The Benefits of Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep)
I have been delighted by so many people attending my Friday night chill out fortnightly class. I would, therefore, like to share with you the amazing benefits of the Yoga Nidra part of the class.
The beginnings of Yoga Nidra come from ancient Indian traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. However, this is not a religious practice (unless you want to make it religious) but a self-healing practice.
During the last century a famous Yogi sage, known as Satyananda Saraswati and his guru Sivananda Saraswati in Rishikesh, began studying the tantric scriptures. Using these scriptures as their guide they practiced and constructed a system of relaxation similar to what is practised today.
In a transcribed talk by Satyananda Saraswati he says;
“Attachment and detachment, nervous welfare, nervous imbalance, nervous breakdown, everything is subject to the state of human consciousness. The moment you change your consciousness, everything is gone. All of these things are experiences, they are not permanent realities. Love, sympathy, hatred, jealousy will remain with you no matter what you do, no matter how many doctors you go to, no matter how many psychiatrists you visit. They will be with you, unless you have transcended that state of consciousness. I am here and you are here, so I must see you; I can’t help it. If I don’t want to see you, the best thing for me to do is to leave this hall. Thus, in tantric yoga we emphasize very much that this state of consciousness, personal consciousness, must be altered. And it can be altered to the ultimate degree when the consciousness becomes aware of itself. This is called nirvana, Samadhi, self-realization, god-realization or kaivalya. There are various names but this is the highest state.”
This system of Yoga Nidra constructed by Satyananda Sarawati connects with the ancient tantric practice called nyasa. In this practice sanskript mantras (repetitive positive phrases) are mentally placed with specific body parts, while meditating on each part.
These mantras take you on a journey through your own physical body but also aim to permeate through the five layers of yourself known as the puncha maya kosha. These are a bit like Russian dolls, a layer within a layer, within a layer. For us to reconnect to find our Samadhi or self-realisation, we must reconnect to all five layers, starting with the physical body and working our way in.
When you start yoga it can be very hard to fully connect to the breath until you have practiced the physical poses and your body is comfortable with them. Even savasana or constructive rest pose can feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. Once you find yourself comfortable in these physical poses, you can then start to focus more on the breath. Once you have practiced the breath and become familiar with it you can connect to how your body feels and the emotional body. Once we have learnt to acknowledge and recognise our emotions we can connect to the intellectual body (wisdom) and right pathways and choices day to day and finally we find our bliss body. We can do this much more quickly and comfortably in Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra allows you to enter a state of consciousness between being awake and asleep. It is a state of consciousness that allows full consciousness yet complete relaxation of the body and therefore gives the mind the ability to start to look within the body, while the physical body is in its relaxed state and breathing is controlled. It is easy to follow as the verbal instructions are given by the teacher.
Although similar to meditation in some aspects, Yoga Nidra is not classified as meditation as it is not asking for a single focus for the mind like candle gazing or heart centring, but explores the whole body through the sense of hearing.
There are some similarities to guided meditation. Discipline of the mind is still required to get more benefit, so it trains and helps the mind to stillness like meditation and the ultimate goal of the practice is similar to find Samadhi or self-realisation. However Yoga Nidra can be a much easier way than meditation to achieve this.
Yoga Nidra can provide many benefits and the greatest is its accessibility to all ages and abilities. It is suitable for anyone five years or over, any fitness or injury level and can be guided to the participant from savasana or seated. It has been found to reduce mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It also has a massive effect on stress relieving tension. It can help alleviate pain caused by other medical conditions, for example reduction in headaches, giddiness, chest pain, palpitations, sweating and abdominal pain, by helping the autoimmune system. It has been part of treatment given to help soldiers recovering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is therefore a practice that is a win, win situation and these are often a rare find in our crazy, hectic world of quick fixes which often cause other problems. It is an absolute pleasure to see the effects after Yoga Nidra at the end of the class. The atmosphere is of calm, sleepy, relaxed happiness and I look forward to teaching many more classes.