimizes touch sensation by eliminating contact between the limbs of the body, as you are lying on the floor with legs and arms apart. You then focus your mind on external sounds and you move from sound to sound with the attitude of a witness. By practising this, the mind starts to lose interest in external sounds and will automatically become quiet. This is the stage of “pratyahara” where we shift our awareness form the external to the internal.
Sankalpa (resolve): The Sankalpa indicates the “resolve” the motivation behind the practice; it’s the expression of the “Will”. It’s important to choose your Sankalpa very carefully. The wording should be very precise and clear. You should choose only one Sankalpa according to your needs and inclination and you must not change to another. The idea of the Sankalpa is to give the mind a suggestion when it’s in a state of relaxation. The use of the Sankalpa is common in the Tantric practice of Japa (mantra repetition), Puja and Havan where the practice is done for a particular reason with the aim of achieving a particular “benefit”.
Rotation of consciousness. The rotation of consciousness through different parts of the body is not a practice of concentration and does not involve any physical movement. During this stage, it’s important to remain aware, to listen to the voice and move the mind quickly according to the instruction. This is the core of the practice, it comes from a tantric technique called matrika nyasa, nyasa that means, “to place”, matrika refer to the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. In matrika nyasa, different letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are “placed” in different parts of the body touching that body part. In the rotation of consciousness in yoga nidra we don’t use letters or mantra, but we move the awareness along that part of the body without touching the body, just using the mind.
Awareness of breath: The physical relaxation is continued and completed by drawing the attention to the breath, in this stage you simply need to maintain attention on the natural breath without any attempt to force it or change it, and greater relaxation is attained by simultaneously counting the breath mentally.
Creation of opposite feeling and sensations: In this stage the focus is on relaxation of the emotions and the emotional state. Feelings that are intensely physical or emotional are awakened, experienced fully and then removed. Usually, we use opposite feelings like heaviness/lightness, heat /cold, pain/pleasure, love/hate. This usually brings emotional relaxation by a means of catharsis, as memories of profound feeling are re-lived. The creation and experience of opposite sensations is very useful for a Yoga practitioner because it helps to experience the relaxation/peace in between the opposite ‘events’ that can affect life and bring the practitioner a realisation of the transcendence of duality.
Visualizations: This stage of yoga nidra induces mental relaxation, here some images are visualized. The images used in yoga nidra often have universal significance.
Sankalpa: The same Sankalpa is stated.
Ending the practice: The practice is concluded by gradually bringing the mind from the internal to the external.
So we can say the Yoga Nidra is an adaptation and simplification of a more complex Tantric practice. Usually, Tantric practices are very complex and require a deep understanding of symbols (Yantra) and sounds (Mantra), the Yantra used in yoga nidra is the human body (here we consider body, not just the physical body, but the entire individual.)
Yoga nidra has been proved to have great and immediate benefits. It has the same benefits of meditation practices with the advantage of being an easy technique to perform even for a complete beginner (you just need to lie down and listen to the recording).
Yoga Nidra can be used for different purposes apart from the traditional purpose of achieving the state of Yoga Nidra (Turya):
As a Power nap
To give positive suggestions to our mind
As an introspective tool
Yoga Nidra is very effective for:
And all conditions caused by the above causes.
There is some research that has been done on this practice, from the website Wikipedia:
“In 2006, Kamakhya Kumar was awarded a PhD by Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (president of India) for his work “Psycho-physiological Changes as Related to Yoga Nidra”. He observed six months of effects of yoga nidra on some physiological, haematological and some psychological parameters on the practitioners and he found a significant change in above-mentioned parameters. One of the pieces of research published was entitled “A study on the impact on stress and anxiety through yoga nidra” Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, Vol. 7 No 3 (Published through NISCAIR).
Indian clinical psychologist Sachin Kumar Dwivedi (2009) found in his research that yoga nidra decreases levels of anxiety. S. Dwivedi, S. Awasthi and B.B. Pandey (2011) found in “Yoga Nidra increased the α-eeg on α-eeg biofeedback”, that it is an open secret that yoga nidra is a type of deep meditation. M. Nikhra and S.K. Dwivedi (2010) found in a study “Yoga Nidra Reduces the Level of Stress”.
Yoga Nidra is also been useful in the treatment of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder):
I personally think that Yoga Nidra is one of the most powerful techniques (and one of the most common ones) that the ancient ‘Yogic –Tantric Science’ has given to us.
Author: Andrea Barra