Yoga nidra, or commonly known as “yogic sleep”, is an ancient tantric practice which gained huge popularity and application in our fast-speed, stressful and hectic world. It helps and cures a wide range of diseases – from anxieties and depressions to cancers. Why so?
This unique practice teaches the practitioner to withdraw the mind form the sense objects, to experience the true meaning of living in the present, increase one’s willpower and most importantly – to observe your own thoughts, emotions and mind. In other words it teaches you to be aware of your closest friend (or foe, you choose) – no other but your own mind.
Anatomy of a practice
An advanced yoga nidra practice is usually 30 or 40 minutes long but the basic, short version is no longer than 10-15 minutes. The practitioner lies back on the floor with the arms and legs slightly aside. The eyes and mouth are closed and the body must be absolutely relaxed. All you have to do is follow your yoga teacher’s voice. The instructor will guide you through the process of focusing your awareness on the different parts of your body one after another.
It’s advisable to make a resolve, or sankalpa, before and after the practice. Some people refer to it as a “wish”. This resolve, or sankalpa, must be formulated in a positive form, in a present tense. It has to be very brief, clear and concise. Every day you must repeat the same resolve with the same words and in the same language. For example if you want to quit smoking, it’s better to think “I’m healthy.” Saying “I don’t smoke” or “I have stopped smoking.” won’t work and will actually reinforce the pattern of smoking.
It is also crucial to choose wisely what one wishes for (you remember “Careful what you wish for”, right?). I know this very well. In the first years of my spiritual quest, I went to a meditation teacher who used the sankalpa in her practice of yoga nidra to fulfill only her day-to day desires. She made resolves for new jobs or other temporary, material objects. She used to advise me “When I want a new job or I am looking for interesting career opportunities, I make daily yoga nidra with a resolve “I have a new job.” And soon I really get a new job.” This is not the right manner. I am not saying God will punish you (no one takes this seriously anymore) but I made a few sankalpas while I was going to that same teacher and yes, they all came true, but it didn’t feel right. I only wasted time and energy chasing temporary objects. You may think at a certain period, you want one certain thing and by obtaining it you will become very happy and all your problems will disappear. But it is not as simple as that. Once you get what you thought you wanted, you realize your problems are still the same. You feel disappointed and unfairly blame the practice or the teacher. But the problem lies in the misformulated sankalpa.
A real master or Guru emphasizes the significance of sankapla. It’s like asking the higher power for a boon and therefore one has to be very careful what one wishes for. The great masters and yogis they all teach us that “Anything in life can fail but not the sankalpa made at the beginning and at the end of yoga nidra”. They further advise for an all comprehensive and absolute resolve. That means the resolve must be formulated as a statement of the end result you want to achieve. It must serve your ultimate purpose. And in order to work right it must be general and universal enough in order to lead to the solution of all your issues. In other words go big!
After the sankalpa, the first thing in yoga nidra is rotating the consciousness through the different parts of the body. The practitioner only mentally repeats the mentioned part of the body and feels it. The goal is to relax the whole body. The next stage of the practice is the experience of extreme feelings like heaviness and lightness, pain/pleasure or cold/heat. In the advanced stages of yoga nidra there is awareness of the different chakras on the spine and mental visualization. At the end one has to repeat the same resolve which one has made at the beginning. It has to be with the same words and in the same language. One should repeat that sankalpa until it becomes true.
- As you can see, anything you wish for will happen if you make a positive sankalpa. It may need time but one thing is for sure: sooner or later your resolve will come true.
- It leads to better concentration, peace and calmness of the mind; cure for all anxieties and day-to day distress; better sleep. For insomnia yoga nidra is recommended to be done before going to bed.
It is a universal healing tool for all physical diseases. Some of the traditional doctors will disagree but more and more of them are turning to the ancient yogic and tantric practices.
With all this said, you may think yoga nidra is like a piece of cake. Though it’s only a relaxation technique it has its own specifics. Here are some of them:
Risks and pitfalls which need to be avoided:
Do not fall asleep! Try to maintain awake but at the same time relax your whole body. If you are new to yoga nidra, at the beginning this will be hard for you but with more practice you’ll manage to stay awake.
If possible, do not move. If there is a need to move, be aware of your movements (this has been recently very difficult for me). However, for yoga nidra the absolute stillness is not compulsory. In more advanced meditation practices like ajapa japa, stillness is a must.
Maintain your mental contact with the instructor of yoga nidra. I myself know how difficult this can be. We are all very educated, very learned but when it comes to our own minds we fail. The yogis joke that: “The mind of the present man is like a wild monkey bitten by a scorpion”. If the mind tries (and it will try, believe me!) to go astray, gently turn it back to the practice.
Yoga nidra is not recommended and should be avoided by people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia. For such a type of people hard physical work is the cure. In yoga this is known as karma yoga.
Doing too much or excessively meditation and/or relaxation practices is not recommended, especially for introvert people. Physical and psychological activity needs to be very well balanced. When the mind becomes extrovert (the mind, not the character), one can give up physical work and enter the subtle realms of existence.