Learning the art of efficient relaxation…exploring yoga nidra
We have very busy lives. As a result, we carry a lot of tension in our body and mind. When we do take time to relax, or even sleep, we can find it challenging - our mind not able to switch off, or aches and pains in the body distracting us. Our methods of relaxation may not even be restorative such as lazing on a lounge watching a movie, reading a book, chatting with friends. We are so overwhelmed and bombarded with constant stimulation and the nervous system disturbed by stress, that our first steps should be to drop the stress from our body and mind, and withdraw from any external distraction. Then, only then, can our nervous system recharge and our mind rest.
Yoga nidra or yogic sleep takes the practitioner into a deep state of peace, where the body sleeps but the mind is still aware. During periods of wakefulness our brainwaves are predominantly beta waves. In yoga nidra, we move into alpha brainwaves which are associated with deep states of relaxation. Swami Satyananada Saraswati (2002) advises that 1 hour of yoga nidra is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep.
The practice follows a systematic approach of “pratyahara” – meaning withdrawal of the senses. We literally turn off all the external sense channels which reduce the nerve inputs, restoring and rebalancing the nervous system. Energy that is often dissipated by constant action, stimulation and thinking is redirected inward supporting the health of tissues, organs and physiological functions.
As we direct our awareness away from the external world, we move through the five layers of our internal “bodies” – physical, energetic, mental, wisdom, and bliss - moving from the external, gross existence into the deepest most subtle layers of our being. We slowly shed the layers of our identity and move into a receptive state accessing intuitive wisdom and deep states of peace.
Yoga nidra is more than a guided relaxation because of the transformative power of the sankalpa (a solemn vow made by the heart and mind). This is like planting a seed at the start of the practice by the conscious mind and allowing it to take deep root, be watered and blossom as we transition into the unconscious mind and the wisdom body. The sankalpa supports a positive intention and has the power to shift unwanted tendencies from our lives.
The stages of a full yoga nidra usually take between 30 to 60 minutes and include:
Reference: Swami Satyananda Saraswati (2002),Yoga Nidra