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Yoga Nidra | The Art of Deep Rest

During lockdown I utilized my time in the best way that I knew how, by increasing my knowledge of the yoga practices that I have been most drawn to teaching. One of the teacher trainings that I completed was the Online Total Yoga Nidra foundation course through the Yoga Nidra Network. This course was so informative, engaging and interesting, and best of all I could complete it at my own pace.

I found that each lecture came at the perfect time when I needed to shed some light on certain aspects of my being. This helped me to connect to this course as a student and a teacher and this made it so much more captivating and useful. In this blog, I share some of these teachings as well as how you can bring Yoga Nidra into your everyday life and why you should.

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra has been referred to in many different ways over the years, some have called it “cosmic”, “a trip to the void”, and “out of this world”. The word Nidra translates from Sanskrit as “sleep” and therefore the practice has become broadly known as the “yoga of sleep”.

Yoga Nidra is an effortless state of being, a form of awareness, a process for entering certain states of consciousness and an awakening, however the magic of this practice cannot be put into words.

Traditionally, Yoga Nidra is experienced in Savasana (Corpse Pose), lying on your back and although there are instructions in some scripts not to fall asleep, the practice has widely become known for its association to getting a deep and restful nights sleep. It has therefore become popular in our modern, over-stimulated society as a means to rest.

“When we practice yoga nidra, we not only experience the power of deep rest and relaxation, but we get to wake up to our essential nature, one that is filled with radiance and bliss.” Radiant Rest – Tracee Stanley

In recent years, a lot of effort has gone into reminding us that rest is important for our survival and continued wellbeing. The pandemic taught us to slow down and check in with our priorities. Whether this change in perspective happened for you or not, now is as good a time as any to invest in allowing your body and mind to rest. You can do this by simply bringing one practice dedicated to rest into your routine, and this is where Yoga Nidra comes in.

History and Development of Yoga Nidra

Before we dive deeply into what Yoga Nidra is, it’s important for you to get an understanding of where this magical practice originated from and why it's so powerful.

"The methodical process of this practice is what I believe makes it so powerful..."

Just like any other yoga teachings, these teachings were passed down orally from guru to disciple, and for this reason there are not many written texts on the practice. There is no detailed information on how the mind enters the state of Yoga Nidra.

Prominent Nidra teachers received teachings from their gurus and gained more knowledge through practice, teaching and learning from their own experiences.

There are 3 major times in its history when there were significant shifts or changes in the practice.

1. Yoga Nidra was referenced in Indian epic poetry as a metaphor of the creative void, the place from which creation arises.

2. Medieval Hatha Yoga manuals, where Nirvikalpa Nidra is referenced as a pure state of awareness.

3. Western relaxation-ism from 19th century onward, where the techniques of Nidra were introduced.

The methodical process of this practice is what I believe makes it so powerful, and I find that the more frequently you practice Nidra, the easier it becomes for your mind and body to slip into the relaxation response.

4 stages of Yoga Nidra

I’m sure that you know that you are so much more than your physical presence on this Earth. You have thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and love to give, you get tired, sad, happy and frustrated.

These experiences are unique to you and your consciousness is aware of them all the time. What level of conscious awareness you’re in depends on your state of being at the time. You could describe Nidra as a journey through your different states of consciousness.

“The goal of Yoga Nidra is the release of self-destructive patterns and recognition of ourselves as pure awareness.” Richard Miller, 2011.

Most of the time, you are in the Waking Stage, you are aware of your surroundings, your physical body and any physical stimulation that might be resonating with your senses at the time. When you practice Yoga Nidra, you dive deeper into the other 3 states of consciousness as shown below.

1. The Waking Stage - Adaptogenic practice Your mind-body seems to have an intelligence which adapts the practice to your needs. It’s said that Yoga Nidra gives you exactly what you need at the time of practice. In this stage you’re focused on your physical body and your environment.

2. Dreaming Stage – Liminal or Paradoxical space A liminal space is somewhere that you move to on your way to somewhere else, the “in between space”. When you choose to become present to the uncertainty of this liminal space, you begin to see what was previously invisible to you. This is where you move from being aware of external stimuli to awareness of internal stimuli. Your consciousness turns inward and you become present in mental awareness.

3. Deep Sleep - Experience of timelessness At this stage you begin to lose your sense of time. It is here that many things, that would otherwise appear unthinkable, start to become possible, things like radical transformations of personality, freedom from habits, constraints and fears. This state of consciousness is the doorway to the experience of the waking and dreaming state.

4. The Unknown Knower - State of pure awareness known as Turiya This stage could be described as having a little holiday from who you believe yourself to be, and surrendering to whatever arises. This part of the experience is beyond description; Turiya is described as the awareness behind all the other states. When you experience Turiya you slip into a state of “no mind”; just peace, bliss and pure consciousness are left.

“The goal of Yoga Nidra is the release of self-destructive patterns and recognition of ourselves as pure awareness.” Richard Miller, 2011.

3 Traditions of Yoga Nidra

There are many traditions of Yoga Nidra, and as the practice becomes more widely known I am sure that other variations will be discovered and created. However there are 3 main traditions that I would like to share with you today in order to provide you with a bit of clarity in the distinctive differences between these traditions.

Satyanada Yoga Nidra

Swami Satyananda Saraswati carried out lectures on Yoga Nidra worldwide and trained students in the techniques that he had developed. This style of Yoga Nidra is delivered in the form of a list of specific instructions and is a regulatory practice. The listener is repeatedly instructed not to fall asleep and is given images to visualize by the teacher. It was Swami Satyananda who wrote the blue Yoga Nidra book in 1974, and who is responsible to introducing Sankalpa to the practice, description of Sankalpa to follow.

Himalayan Institute

Swami Rama founded this tradition around 1971. The most prominent aspect of this style of Yoga Nidra is that the practice is “placed” in the space of the heart. It is considered to be the most permissive of all 3 traditions of Nidra as there is no reminder of “I am practicing Yoga Nidra”. You are guided into the state of Nidra and then left to explore whatever arises for you. This specific style lends itself beautifully to the creative application of Nidra.

iRest (Integrative Restoration)

Richard Miller developed the iRest institute in 1987 after many years of practicing Nidra himself and experiencing all of its possibilities. This is a research-based transformative practice of deep relaxation and meditative inquiry that releases negative emotions and thought patterns, calms the nervous system and develops a deep capacity to meet any and all circumstances you may encounter in life. The teacher delivers the practice in a suggestive way, rather than instructive, however it also has the capacity to be directive and particular.

The Science of Yoga Nidra and Your Brain Waves

"Your brainwaves are synchronised electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other..."

From my own experience, and after learning a lot more about this subject, I have come to the conclusion that because Yoga Nidra works with your own states of consciousness, the practice will “give” you exactly what you need at the time.

So I thought it would be handy to take you through the science behind Nidra, more specifically, a quick breakdown of your brainwaves and how they “show up” in the practice.

Your brainwaves are synchronized electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other and can be measured by an EEG (electroencephalogram – try saying that 3 times fast) and they change according to your state of consciousness.

When the EEG is used to measure brainwaves during Nidra we can see that Nidra takes us on a journey through different frequencies of brainwaves and therefore through different states of consciousness. What makes Nidra unique is that the listener doesn’t only experience this journey, but they also witness it.

Beta brain waves (12 – 30 Hz)

Beta brain waves are experienced during your waking state of consciousness and this frequency is linked to external activity, attention, engaging in problem solving, judgments and decision-making. There are 3 type of Beta brain waves that you may experience:

Lo-Beta – while reading

Beta – while solving a problem

Hi-Beta – in a state of high alert

This frequency starts to dissolve as you prepare for Yoga Nidra.

Alpha brain waves (8 – 12 Hz)

Alpha brains waves are linked to daydreaming and quietly flowing thoughts, and are usually present during meditation. This frequency is the one that you experience when you are “in the moment” and it aids overall mental co-ordination, calmness and alertness.

Alpha brain waves are experienced during the early stages of Yoga Nidra when you close your eyes and start to draw your senses inward.

Theta brain waves (4 – 7Hz)

This frequency is linked to your intuition, learning and memory and is usually symbolic of REM sleep; the period where the sleeper experiences vivid dreams at the end of each 90-minute sleep cycle. Time spent in REM sleep enhances creativity, emotional memory and the movement of memory from short to long-term storage.

Delta brain waves (0.1 – 4 Hz)

This is the slowest, lowest frequency and is generated in dreamless sleep when you're under general anaesthesia and during deep meditation. Healing and regeneration are stimulated during this state and therefore deep sleep is essential for healing.

Some consider the state of Yoga Nidra to be “conscious delta”.

What is a Sankalpa?

"A Sankalpa is a deep secret for yourself and how you nourish it allows it to grow."

There is an idea that you already have everything you need in order to fulfill your life's purpose - your dharma - and by framing it in positive language in the present tense you acknowledge this.

The word Kapla (Sanskrit) translates to “a wish, desire or intention”.

During my training with The Yoga Nidra Network, Uma and Nirlipta shared a beautiful analogy for the cultivation of your Sankapla.

“There are potentially three ways you can navigate your life:

In the first way, your ego can choose the objective and then battle against the world to get it; like someone in a motorboat just pointing it where they want to go and ignoring or overpowering the current.

Or you can be objective-less; like someone drifting in a raft, going wherever the current takes him.

Lastly, you can open up to the universe, listen and hopefully hear where it wants you to go and then align your ego to that message; like someone using a sailing boat to go with the currents and speeding their way to where they would have otherwise drifted very slowly.

It is this third approach to navigating life that we are encouraged to take with Sankalpa.”

A Sankalpa is a deep secret for yourself and how you nourish it allows it to grow. Arriving at your sankalpa isn't something you 'do', it's something you allow to happen.

“A resolution made in the beginning at the end of yoga nidra is like a seed sown in the depth of your consciousness. Anything in life can fail you, but not the sankalpa, the resolution made in the beginning and at the end of the yoga nidra.” - Swami Satyananda Sarawasti, 1975 recording of Yoga Nidra.

Benefits of Yoga Nidra

There are so many beautiful benefits having Yoga Nidra in your life as a daily offering to yourself. This practice:

· activates your relaxation response and improves the functioning of your nervous system and endocrine system, which affects your hormones.

· helps your cells regenerate and repair, and helps decrease anxiety and improve your mood.

· offers you the opportunity to get to know yourself more intimately.

· is easy to incorporate into your daily life.

· is a simple way to reduce stress.

· improves your sleep and reduces insomnia.

· allows you to detach from your thoughts.

· reduces physical tension in your body.

· aids memory retention and learning.

· boosts your creativity

Growing your practice

Take your time to grow your practice of Yoga Nidra, I suggest starting with the guidance of a teacher so that you can be safely directed through the stages of the practice. I tell all of my students that it is natural to feel a bit dazed after a session, so here are some tips to help you to grow your practice.

-Be safe

Always be sure to ground yourself at the end of Yoga Nidra, as the states between sleep and wakefulness and subconscious and consciousness get blurred. You can ground yourself by allowing enough time for grounding at the end, at least 10 minutes. I have found the most effective grounding practices to be re-engaging with your senses.

Taste – eat a piece of chocolate

Smell – smell some aromatic oils or flowers

Sight – gently blink your eyes open to allow light back in

Touch – self massage or rubbing each finger over your thumb

Sound – sing, listen to the birds, laugh

By taking the time to integrate yourself back into your senses you allow your consciousness to slowly come back to reality and allow your body and mind to absorb your practice in a gentle way.

"Discover how deep rest can improve your wellbeing."

-Yoga Nidra in your daily life

Practicing at a specific time and place on a regular basis deepens the practice as your body and mind start to anticipate it and this makes it easier for you body and mind settle effortlessly.

You can try to practice at different times of day, with a specific intention as a way to discover what works best for you.

If you don’t intend to practice for sleep, try not to practice in bed. Your bed is associated with sleep, so if you carry out your Nidra practice in bed it is likely that you will fall asleep, and a gentle alertness is best held during the practice in order to experience it’s full potential.

You can fit the practice in during your downtime, when you feel like you might want to lie down or have a cup of tea. You can also use the practice to get yourself back to sleep if you find that you wake up during the night.

If you would like to start to cultivate a regular Nidra practice join us in the Room of Rest where I'll be sharing online relaxation sessions aimed at helping you to aid relaxation and showing you how you can bring elements of this beautifully magical practice into your life.

Discover how deep Rest can improve your well-being by trying this Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation.

Learn how to cultivate rest in an accessible way and alter your perspective on rest.

Let's meet in the Room of Rest.

Love and Light




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