“Our essential nature is boundless consciousness. We are rooted in it when the mind focuses and settles.”
~Yoga Sutras 1.3
Our minds have the tendency to remain occupied with the numerous thoughts and problems which crop up from our day-to-day affairs. Most of us remain stressed out with our unresolved issues and by the end of the day when it is time to sleep, we take our problems with us to bed.
The next day when we wake up the problems from the previous day are still hovering and lingering in our mind and at day end, newer problems just pile up further. We end up repeating this scenario and burdening ourselves to a breaking point where we start to lose focus and direction.
Before life becomes a burden to us, we need to learn to let go without giving up and yoga teaches us just that. Different yoga teachers have diverse ways to aid the relaxation of the mind and Yoga Nidra is one very effective technique.
Nidra means sleep irrespective of everything, the normal sleep that we are used to. This is a state that takes place when we sleep without resolving our tensions as mentioned above. However, when we speak of Yoga Nidra, it means sleeping after throwing off all our worries away. It is a blissful and higher quality of sleep altogether.
Yoga Nidra is also known as ‘yogic sleep’ or ‘sleep with awareness’ and it allows deep physiological and psychological release. We need to give ourselves about 20 to 40 minutes for the whole process of “Yoga Nidra”.
Yoga Nidra induces full-body relaxation, where our conscious mind relaxes and the deeper levels of the mind– the subconscious and unconscious states awaken. In Yoga Nidra, we restore our body, its senses, and mind to their natural function and in the process awaken another sense, that only sees wholeness, tranquility, and well-being.
Yoga Nidra consists of eight stages, of which, four are essential. Some of the important stages are as follows. The first stage – the “Settling” or “internalisation” stage, the third stage- “Body Rotation”, the fourth stage- “Breathe Awareness” and the eighth stage, “Externalisation”.
During the Yoga Nidra sessions, as every stage progresses, we will be systematically guided through each layer, or “Kosha”, of our being: Yoga Nidra brings balance to each level of our being, be it mental, muscular, emotional, or spiritual and that is when true relaxation occurs.
Below are the stages of Yoga Nidra and how they affect us.
This is the preparatory stage for the body to begin to feel comfortable, release tensions, increase awareness of itself and the environment and finally settle and focus on the breath. This stage is about moving from gross, external awareness to the more subtle, internal awareness. The practitioner begins to withdraw inwards.
During the Sankalpa, we need to create a short statement based on our heart’s deepest longing. This stage, as we had mentioned earlier, is essential as it helps to train the mind, give us direction, and to reshape our personality. A Sankalpa is a short statement that may be very general or very specific. Something we greatly desire to achieve. We are asked to mentally repeat our “Sankalp” or “resolve” to ourselves a few times with full faith and belief.
At this stage, our awareness is rotated through every part of the body. It’s important to keep pace with the teacher’s voice; don’t lag behind or skip ahead. It is again another essential stage and it is important to be aware, listen to the instructions, and follow them carefully. This systematically relaxes the whole body. Any body parts that we habitually keep tense, are released.
This stage is all about simple awareness of the breath. Sometimes putting a count to it, essentially keeping it very steady. This stage gives an even deeper relaxation and awakens higher energies that can be directed to all parts of the body. You are asked to draw your attention to inner sensations, to inner energy centers, to the breaths that you take in and expel out.
Stage five will assist you to experience opposite sensations or emotions without judging or reacting emotionally. This can cultivate willpower and allow emotional relaxation by stimulating the opposite hemispheres of the brain.
This stage induces mental relaxation, by stirring the memory and removing disturbing material. This is done by visualisation of a variety of different images. You are asked to mentally picture the images mentioned. You need to keep your powers of visualization sharp.
Here we reinforce the Sankalpa or “resolve”which was made at the beginning of the Yoga Nidra session and this will help remind us of the promise we made. This promise to ourselves will sink deep into the subconscious mind and now the subconscious mind has the task of prompting us regularly to help made our resolve reach fruition.
This is an important stage of Yoga Nidra because if we move out of Yoga Nidra at a fast pace then we might end up feeling disoriented and confused. This stage is performed by making the practitioner dwell on breath awareness, body awareness, body and room location, the external environment, and finally by very slowly moving the body, to gently awaken from this threshold state between sleep and wakefulness.
Yoga Nidra is an artfully simple practice because it is taught lying down, guided by a teacher. It is a welcome practice especially after a long spell of yoga postures.
Yoga Nidra can also be practiced as an attainable form of meditation for those seeking everyday well-being. Throughout, we are encouraged to tap into an underlying sense of peace that is always present and to cultivate “consciousness”, monitoring, and welcoming everything present without getting caught up in it.
Yoga Nidra allows us to reach the most profound level of relaxation possible.
Yoga Nidra fosters a quiet mind, quiet body, and a blissful spirit.