Stages and Benefits of Yoga Nidra (Sanskrit: योग निद्रा)

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As someone who has always found it difficult to relax Yoga Nidra is something close to my heart. Once I experienced it I suddenly felt a still mind and complete calmness. In this blog post I cover what Yoga Nidra actually is, the stages you will go through as you experience a nidra and also what the benefits are.

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Yoga Nidra is an incredibly deep guided relaxation technique that moves the body and mind into a complete state of relaxation. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘yogic sleep’ because whilst it feels like a deep sleep you remain completely conscious. According to Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati ‘A single hour of yoga nidra is as restful as four hours of conventional sleep.’ This state is referred to in the Upanishads as prajna (Sanskrit: प्रज्ञ), within the context of universal, non reasoned wisdom. During this state, when you are so deeply relaxed, you can access the contents of your subconscious which are frequently the drivers of you thoughts, patterns and behaviours. During this stage, deep healing can occur, mentally, physically and emotionally.

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During a Yoga Nidra you will be guided through multiple stages of cognition and you will gradually experience pratyahara (sense withdrawl) and after some practice, even a profound insight into yourself and your emotions. The goal of Yoga Nidra is actually the same as the objectives of most types of psychotheraputic treatment which is to bring things from your subconscious to your conscious so that you can become aware and work through them. Yoga Nidra goes a step further and says that by doing so, you can heal past wounds and get closer to your super conscious Self (i.e your true Self, devoid of the ego and material based identity and devoid of the material body.)

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The various stages of Yoga Nidra are:

Internalisation – the practice starts by going inward with focus and dedication. This means reducing awareness of your body and slowly letting go of the internal chatter of the mind, starting to slip away from external stimulus, gradually losing sight and feeling of the room and where you are. You focus completely on going inward. This can sometimes be difficult if you have things on your mind, I find it helpful to repeat the statement mentally, ‘go inward, allow myself to go inward.’ The more curious I became about what was inside, the easier it seemed to be for me to actually go ‘there’

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Resolve– this is simply a statement that is meaningful to you, a type of positive affirmation. It can be something personal or it can be more general. I find that it’s nice to start with something general but powerful that the teacher will guide you through. This just means less time thinking about what your Sankalpa is or should be. Over time and with more practice you can tune your Sankalpa towards specific things that you are looking to overcome or focus on.

Mapping the Primary Somatosensory Area. Source: Boundless. “Mapping the Primary Somatosensory Area.” Boundless Anatomy and Physiology.

Rotation of consciousness – this is where you will be guided through a neurological map of your body in a specific order, which induces a deep state of physical and mental relaxation. The order is specific because it’s the same order that is contained within your primary motor or sensor cortex. For example, in your motor cortex the mental concept of your toes is represented at the top of the cerebral hemisphere and the mental concept of your mouth is represented at the bottom. Bringing awareness of relaxation to each body part, in order, effectively works all the way down your body psychologically, which leads to actually feeling incredibly relaxed.

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Awareness of Prana and breath- this is where you become more aware of your breathing, which by now will likely consist of very long exhales and long pauses between breaths. You will likely feel like you have an empty mind at this stage. You will feel relaxed but aware of your state.

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Opposites: Here we begin bring feelings and emotions or thoughts from the subconscious to our conscious awareness through word associations and the use of symbols. This is a common technique used in psychotherapy and is based on the idea that we connect ideas, feelings and experiences by way of association, and they are organised or grouped into what Jung called ‘Complexes.’ e.g you hear the word ‘Xmas’ and you think of a number of different things, feelings come up, smells, emotions etc. Someone mentions the word ‘Mother’ and you have the same, an associated group of experiences, feelings and emotions.

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Visualisation: During this phase, subconscious emotions have come to the conscious level and we start a visualisation through the use of symbols using the Chidakasha which is known as the area behind the forehead, responsible for visualisation. (If you’re interested in how Freud used this you can look up Freud’s pressure technique)When you are able to visualise within this space, you are operating inwardly. The goal of this stage is to begin to heal and make peace with what has come up by reframing it within a visualisation process. Visualisation is even used today in all schools of psychotherapy. According to Dr. Assagioli’s Laws, ‘every idea or image tends to product a state of mind, a physical state and the acts that correspond to it.’

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Sankalpa: We revisit and come back to our intention or positive affirmation. We also continue to repeat practices of Yoga Nidra if not only because we have a lot of material in our subconscious that we might be curious to explore, but also because our subconscious works spontaneously and therefore if we do not bring it closer to us, it can eventually overcome us. As it says in Assagioli’s ‘The Act of Will’ ‘The subconscious needs no cooperation from the conscious’

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So that’s the process of taking yourself or others through a yoga nidra. During this, there are various states that we enter into which are outlined below. It’s more common to remain in the alpha state of relaxation but it is also possible to enter the dream state with consciousness and also a deep state (although that takes much practice)

  1. Relaxed / Alpha state: This is the state between waking and sleeping where your brain wave frequency is at 8 to 13 cycles per second)
  2. Dream State / Advanced theta state : At this point your brain wave frequency is 4 to 8 cycles per second and you are effectively in a dream state. This is the state through which people can begin lucid dreaming because their brain waves are effectively operating at that frequency but they are still conscious.
  3. Deep sleep/ Advanced delta state : Brain wave frequency is 0.1 to 4 cycles per second and whilst you are experiencing what is known as deep sleep, you are fully conscious.

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The benefits of practicing Yoga Nidra regularly include:

  • Induces deep physical and mental relaxation
  • Increases mental clarity and concentration
  • Promotes a feeling of calm and serenity internally
  • Assists with unresolved, subconscious feelings of unease
  • Helps with insomnia
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Increased self awareness and control

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Through advanced practice of Yoga Nidra it is said that you will be able to hear yourself snore, wake up at any desired time and witness yourself dreaming (lucid dreaming).

So here we have an ancient practice with modern day applications. I’m struck by the power and simplicity of Yoga Nidra, and the similiarities that modern psychotheraputic techniques have, such as Robert Desoille’s Waking Dream Technique, Hanscarl Leuner’s Guided Effective Imagery and many more. Even Gestalt practitioners use visualisation and role play to work through material and scenarios.

Modern psychology refers to the consciousness between waking and sleeping as the ‘hypnagogic state’ during which the mind is especially receptive both with regards to overcoming existing blockers (achieving mental clarity) and opening up to new knowledge and wisdom (creativity). According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, ‘

In this state the mind is exceptionally receptive. Languages and other subjects can be learned rapidly. Suggestions given at this time are successful in removing unwanted habits and tendencies. In fact, yoga nidra can be used for directing the mind to accomplish anything. This is the secret of the extraordinary accomplishments of great yogis and swamis.

I see Yoga Nidra as a beautiful harmony between spirituality and science  which ultimately are complementary dimensions of life and which when they come together, provide the essence of what make us conscious living, human beings.

Thank you for reading, comments and thoughts are welcome,

Namaste