Yoga Nidra: The Art of Relaxation
The term yoga nidra directly translates from Sanskrit as ‘yoga’ meaning union and ‘nidra’ which means sleep. According to creator and author of ‘Yoga Nidra’, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, yoga nidra is a “powerful technique in which you learn to relax consciously.” Despite translating to sleep, it is not sleep at all. Instead, it is a state of dynamic sleep. It is a ‘guided meditation’ or “systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental & emotional relaxation.”
Swami says that in order to reach true relaxation one must remain awake. During yoga nidra consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness. Contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions of the mind occurs spontaneously. The practice of yoga nidra leads to ‘pratyahara’ where the mind becomes disassociated from the sensory channels leading to higher states of concentration. Yoga nidra is based on the idea that you can gain direct knowledge without any sensory medium. In deep sleep there remains a state of ‘potentiality’, a form of awareness that is fully alert to outer situations. By training the mind it is possible to utilize this state.
The characteristic feature of yoga nidra is the systematic rotation of consciousness in the body. It originates from ‘nyasa’ which is “to place or take the mind to that point”. The secret to the practice is that when relaxation is complete, receptivity is greater.
The practitioner avoids trying to sleep by reciting, “I will not sleep”. In this place the conscious mind becomes slightly withdrawn from the senses and one enters into a state of neither deep sleep nor complete wakefulness. Impressions that enter the mind at this point become powerful and remain, residing in the subconscious mind.
According to Swami, the international problem today is tension, hypertension and total tension. Too much tension leads to dispersion of human energies and ideals at all levels and depletes our ability to experience harmony in body and mind. In yoga, one of the main concerns is relaxation from tension. If we want to create a more peaceful world we must first learn how to relax and harmonize our body and mind.
Yoga nidra is a more efficient and effective form of psychic and physiological rest and rejuvenation than conventional sleep. It can create profound changes in regular sleeping habits and the systemic relaxation process is, in itself, equivalent to hours of ordinary sleep without awareness. One hour of yoga nidra is said to equal four hours of conventional sleep.
Not only does yoga nidra induce relaxation, it restructures and reforms our whole personality from within. When we are under tension our behaviour is influenced. When we are relaxed we are in a more natural state of truth and reality.
If you practice yoga Nidra, then the nature of your mind can be changed, diseases can be cured, and your creative genius can be restored. The subconscious and the unconscious mind are the most powerful forces in the human being. This simple practice of yoga nidra has the capacity of penetrating into the depths of the human mind.
(Swami Satyananda Saraswati)
There are several ways in which yoga nidra can not only be beneficial but extremely useful.
The positive effects of practicing yoga nidra are without doubt, abundant. To start, it transforms our experience of our senses within the physical body by awakening different sensations that stimulate centers of the brain responsible for maintaining harmony between our inner and outer environments. By submitting voluntarily to arising emotions and witness awareness of this process we create a new neuronal circuit which incorporates two previously incontrollable states of awareness simultaneously. This leads to a control of emotional reactions and autonomic responses that is reflected in everyday life as increased perceptual awareness.
The visualisation process of a yoga nidra practice is useful towards unlocking stored up contents of the subconscious mind. It is said that this can create the capacity to completely relive a past experience and even lead to an evolved and more creative mind. By entering the subconscious with a thread of awareness intact one can increase self-knowledge and enhance memory. In fact, research has shown that it is an extremely efficient means of increasing learning capacity and assimilation of knowledge without effort.
How does it do all of this? It acts as a “means of improving conscious recall and thereby increasing memory function and learning capacity.” This establishes a state of maximum receptivity in the subconscious mind along with a simultaneous state of awareness. This is an ideal state in which to learn something new as it engages both hemispheres of the brain. So effective that educators are now using yoga nidra in schools for children to absorb new knowledge. Especially in an age so highly driven by technology, yoga nidra offers a method of preserving and enhancing natural abilities and developing creative facilities in an effortless and spontaneous way.
Yoga nidra is also an effective way to release stress and induce deep physiological rest and relaxation. During yoga nidra the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, leading to a ‘relaxation response’ that then lowers blood pressure and alters the level of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol in the body. It provides a calming retreat and effective coping device. For this reason it is now being prescribed by doctors in many countries as preventative and curative therapy for stress and stress-related disease.
Doctors have found the practice to offer effective symptomatic relief, alleviate depression and long term anxiety. It can help the patient recognise his/her condition and evolve a best possible outlook.
The secret to yoga nidra is that it is not only a way of coping with stress; it provides a means of transforming and positively utilizing tension as a stepping stone to greater awareness, efficiency and achievement in life.
(Swami Satyananda Saraswati)
Also useful for both acute and chronic physiological conditions such as hypertension, coronary disease, arthritis, asthma, peptic ulcer and migraine. Doctors use yoga nidra for rehabilitation, geriatrics and in any situation where intractable pain, loss of motivation and psychological depression pose major barriers in conventional treatment.
Along with many psychological disorders, insomnia and drug or alcohol addiction, yoga nidra aids in pregnancy, childbirth, and menstrual disorders. And for those of us who are not seeking curative therapy, yoga nidra acts as a prevention for relieving tensions, increasing stress resistance and overall efficiency or developing psychosomatic diseases.
As yoga nidra is a guided meditation one has limited methods of which to practice. That being said, there are many tools available to help you incorporate yoga nidra into your life.
The most easily accessible method is to download one of the many Apps that play yoga nidra recordings. Having these recordings on your mobile device will make it convenient to practice anytime you can find a space to rest comfortably.
All that one is required to do during the practice is listen to the voice. Another method of practice would entail purchasing the ‘Yoga Nidra’ book and asking someone you feel comfortable with to read it out-loud to you while you are at rest.
Possibly the best way to introduce yourself to yoga nidra is in a class setting where you can be amongst others during a reading or recording. This would guarantee a safe and comfortable setting ideal to the practice. It would also provide the opportunity to ask your teacher/guide any questions you might have or to potentially share your experience with others.
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