One of the best ways to relax is the yogic practice of Yoga Nidra. In this article I will explain what it is and how it works – and of course encourage you to start already today!
You may wonder what this has to do with tantra – what this blog should be about… Well, letting go of tension and relaxing the body and mind is an important aspect of any practice, but there’s even closer tantric connection here.
Where does Yoga Nidra come from?
The concept of Yoga Nidra is ancient. It means a type of conscious or psychic sleep, where the practitioner is fully relaxed but staying aware at the same time. The practice was probably not known by this name until Swami Satyananda Saraswati from Bihar School of Yoga started to popularize it in the 70’s. He tells a story where he had learned some Vedic mantras while seemingly fully asleep, when the students of a school had been reciting them early in the morning. So he started to explore the topic closer, and later on wrote a book about Yoga Nidra.
Some parts of the Yoga Nidra I’m describing here are using an adapted form of traditional tantric ritual called Nyasa. In the sequence of Yoga Nidra, the consciousness is rotated throughout the whole body, much alike the Nyasa ritual. In Nyasa, there are different mantras that are placed on the different body parts, so that the Divine consciousness could be instilled in the body. As this kind of mantras can be difficult and foreign to us Westerners, Swami Satyananda developed an easier system, which does not require specific knowledge of such rituals.
According to Swami Satyananda, some other parts of the Yoga Nidra practice are also devised from the tantric practices and meditations.
Why is Yoga Nidra important?
So many people nowadays suffer from different types of tension, wheter physical, emotional or mental. Insomnia and troubles with digestion are a world-wide epidemic, when our sympathetic nervous system is almost always on and running on full speed. Our beings do not have enough time for rest and recover, and over time the tension starts manifesting as physical and psychological problems.
A Finnish company called Firstbeat have developed an analysis, where the user can monitor their daily activities and see when they are running on stress, and when they are recovered. According to their web site, they have analyzed more than 250 000 individuals, and for most of the people the recovery rate during their daily life is only 15-20% of the time – or less. So you can see that this is something that can easily cause any kind of imbalance. For our well-being it would be important to give our bodies more time for recovery and self-healing.
With the practice of Yoga Nidra, you can allow some real rest and recovery time for yourself. It is said that one hour of Yoga Nidra is equivalent of several hours of sleep. You can do the practice at any time of the day, but for the purpose of improving your sleep, just do it before you go to bed. If you really feel sleepy, you can take a cold shower beforehand, or do some light exercises before you do Yoga Nidra, so that you will not fall asleep immediately. Otherwise you can just drift to sleep after the practice.
How to practice Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra can be done very easily. Of course it is taught in yoga schools around the world, but you can listen to it at home as well. It is available as a recording even on Spotify, and you can download many different versions of Yoga Nidra from the internet.
In Yoga Nidra, you simply lie down in Shavasana, the corpse pose. In this position you can easily relax your whole body, as you do not need any muscles to hold up the posture. Simply lie down on your back, with your legs apart and your hands a bit away from your body, palms turned up. For a long time I was wondering why this is important, but there’s a reason for that.
There are some areas in our body that are very sensitive to all kinds of stimuli, and so they are given a lot of “processing power” in our brains, that is, the impulses get a lot of attention when they reach our brain. These sensitive areas are hands, lips, genitals and feet. So it’s better that these areas are getting as little stimuli as possible during Yoga Nidra.
So, let’s continue. In the beginning, you just let your body to settle, and the instructor will guide you forward. Your only task is to keep on listening to the instruction. When your body relaxes the other senses will switch off, and the only remaining sense is the hearing.
It is always adviced in the instructions that you should not sleep. If you just start the practice and fall asleep immediately, this is not Yoga Nidra. Your aim should be to stay aware, and let your body relax.
The trick here is that you should stay in the area of the alpha-brainwaves, where the relaxation happens. If you are completely unconsciously sleeping, the body does not necessarily relax fully. That’s why you may wake up feeling tired in the morning, even after a long sleep. We dive directly from the beta-state wakefulness to delta-state sleep, while staying in the alpha-state would actually be beneficial. This you can also train by going to sleep very consciously (for example closing your eyes ve-ee-ry slowly and with awareness), and waking up slowly (NOT checking your phone for messages first thing in the morning!)
If you drift away to the unconsciousness and miss a part of the instruction, this does not matter. The most important thing is that you should intent to stay awake during the practice.
There are a few more distinct phases in the practice, but I will leave it for you to discover. Just know that everything is there for purpose, even if it may sound strange at first.
Sankalpa – an essential part of Yoga Nidra
Every time you practice proper Yoga Nidra, you are asked to state a Sankalpa, or Resolve. This is a short and positive mental statement that you first repeat mentally in the beginning of the Yoga Nidra practice. Then later on, when your body and mind are relaxed and you are receptive and sensitive to suggestion, you are asked to repeat the same Sankalpa once again. This is like planting a seed in a fertile soil, so you can program your unconscious mind in a better and more beneficial way, and for example let go of negative tendencies that you may carry with you.
The best Sankalpas are something that are serving a greater purpose, not just fulfilling one’s personal desires. You can also use Sankalpa in a therapeutic way. Sankalpa will become a directing force in your life, which is affecting all the decisions and the direction of your life.
Some examples of Sankalpa could include (examples from the book Yoga Nidra):
- I will achieve total health
- I will be more aware and efficient
- I will be succesful in all that I undertake
One more very positive Sankalpa I have heard is “Every day and every way, I feel better and better. Yes!”
Compose your own Sankalpa, keep it simple and positive! And stick with that Sankalpa, do not change it all the time!
Where to find Yoga Nidra?
For years, I used one very authentic recording from the Bihar School of Yoga (with a very strong Indian accent!), but unfortunately I have lost it along the way. Recently I have used one found on Spotify, you can check it out here. This is closely following the original format of Yoga Nidra, and I like the soothing voice of the instructor.
Yet another Yoga Nidra from Spotify here.
There’s also a web page called Yoga Nidra Network, you can access their free download page here. I have tried some of these too, but I do not have anything specific to recommend. Try them out and see what resonates with you!
You can also ask your local yoga school if they offer Yoga Nidra sessions. It is nice to do it in a group as well, but probably you won’t be able to stay there to sleep!
Eventually you can let go of the recordings and do it just by guiding yourself. I have noticed that for myself I tend to fall asleep if I try to self-guide, so I stick with the recordings.
There you are, an introduction to the practice of Yoga Nidra, and hopefully a key to a better sleep and overall well-being.
If you have anything to ask about the practice, feel free to leave your comment below!