As the validity of using meditation and relaxation techniques to treat stress related diseases becomes more and more recognized as an important aspect of treatment in the Western world, buzz words like yoga nidra tend to pop up in the media. But what exactly is Yoga Nidra? Since it contains the word, yoga, most people associate this practice with the photos they see of fit, beautiful young people moving through complicated postures with grace, strength and stamina. However, Yoga Nidra is the antithesis of this stereotype. In Yoga Nidra, the participant lies on the floor, completely supported by blankets, sometimes wearing a light eye pillow. Anyone can practice yoga nidra. In bed. In a wheel chair. Or after a physical workout at your local yoga studio. Yoga Nidra holds great potential for healing many human ailments, from heart disease and depression to chronic fatigue syndrome and endocrine imbalances. But what exactly is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is sometimes referred to as “psychic sleep”, however the patient doesn’t really fall asleep. One appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness. The entire process takes between 20 and 30 minutes to complete. Yoga Nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, emotional. and mental relaxation while maintaining consciousness. This 10 step practice involves body and breath awareness, meditation, relaxation, affirmation, witnessing of mind, emotions and feelings, and visualization. Practicing Yoga Nidra depersonalizes thought patterns, resulting in less fragmented awareness. When a patient understands that they are not defined by their feelings but are limited by them, they begin to awaken the potential to view themselves as whole. Healthy. They are less stressed out. More accepting of their life as it is. Not denying mind chatter and emotions such as fear and abandonment, but realizing that these deep impressions condition our behaviors and create stress in our lives that is self induced and perpetuated. Practiced on a regular basis, Yoga Nidra teaches the patient to recognize these negative behaviors and feelings, step away from them, and move toward a healthier lifestyle.
THE 10 STEPS OF YOGA NIDRA
RELAXATION: In this first stage, the student mindfully relaxes the body, inducing the relaxation response. There are many different techniques that can be used including relaxing the body, part by part, or imagining the body becoming heavier and heavier with each exhalation.
AFFIRMATION (SAMKOLPA): Setting a resolve is a key part of the Yoga Nidra process. Stated in positive language in the first person present tense, this affirmation gets embedded in the unconscious where it can motivate changes in behavior, lifestyle and awareness. Try not to ask for something too specific like a new job. Let it be something deeper, like “I am open to finding my authentic path”, addressing the larger picture. The more relaxed, the more effective the affirmation, so try to allow it to arise from within.
ROTATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS: By moving through each part of the body, with special focus on the hands, face and mouth, the body is able to be observed objectively. The student will listen to the body part, say it silently to themselves, visualize the body part and feel it proprioceptively.
AWARENESS OF PERCEPTION: In this step, sense perception mechanisms in the skin and within the body are awakened. The student is asked to perceive opposite sensations including comfort and discomfort, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, heavy and light, etc. experiencing the memory of these feelings, comparing and contrasting them, and moving on.
BREATH: Breath and energy are the same word in Sanskrit, the language of yoga. Prana. Awareness of breath and specific breath techniques called pranayama are included in this part of yoga nidra, depending on the student’s experience and expertise.
CHAKRAS: Chakras are simply energy centers that are associated with major nerve plexus in the body. Each chakra relates to a particular point in the spine and influences a particular zone in the body. Chakras are the road map for our life journey as we evolve from basic needs toward more subtle and spiritual aspirations. In yoga nidra, we move through the chakras quite rapidly to avoid long thought patterns, simply dropping into the energy, feeling of each center and moving on.
WORKING WITH MIND AND EMOTIONS: Here students are encouraged to feel both positive feelings and their negative counterparts. Sometimes they are encouraged to associated colors or symbols with these feelings and then let them go. This reminds us that we are not defined by our feelings and emotions. That they come and go as easily as our breath flows in and out of the body.
IMAGES FROM THE UNCONSCIOUS: The main technique is to present images related to the unconscious. Archetypal images, symbols from early civilizations and religions, and the four elements of earth, fire, water and space are presented randomly to represent our common humanity.
GUIDED JOURNEY: Sometimes called visualization or imagery, students are brought into a sacred place where they connect with the deepest part of their truth, which is the seat of wholeness in yoga philosophy. Each journey is open ended, allowing the student to add the details that make their visualization pertinent to their life experience.
THE RETURN: Here the student integrates the journey of Yoga Nidra, repeats the samkolpa from the beginning of practice and prepares to return from the state of complete relaxation, refreshed and renewed.
Yoga Nidra is an effective and simple technique that encourages students to recognize stress inducing thoughts, feelings and patterns that bring imbalance to body, mind, and spirit. Practicing Yoga Nidra reminds us we can choose to be relaxed and present. That we have unlimited potential. It shines the light of consciousness on worn out habits of being in the world, opening us up to wholeness, health and well-being.