Yoga Nidra (योग निद्रा) (Deep Yogic Relaxation) is an integral part of every yoga class that I teach. Following the tradition of the Integral Yoga, the style that I practice and teach, Yoga Nidra is practiced right after the asana (physical postures) segment and before the pranayama (breathing techniques) session.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is a technique that teaches us how to relax consciously. It systematically induces deep relaxation at the physical, mental and emotional levels. The word ‘nidra’ in Sanskrit means ‘sleep’. Yoga nidra is, however, very different from our usual biological sleep. In regular sleep, we lose both physical and mental awareness. In yoga nidra, on the other hand, we lose only physical awareness but maintain full awareness at inner levels. It is sometimes referred to as ‘psychic sleep’. In yoga nidra, we learn how to attain the state of ‘pratyahara’, complete sense withdrawal, so the mind is no more distracted by any input from the five senses. Internally the mind actually becomes more aware of the deep-seated subconscious levels. Regular practice of yoga nidra, in addition to providing deep states of relaxation, also prepares the mind for deeper states of meditation.
In regular sleep, the mind is still active, especially in the dream state, the state in which we are in for most part or our sleep. This mental activity does not allow us to relax completely and we usually feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. In yoga nidra we are able to diminish the mental activity while maintaining awareness. This allows us to relax into much deeper states of relaxation.
In yoga nidra the mind becomes highly receptive to any autosuggestions. One of the practices within yoga nidra is that of making a ‘sankalpa’. A sankalpa is a resolve about a change that you want to bring about in your life, short term or long term. While you are in the state of relaxation, you make the sankalpa and repeat it a few times in the mind. This can bring about powerful changes in your life.
The technique of Yoga Nidra was pioneered by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga in India. As mentioned in the book "Yoga Nidra" by him, he developed the technique based on the Tantric technique called "Nyasa" (placement).
Why practice Yoga Nidra?
When people join my yoga classes, I have them fill out a registration form. One of the questions in the form asks them the reason why they would like to practice yoga. One of the most common reasons mentioned is "stress" as they would like to learn how to cope with stressful situations in life and how to stay cool and calm in in this very hectic lifestyle. Stress is now known to be the cause of many of the ailments that we acquire, including high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression etc.
When people join yoga classes they also complain of pain in the neck and shoulders, hips etc. These pains are nothing but a physical manifestation of the stress that they carry in their minds. As mentioned above, the usual sleep is unable to bring deep relaxation to their minds. The result is that the stress and its undesirable effects keep mounting. Their mind is working when they are trying to sleep while they seem to be sleep-walking when they are trying to work! Most people complain that they are so busy that they have no time for relaxation.
This is where yoga nidra gains importance as it can provide deep relaxation in a short time. In fact, once you start practicing yoga nidra, your mind becomes much calmer and even the quality of your regular sleep improves. This can help you recuperate mental and physical energy which otherwise keeps getting depleted without proper replenishment. Another positive effect of deep relaxation is that it can improve your willpower and help you attain your goals more efficiently.
Asana (Posture) for Yoga Nidra
The most common asana for yoga nidra is called "shavasana" (corpse pose). The word "shava" in Sanskrit means a dead body or a corpse. In this asana, you lie down flat on your back and allow the body to find its own naturally relaxing posture. You may make adjustments to the body – spreading the feet almost the width of the yoga mat, keeping the hands slightly away from the body with the palms preferably facing up, head in the center with the eyes closed. If your neck feels uncomfortable, you can use a thin pillow under your head. Similarly, if there is pain or discomfort in the back, you may place a bolster under your knees.
If you are not comfortable lying flat on the back, you may turn the body to one side and practice yoga nidra in that position. Similarly, during pregnancy also it is recommended that you lie on your left side for deep relaxation.
You should have to make no effort whatsoever to stay in that position. Once the body is in the most naturally comfortably position, you should try to stay in that position perfectly still for the entire duration of the yoga nidra routine.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps attain a state of deep relaxation.
- Brings about relief from stress and helps deal with stressful situations more effectively.
- Can reduce your need for regular sleep.
- Helps in curing some of the common ailments like high blood pressure, insomnia, asthma, allergies etc.
- Rejuvenates the body and brings about a sense of joy and total well-being.
- Brings about a sense of clarity to the mind.
- Brings relief from aches and pain in the body.
- Helps induce a state of meditation.
- It works almost like a psychiatric tool in dealing with psychological problems like fears, phobias, deep-seated complexes etc.
Detailed instructions for the practice of yoga nidra will be provided in Part 2.