Introduction to Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is a guided auditory meditation technique practiced lying down in savasana. In Sanskrit nidra means sleep. Yoga nidra is often referred to as the sleepless sleep because it induces a state between being awake and being asleep known as the hypnogogic state in which the body enters a deep state of relaxation. This powerful state on the threshold of being asleep and being awake can be used for many purposes that include deep relaxation, releasing memories locked in the sub conscious and unconscious and creating an expanded state of consciousness. In more advanced practices of yoga nidra, practitioners are able to enter deeper states of sleep and still maintain awareness. The yogis refer to this state as the superconscious state where the waking, dreaming and deep sleep state are integrated by retaining awareness in all three states thereby integrating the conscious, sub conscious and unconscious mind.
What is universal in all yoga nidra practices is the body scan or rotation of awareness through the body, though how it is done varies from school to school. It’s roots lie in an ancient tantric technique called nyasa in which practitioners hold their awareness on different parts of the body and through concentration and the chanting of mantas were able to bring more consciousness to different parts of the body. The yogis believe that through intention and attention every single cell in the body can become conscious.We use nyasa in yoga nidra to move awareness through the body in a particular order to create a circuit of energy through the brain that allows the mind to lie down, entering the hypnogogic state.
I've worked with Alan Finger to develop a nine step approach to Yoga Nidra, "Mona Anand's Ishta Yoga Nidra." Yoga nidra is highly adaptable both in length and purpose. It can range from just a few minutes to an hour long practice depending on the purpose and time available. Most practices are between fifteen minutes and forty minutes. I design yoga nidras for different imbalances such as insomnia, depression and anxiety. I also design yoga nidra practices for chakra and dosha imbalances which I teach in Restorative/Yoga Nidra Workshops. I am currently writing a book with Alan Finger on Yoga Nidra and the Chakras.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
A. Yoga Nidra promotes deep relaxation of the physical, mental and emotional body.
We tend to be habitually tense but lack awareness of our own inner tensions. Our reactivity in life is caused by these inner tensions. In yoga we believe that without these inner tensions we would move through life from a place of peace and joy, which is our natural state. We can categorize tension into three groups.
Physical or muscular tension - this is tension in the body, the nervous system and the endocrine system. We remove this tension by moving our awareness through the body. The order in which we move our awareness through the body creates a circuit of energy through the brain that allows the mind to lie down. We enter the hypnogogic state, a state between being awake and being asleep, that is deeply replenishing and healing for the body and mind.
Emotional tensions – this is caused by duality in our lives. In yoga we say that sukha ( pleasure ) and dukha (pain) are a part of life but that suffering is caused by our attachment to pleasure and our aversion to pain. One of the steps of yoga nidra, the pairing of opposites, helps remove emotional tension. Here we alternate between feeling opposite states such as pleasure and pain or happiness and sadness that are normally not experienced at the same time. This practice creates a circuit of energy between opposite sides of the brain integrating opposite emotional states. In addition, because we’re completely relaxed experiencing opposite states we’re training ourselves to be less resistant and more open to experiencing different emotions.
Mental tensions – is caused by excessive mental activity and life’s experiences. We release this through a part of the yoga nidra practice know as rapid visualization. Here a series of images are suggested in quick succession to release memories that lie in the sub conscious and unconscious. How we see the world is shaped by our past experiences and even more powerful in shaping our reality are the memories we’re unaware of. By bringing past experiences to consciousness the mind begins to let go of tension in the mind field.
B. Yoga Nidra helps to open up the deeper phases of the mind.
By releasing information from the sub conscious and unconscious we are able to become much more aware of our own programming. The super conscious state, in yoga, is a state where one can maintain awareness in all three states, the waking, dreaming and sleeping state integrating the conscious, sub conscious and unconscious mind.
C. Yoga Nidra and Sleep
Twenty to thirty minutes is compared to four hours of sleep because of the deep state of relaxation we enter in yoga nidra.
If we fall asleep without spending at least five minutes in the hypnogogic state we wake up feeling more tired. By extending the amount of time we spend in the hypnogogic state where alpha waves dominate we feel more well rested
We can use yoga nidra to fall asleep or replace sleep. One of the main reasons we have trouble sleeping is our inability to slow the mind down which is what the practice of yoga nidra does so well. Also, when we don’t get enough sleep we can use yoga ndira to replace lost sleep.
D. Yoga Nidra and Concentration
We relax the mind by focusing it and moving awareness through the body which gives the mind a one point focus. A relaxed mind is better able to focus.
E. Yoga Nidra and Creativity
A relaxed mind can access solutions that lie in the subconscious and unconscious. If we think of moments where we’ve felt we’ve been most creative we usually find they occur when we’re relaxed. When we deeply relax we’re able to access information from the unified field of consciousness that we are all imbedded in.
F. Yoga Nidra and Visualization
A large part of the yoga nidra practice is building our visual muscle. Whatever goes across the screen of the mind the body believes is actually happening. When we start to pay attention to the thoughts and visuals passing across the screen of our minds we start to realize how much we are conscious creators of our own reality and how these visuals affect our own inner state. Once we are able to consciously create our own visuals we’re able to change the way we feel inside. Knowing this we can use yoga nidra, to lift our energy when we’re feeling low and ground us when we’re feeling anxious. Practicing visualization also enables us to see the other side of an argument and a different way.
G. Yoga Nidra and Pain Relief
Yoganidra release hormones that are associated with pain reduction