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By Pamela Joy Swift

     Yoga Nidra begins with a deep, physical relaxation, followed by a systematic technique that consciously shifts the mental awareness inward to the subconscious mind. It is a dynamic, yet easy process of active, concentrated awareness using guided imagery and the use of “resolves”. Resolves are concise, positive mental statements, focused on the internal subconscious mind with the intent of making specific changes to the acquired belief system that is continually and habitually influencing thoughts and feelings, and consequently, all the actions, choices, and decisions in the outer world. When practiced sincerely, outdated belief systems that no longer serve your highest good are transformed. 
     The current practice of Yoga Nidra evolved from the ancient teachings of the tantric practice of Nyasa, as referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. After studying these ancient teachings, Swami Satyananda Saraswati recreated this transformational practice for spiritual growth and insight, without the complicated ritualistic drawbacks of the original teachings. Yoga Nidra was originally practiced in a sitting position and included the recitation of specific mantras coordinated with specific parts of the body. Today, Yoga Nidra is typically practiced in a comfortable, lying down position, and does not usually involve the chanting of Sanskrit mantras. 

     To understand how the technique of Yoga Nidra works it is necessary to understand the basic functioning of the human brain. There are three basic states of individual human consciousness: wakefulness, dreaming, and deep sleep. In the awake state the conscious mind is engaged and interacts with the external world through the five senses; the brain emits beta waves. In the dream state the subconscious mind is active, and suppressed fears and deep rooted emotional scars (known in Sanskrit as samskaras) are expressed; the brain emits theta waves. In deep sleep the unconscious mind is active and all mental and physical activity is dormant; the brain emits delta waves.

     Yoga Nidra is the state of awareness between waking and dreaming, between the conscious and subconscious mind. Psychologists call this state of awareness the hypnagogic state. During this state of awareness the brain emits alpha waves. It usually only lasts a few minutes, but the intent of practicing the technique known as Yoga Nidra is to extend the state of introverted awareness while maintaining external awareness. In Yoga Nidra the student is in a deep, relaxed state while listening to and staying actively, mentally engaged with the ongoing verbal directions of the facilitator.

     The term Yoga Nidra is derived from two Sanskrit words, “yoga” meaning union and “nidra” meaning sleep. The term is somewhat of a misnomer as it is not a special kind of sleep, but rather a state between waking and sleeping. It is a systematic and deliberate method of inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation, leading you consciously into the subconscious mind for the sole purpose of making permanent changes in the psyche that will bring personal and spiritual transformation. 

     Because the subconscious mind has a language of its own based on symbols and images, once the student has been guided in to a deep state of Pratyhara (withdrawal of the stimulation of the five senses) images and symbols are used to speak directly to the subconscious mind. The student is directed to repeat an individually designed, personal “resolve”, (known in Sanskrit as a “Sankalpa”) several times throughout the process. This planting of a resolve is impressed on the subconscious mind by the student with willpower and feeling when the mind is most receptive. 

     While it may seem similar to hypnotherapy or past life regression, it differs greatly from both of these therapies in that the entire process is practiced with willful and conscious control by the recipient. It is not a leisurely process, but rather, the facilitator verbally guides the student in a very quick pace from specific image to specific image, and the student is expected to stay directly and consciously engaged in the entire process. Also, the student doesn’t respond verbally to the facilitator; there are no questions asked, no conversational interaction. It is not an organic process, but rather a precise, scripted technique.

     The practice of Yoga Nidra brings awareness to and from the subconscious mind, allowing the opportunity for tremendous shifts in perception. In this way, we are able to consciously make permanent changes in our mental habits; personally changing old, outdated belief systems that do not support our evolved conscious intentions. The deeper teachings of yoga tell us that deep rooted samskaras continually affect our thoughts and actions, whether we are aware of them or not, and they can be transformed through the sincere practice of Yoga Nidra. 

     Some of the additional benefits of Yoga Nidra include reducing high blood pressure, boosting the immune system, stress reduction, access to the powers of intuition and creativity, and stimulation of the pineal gland increasing the production of the hormone melatonin which helps with inducing restful sleep.

     I encourage you to try a session of Yoga Nidra with me. My two hour workshop includes a short lecture explaining the process, a few simple yoga postures to allow the body to relax in Shavasana (lying down pose), and 40 minutes of the Yoga Nidra technique.


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