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More people are taking up spiritual practices that will both relax them and elevate their conscious minds. There is a search for awareness like never before, where people want to transcend the human experience and function at an elevate place in their daily life.
One of the ways to get to that state is through the practice of yoga Nidra. Here, we are going to talk about what it is, and how you can practice it get on the path to self-actualization.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is also referred to as yogi sleep, dynamic sleep, or psychic sleep, and it is the state of consciousness a person gets into in that phase between being awake and falling asleep. It is essentially they “going-to-sleep” stage. The way to induce this state of being is through guided meditation.
It is an ancient technique that originates from India. When you’re in yoga Nidra, your body is completely relaxed. Through following verbal instructions specific to this kind of practice, you’re able to increase your awareness of your inner world.
To better understand the state of consciousness that yoga Nidra gets you to, let’s look at the three types of consciousness a person experienced.
Conscious (Jagriti or Jaagrut)- This is the wakeful state of mind, where your mind is indeed connected to the external environment. We use our senses to received and also interpret the signals around us.
Subconscious (Swapna)- This is referred to as the Dream State, where the mind drifts to the world of dreams. Here, a person is between the external and the internal world.
The unconscious mind (Sushupti)- This is Deep Sleep, where there is no connection with the external world, and your mind is in an unconscious state. In this state, you are not aware of the flow of time. It is during this time the body gets to rest.
Now that we’ve looked at these stages of consciousness, it is easier to explain what yoga Nidra is. What makes this practice different from meditation is they there is some form of withdrawal in general from all the five senses.
It is only hearing that keeps the person aware of the external world as it is what’s needed to listen to the instructions. With meditation, you have to concentration on a singular thing throughout the process.
The other aspect of yoga Nidra is that, while still conscious, you can attain the most relaxed state there is. As a result, one can achieve conscious awareness of the deep sleep state, all the while being incredibly comfortable.
When your body is in this state, you’re able to connect your mind to the conscious and unconscious simultaneously. In that space, you have a heightened sense of self-awareness, where you can watch and analyze what’s going on in your mind.
Specifically, you get to look at the impressions of the mind, or also, the samskaras, which are as a result of your past experiences. Depending on that they are, they’ll take the form of happiness, contentment, suffering, pain, and other human emotions and state of being.
Given this awareness, one can break negative samskaras, as well as the internal tag of wars or negative habits we harbor. From that, you attain a more positive outlook on life, making you more receptive to the people and world around you. You also always tend to have a higher level of consciousness, which in turn makes you a better person.
What are the benefits of yoga Nidra?
On an internal level, yoga Nidra is believed to open a person up to the deep phases of their minds. According to Satyananda Saraswati, a popular yoga teacher and guru, there are eight stages in the yoga Nidra.
To get through these stages, you require a guide that walks you through the various steps, from internalization to externalization and everything in between. We shall explore them at a later part of this guide.
There is some evidence that supports the idea that yoga Nidra is excellent for relieving stress. This technique has also gotten applied in the US Army as part of a recovery process for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The same method has been used in helping to rehabilitate soldiers in pain. Scientifically, yoga Nidra is shown it increases dopamine release and improve the heart rate variability.
Also, there is evidence that shows when you regularly practice yoga, and it tends to reduce anxiety and tension in one’s body. It also helps deal with issues associated with high stress, for example, a person who has PTSD. These include headaches, chest pains, sweating, palpitations, abnormal pain, and the like.
How does Yoga Nidra work?
Brain activity and patterns differ based on the state of consciousness you’re in. Let’s explore what each brainwave pattern looks like:
Beta waves: You are awake and active, and also alert in general. At this point, you’re in the conscious mind and experiencing the world through your sensory organs.
Alpha waves: You are awake but also relaxed. Eyes are closed, and you are generally drowsy. In this state, you’re in the superconscious mind, where you’re transitioning from the conscious to the subconscious mind before getting to the unconscious state.
Theta waves: You are sleepy or have already fallen asleep. At this point, you enter the subconscious mind. Here, dreams begin to appear even though the brain is awake. Your body is also paralyzed.
Delta waves: At this point, you are in a deep sleep and enter the state of the unconscious mind. Your conscious mind and the body are disengaged from what is happening, allowing your body to restore itself.
When you practice yoga Nidra, your mind gets into the superconscious state and thus induces the alpha brainwaves. In that meditative state, you relax as your autonomic nervous system. It is the system that primarily acts all the while unconsciously regulating bodily functions.
An example is digestion, respiratory rate, heart rate, bladder, pupillary response, and even sexual arousal. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating the autonomic nervous system. At the same time, the pineal gland, also located in the brand, produces melatonin, a hormone that stimulates sleep and relaxation.
Eight stages of yoga Nidra
Satyananda Saraswati, who is also the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, came up with the modern concept of yoga Nidra and put the entire practice in eight stages.
Preparation/ Getting comfortable
Before getting into the practice, you ought to create a peaceful environment. An ideal place is in a quiet room and on the floor on a mat where you can lie down in Shavasana.
You also want to ensure that there are no distractions; switch off your devices and let those living with you know that you need the quiet to practice yoga Nidra. Before going to the next stage, ensure that your body is feeling relaxed.
Sankalpa- The Intention
You want to enter yoga Nidra with a Sankalpa, or a dream or wish you want to fulfill. It helps you keep focus and directs the flow in which your practice will go. It is also a way of strengthening your willpower and resolve. State the Sankalpa at the beginning and the end of your sessions.
It can take the form of an ‘I am…” statement. The ultimate goal is to plant whatever goal you have in your mind, and with continued practice, cultivate and continue to grow whatever it is you want. In doing so, you are essentially training your conscious and subconscious mind to work together toward fulfilling your goal.
Rotation of Consciousness/ Body rotation
In this stage, we have the rotation of sound awareness and the rotation of body awareness. The first part begins with internalization. To get there, you first start by focusing on external sounds. Pick up all the sounds that you can hear from far and near.
After, start shifting your attention to within you. You can do that through being aware of your presence, whereby you’ll get to pratyahara, which is the withdrawal of the sense.
The second part, the rotation of body awareness, is when you’re aware of your body as a whole. It is different from the mind-body meditation, where you focus on individual parts of the body at any one time.
To achieve a sense of wholeness, the instructor will guide you to various parts of the body, but once the attention shifts, you detach from that part and focus on the next. Once you’re done, you’ll be aware of the entire body but, at the same time being detached from it.
At this point, your internal processes would have slowed down as your body relaxes and becomes still. You will also notice that your heart rate and breathing have indeed slowed down.
Breath and energy awareness
Getting deeper into the practice requires you to observe your breath. Note: your role is to observe it and not control it. Become aware of how the air is flowing in and out of your body and the organs and parts of the body affected through breathing. The act of observing your breath draws you further into the path to internal consciousness.
The reason why the breath is essential is that it is considered the link between one’s physical and mental aspects. Breathing is also the life force that sustains us and also has the power to relax the mind and body.
As you continue to focus on the breath, you will notice that psychological blogs get removed, and you can access your suppressed thoughts and emotions.
Even as you begin to see your thoughts, merely observe them, and let them float by as the next one comes into your awareness.
Don’t hold on to any of them, no matter the gravity of emotion that may get triggered within you. Your role here is to play the observer of the inner workings of your mind. It is through releasing them that you’re able to let go of unwanted weight within your mind.
The manifestation of opposites/ Sense perception
Here is where you get to deal with your emotions. The yoga Nidra guide will mention the opposite feelings or emotions you have on the physical or emotional level. Then, what you do next is allow yourself to feel both the emotions one at a time.
After, let the feelings fade away and get back to being in a relaxed state. You should get back into a stance where the emotions no longer affect you.
From a scientific level, the practice of manifestation of opposites activates the limbic system. The limbic system is composed of specific structures in the brain, dealing with memory and emotions. It also regulates the endocrine or the autonomic function that responds to emotional stimuli.
It is also what brings about behavior reinforcement. In this stage of the Yoga Nidra, you will develop emotional control and the ability to remain composed throughout various situations.
Here, you’ll use visualize imagery to recall or construct experiences and emotions. Just as with the breath awareness, as you create a picture in your mind, either of the past, present, or future, merely observe them without attachment and let each one go, as you move on to the next creative visualization.
Also, it is unlikely that they will affect you because you’ll be in a relaxed state. Be free with your imagination and creativity in this stage. The purpose is to enhance your memory and remove disturbing memories as well.
At this stage, repeat the Sankalpa that you came up with at the beginning of the yoga Nidra practice. In doing so, you give your subconscious mind the reign of what it needs to do. Given that your body is relaxed and in a heightened state, it is the ideal time to revisit and focus on your goal or even mantra.
Your mind is also in a state of clarity, so how you can go about attaining your intention becomes more evident. This state is what is known as infinite consciousness.
Yoga Nidra activates your space of mind consciousness and space of heart consciousness. In that state, you can watch your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and samskaras, and they not affect you. You can also feel them, but also be detached at the same time.
Lastly, you are to transition from yogi sleep and back to the external world. Let the process take place slowly and naturally. Raising yourself from that deep state too fast can cause you to lose the peace and relaxation you’ve gained from the process.
The yoga Nidra facilitator will guide you through breath awareness, body awareness, and then back to the awareness of the external environment. From there, you’ll transition from sleep to wakefulness.
There is much to be gained from yoga Nidra. It is a practice that you can take up to bring unity between the conscious and the subconscious mind to help them achieve your dreams and goals.
It is also a fantastic way to sort through your thoughts and emotions about different experiences, letting each go and being lighter in the heart and the mind. As you achieve this state of Zen, your life will, as a result, be transformed.