"In Yoga Nidra, the consciousness is in a state between waking and sleep,
but is subject to neither." -Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Contemporary Yoga Nidra was developed as a specialized yoga practice by Swami Satyananda Saraswati from the Bihar School in India. After researching ‘sleep learning’, Satyananda developed Yoga Nidra derived originally from Tantric practices and texts. Satyananda died in 2009 and wrote over 80 books about yoga, healing, health, and the mind-body. Yoga Nidra is now practiced all over the world and is part of the 5th and 6ths Limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Pratyahara and Dharana.
There are many types of Yoga Nidra however they all have a common goal: A holistic approach to relaxation and healing of the mental, physical and spiritual body.
How it works
Yoga Nidra works on the premise that while you are in this ‘dream-like’ state between sleeping and wakefulness you are able to enter a deep state of conscious relaxation. While the body relaxes, the mind stays aware and is able to access our subconscious and unconscious mind, where memories, trauma, and sensations reside. During Yoga Nidra, our awareness of the external world is reduced. As a result, our defenses are down and we are able to remember deeper layers of ourselves that are often blocked.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Healing, stress reduction, improved sleep, reduced nervousness and migraine headaches, ability to bring forth specific healing and emotional needs, and improved creativity! Richard Millar has also done quite a bit of work with PTSD and Addiction clients with tremendous success. See his books in the bibliography.
Most Yoga Nidras follow a similar pattern, with full practice taking up to 45 minutes. Shorter versions omit some of the steps rather than rush through each one. Many Western approaches skip the Sankalpa and the Chidakasha. The pattern goes like this: Relaxation, Sankalpa,(resolve), Rotation of Consciousness (Nyasa), Breath Awareness, Manifestation of Opposite Sensations, Creative Visualization, Chidakasha, Sankalpa, End of Relaxation
The Sankalpa works on the subtle body to help heal trauma, break negative patterns and assist in making positive changes in our lives. Our Sankalpa is repeated 3 times at the beginning and end of the Yoga Nidra practice to help bring transformation, healing, vitality, and a more positive outlook on life. When we are in the active process of healing a Sankalpa can be of particular benefit because we can focus on a very specific to heal the body. Sankalpas are NOT affirmations. Affirmations tend to be generic positive statements that don’t specifically relate to you, whereas a Sankalpa is created by you, for you. Once you have found your Sankalpa state it with conviction and don’t change it until it comes true (months, years).
Nyasa (Rotation of Consciousness)
Unique to Yoga Nidra is the rapid and systematic body awareness rotation through various parts of the body. During this practice, we are able to enter the physical body in a much deeper while the mind is active and awake. This work helps to build concentration and increase awareness of how our whole body is interconnected. Going through one body part at a time also allows the space for hidden memories or trauma to surface.
During this part of the practice we focus on any number of breath awareness practices like Nadi Shodhana.
Positive and creative visualization have tremendous powers to heal. During the Yoga Nidra practice, a variety of guided visualizations are used for different effects. Some visualizations focus on sensations of the body (hot or cold), a journey through various natural landscapes, or targeting the subtle bodies such as the chakras. The effects vary, but the potential to experience a wide range of emotions, symbols, and memories can later be integrated into the conscious mind.
The Chidakasha is a meditation practice of noticing the space in front of the closed eyes. One may see images, colors, shapes, people, or landscapes. During this practice, we just observe what arises which can often lead to tremendous creativity.
What You Should Do During the Practice
Stay awake, don’t move, and follow the instructions. Though it seems counter-intuitive to healing or transformation, you don’t need to do anything. Just lying back and following along, actively with the mind, is all you need to do.
Yoga Nidra versus Hypnosis
Though Yoga Nidra and Hypnosis do share some similarities, they are not the same. During Hypnosis one is guided into a full state of sleep, the brain is shut down, and you are under the direction of a guide who often gives specific information designed to change something about you. In Yoga Nidra, you remain awake and the guide only offers techniques. Any changes that unfold are a result of your own experience or from your Sankalpa.