What is Yoga Nidra?
‘Nidra’ means “sleep”, but in fact, while the body rests, the object is to remain alert, while enjoying the deep sense of relaxation.
Yoga Nidra Benefits
Yoga Nidra relaxes the body and mind, recharges and revitalises the cells, as well as being a positive tool for transformation, and the doorway to meditation. It deconditions the mind and unburdens the subconscious and unconscious mind.
Yoga Nidra is ‘the sleep of the yogis’. In the Bhagavad Gita, it says “what is night for all beings is day for the yogi”, hinting at the creative potential of this ancient practice.
How Yoga Nidra Works
It is such a simple process. We lie down in ‘corpse pose’, with the attitude of ‘letting-go’. We prepare to ‘die’ to the ‘doing state’ and submit to ‘being’.
We leave our expectations behind, and any sense of ‘striving’: the attitude is one of ‘effortless effort’. We listen to the voice of the teacher and become aware of the parts of the body being named. In a paradoxical process, the sensory connections are disengaged, and we lose the sense of the body and dwell on the portal of sleep.
In one of the most popular methods, we follow a circuit of the body believed to have been travelled by ‘inner voyagers’ from ancient times, in a practice called ‘Nyasa’.
The body sleeps but the mind remains alert. We ‘hover’ in the so-called “liminal stage” between waking and dreaming, a state normally entered just before falling asleep. This is a deeply relaxing phase in which the mind is like ‘soft wax’ and receptive to affirmation, healing symbols, wisdom teachings, healing sounds or music.
Sankalpa in Yoga Nidra
The creation of a “Sankalpa” (an intention to create positive change), is a key aspect of Yoga Nidra. The Sankalpa is a short, positive phrase that is planted deep in the subconscious mind and can be truly transformative if used with trust, sincerity and feeling. The repetition of the Sankalpa at the end of Yoga Nidra could be likened to irrigating a seed – the seed of the mind.
It is well known that resolutions have a powerful effect if repeated last thing at night and on waking. The Sankalpa repeated in Yoga Nidra follows this logic and is sown when the mind is a like warm, receptive soil.
Swami Satyananda, the great innovator of Yoga Nidra, used this ‘threshold state’ as a potent tool for teaching. In the contemporary yoga class, Yoga Nidra comes at the end of the class, after we have ‘prepared and opened up the body’. Yoga Nidra can also be practiced as a class in itself.
Visualisation and Yoga Nidra
Visualisation is a key stage in Yoga Nidra. The visual cortex is one of the most active areas of the brain and is very receptive to visual imagery and symbols. Inner visualisation in Yoga Nidra has a powerful effect on the entire body and mind.
We employ healing images that are positive, culturally neutral and draw on natural imagery. The conscious mind is fed on facts, but our subconscious and unconscious thrive on symbols. When the mind is deeply relaxed it sees and hears afresh, as if for the first time. The visualisation stage of Yoga Nidra is like a ‘bedtime story for adults’ and is deeply comforting.
The Gift of Yoga Nidra
Yoga psychology recognises four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, dreamless, and the higher consciousness. Yoga wisdom texts say that each of us ‘walk unawares over treasure buried deep beneath our floors’. In Yoga Nidra, we lie on the floor and access the hidden treasure of creativity. We allow it all to happen. The little gifts we receive take many forms. It may be an insight or intuition, a sense of renewed energy or quite simply the best rest you’ve had in a long time.
Yoga Nidra is so much more than a relaxation technique, and the whole is so much greater than its parts. We can only give a sense of its magic.
Unwilling to explain the meaning of one of his poems, John Keats once said: “Why should I wish to unweave the rainbow?” My experience of trying to describe Yoga Nidra is something similar, but I hope to have given you the desire to experience the rainbow.
Michael McCann, Chair of MySatsang, Writer, Yoga Philosopher