Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing

Veronica Rios

March 29
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Yoga-Nidra ("Yoga sleep"), is an expression widely used to denote the highest state of consciousness. Although yoga nidra means yogic sleep, it is actually a wakeful state of deep introversion. Some contemporary Yoga authorities employ the phrase yoga-nidra to designate a state of deep relaxation.

In the initial stages, the process involves relaxing the body, part by part, and harmonizing the mind. In this aspect, it has some similarity with the progressive relaxation of Jacobson. Yoga nidra, however, is an inner awareness, a movement of consciousness, rather than a deliberate auto-suggestion. You cannot relax by trying to relax. You need to feel relaxed. Yogis also believe that you cannot relax your body unless your mind is relaxed. So, yoga yoga relaxation is a complete package that involves relaxing the mind, body and spirit.

After relaxing your body and calming your mind, you can plant a few intentions, sankalpas, or assertions in your subconscious, before detaching your mind and experiencing the final stage of deep relaxation. Yoga nidra goes well with visualizations and meditation.

In , R. L. Hittleman wrote:

“From the Yogic viewpoint the body and the mind ( together with the emotions) are so interrelated that they are actually inseparable. The mind is not simply the thinking process relegated to the brain but is the sum total of the intelligence which permeates every atom of the physical and subtle organisms. Whatever affects the body must influence the mind and vice-versa. Since the mind is present throughout the body and permeates its every atom, the Yoga techniques which we perform to stretch, strengthen and otherwise improve and develop the body must have a correspondingly profound effect on the mind and the emotions.

There is nothing more effective for achieving a natural quieting, relaxing and stabilizing of the mind and emotions than the simple Yoga body stretches and breathing techniques! The beauty of this method is that you need only try these exercises for several minutes to experience the immediate results. There is no auto-suggestion, no self-hypnosis. You do not have to be "conditioned" to the method. You do not even have to believe or have faith in this theory. All that is necessary is that you correctly and seriously do the physical techniques exactly as described. The results speak for themselves.

And working with these techniques is both easy and highly enjoyable so that they are suitable for all persons regardless of the type of tension or disturbance. Even those disturbances of a highly serious nature which are being treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist will respond more readily when the patient is able to effect a receptive state through physical and mental relaxation. In the years to come, the practice of the Yoga postures and breathing exercises could become an important aid in psychotherapy.”

Before Performing Yoga Nidra

Before beginning yoga nidra, do some exercises to warm up your whole body. At a minimum, you should perform some stretching exercises to relax your shoulder and neck muscles. Then do two rounds of the Sun Salutation. Following this, relax in Yoga Nidra for twenty minutes.

Before starting yoga nidra, it is helpful to make a tape of the Yoga Nidra sequence. You can do this yourself or have it recorded by someone whose voice you like. The tape will help to guide you through the practice, and allow you to benefit fully from the relaxation without having to recall what you should do. When making the tape, allow sufficient time for the pauses and breaks between the steps.

Now prepare yourself by relaxing each part of your body in turn. Lie down in the Corpse Pose. Detach your mind and close your eyes, breathe normally. Do not "try" to do anything, not even to relax. After a minute, loosen up your body, part by part, with slight movements.

Corpse pose is the classic yoga pose for relaxation. Here is what Sivananda Yoga center has to say about Corpse pose in :

“The Corpse Pose or Savasana is the classic relaxation pose, practiced before each session, between asanas, and in Final Relaxation. It looks deceptively simple, but it is in fact one of the most difficult asanas to do well. It changes and develops with practice. At the end of an asana session your Corpse Pose will be more complete than at the beginning because the other asanas will have progressively stretched and relaxed your muscles.

When you first lie down, look to see that you are lying symmetrically as symmetry provides proper space for all parts to relax. Now start to work into the pose. Rotate your legs in and out, and then let them fall gently out to the sides. Do the same with your arms. Rotate the spine by turning your head from side to side to center it. Then start stretching yourself out, as though someone were pulling your head away from your feet, your shoulders down and away from your neck, your legs down away from your pelvis. Let gravity embrace you. Feel your weight pulling you deeper into relaxation, melting your body into the floor.

Breathe deeply and slowly from the abdomen (right), riding up and down on the breath, sinking deeper with each exhalation. Feel how your abdomen swells and falls. Many important physiological changes are taking place, reducing the body's energy loss, removing stress, lowering your respiration and pulse rate, and resting the whole system. As you enter deep relaxation, you will feel your mind grow clear and detached.”

Yoga Nidra - Preparation

Before initiating the rotation awareness, do the following:

  1. Relax your toes
  2. Flex your ankles
  3. Loosen up your legs, without bending your knees
  4. Roll your hips from left to right, and lower them down. Lift them up and down, gently
  5. Relax the lower part of your body
  6. Move your fingers. Flex your wrists
  7. Relax your arms and shoulders
  8. Keeping your head and hips on the ground, lift your chest gently up and down
  9. Roll your head from left to right. Keep your head straight
  10. Relax the upper part of your body
  11. Detach your mind, and lie peacefully for a minute.

The Rotation of Awareness

Your yoga practice will help you to be more in touch with your body, able to recognize tension and relaxation and thus to bring them under your conscious control.

The Rotation of Awareness involves six steps during which we progressively relax all parts of our body. During these steps, focus your mind on the parts of your body and not on your breath. Relax each part of the body in turn.

During this exercise it is helpful to see your body as an object and your mind as an instrument of your inner spirit directing the flow of prana into your body. As you go through the step of relaxing a specific part of your body, imagine that the prana, the essence of life, is flowing through this part relaxing and revitalizing the whole part, as you inhale and exhale freely.

It is also important that as you move your mind from one part of the body to another, keep your body still. To bring your consciousness back to your body, gently move your fingers and toes, take a deep breath and as you exhale, sit up.

Yoga Nidra Step 1: Feet and Legs

The first step in yoga nidra involves relaxing the legs and the feet.

Be aware of:

  • Your left toes, one by one, from the little to the big toe
  • The sole of the foot
  • The heel
  • The ankle
  • The top of the foot and back again to the toes

Move your mind from your left ankle up your leg to the knee, becoming aware of:

  • The calf muscles
  • Your shin bone
  • Your knee joint

Now direct your mind and awareness downward, feeling the relaxation and regeneration of each part.

Imagine the flow of prana, or a gentle current, along the leg, upward as you inhale and downward as you exhale.

Repeat a few times.

Move your mind up your thigh, from your knee to your pelvis, and down again.

Be aware of the muscles, bones, ligaments and joints, as you inhale and exhale freely.

Repeat along the right leg.

Yoga Nidra Step 2: Abdomen

Be aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen, as you inhale and exhale. Feel the muscles relaxing and being regenerated.

Move your mind to your abdominal organs. Dwell on each for a few seconds:

  • The colon
  • The bladder
  • The sexual organs
  • The intestines
  • The spleen to the lower left
  • The liver to the upper right
  • The pancreas
  • The stomach

Yoga Nidra Step 3: Buttocks

Be aware of your buttocks, your lower and upper back.

Move your mind along the spine upward and downward, from the coccyx to the cervical vertebrae, feeling the regeneration of the discs, joints and the spinal cord.

Synchronize the movement with your breath, inhaling with the upward breath and exhaling with the downward.

Yoga Nidra Step 4: Chest

Be aware of the movement of your chest, feeling the relaxation and regeneration of the muscles.

Direct your awareness to your:

  • Left lung
  • The right lung
  • The bronchial tubes connecting the trachea
  • Along the oesophagus
  • Sense the heart beat
  • Left kidney
  • The right kidney.

Yoga Nidra Step 5: Hands and Arms

Be aware of the fingers of your left hand, from the little finger to the thumb, the palms, the back of your hand and wrist.

Move upward along your forearm, from the wrist to the elbow, and downward.

Repeat with your upper arm.

Do the same with the right arm.

Yoga Nidra Step 6: Head and Neck

Be aware of your:

  • Throat and neck
  • The back of your head
  • Your jaws
  • Your cheeks
  • Your chin
  • Your lips
  • Nose
  • The inside of your mouth and nose
  • Your left eyelid
  • Inside of the left eye
  • Your right eye
  • Inside of the right eye
  • Your left and right eyebrow
  • Your forehead
  • Your left and right temple
  • Your left ear
  • Inside your left ear
  • You right ear
  • Inside your right ear
  • And finally, to the top of your head.
  • Feel the coolness of your breath inside your head, as you inhale. Detach your mind, and lie peacefully for about five minutes.

Auto-suggestion with Yoga Nidra

A powerful way to enhance the benefits of yoga nidra relaxation sequences is to combine it with auto-suggestion. It is very simple.

After practicing the sequence, visualize your body in your mind's eye, and repeat this simple formula mentally:

"I relax the toes, I relax the toes. The toes are relaxed."

"I relax the calves. I relax the calves. The calves are relaxed"

Continue on up the body, applying the formula to each part along the way — the stomach, lungs, heart, jaw, scalp, brain, etc.

Feel a wave of relaxation rising up your body as you guide your awareness through each part.

Yoga Nidra with Meditative Visualizations

Another way to augment the yoga nidra exercises is to incorporate visualization and mediation.

There are many different techniques you can use. One of the most effective is to concentrate on the flow of the breath. You can use the inward and outward flow of the breath to develop an awareness of an inner peace. With the in-breath you can imagine the peacefulness flowing into your being. With the outward breath, you can imagine your inner tension flowing out of you leaving your mind calm and relaxed like a deep, still lake, without a ripple.

Now dive deep into the center of this lake, deep within yourself, and experience your true nature.

Once you have mastered this awareness, you can plant a few intentions in your subconscious, using words such as "peace" and "freedom".

Visualizing images requires more practice and experience. Start with very simple images such as a clear blue sky, and slowly progress to more complex images such as a meadow and surrounding woods.

This is how Swami Shivapremananda, author of describes the process:

Visualize a clear blue sky, a symbol of the infinite spirit, of love and goodness, enveloping you.

Then an open field, with its light- green grass. It is your subconscious.

In the distance, dark-green woods surround it. They are your unconscious.

Imagine a gentle breeze, the universal energy, smoothing out the grass, all inner conflicts, and penetrating into the woods, ventilating the deep recesses of the

unconscious, purifying and sublimating its nature.

Relax your mind, and remain detached for a while.

Now plant into your subconscious three intentions, which you can choose to suit you, such as:

I should take things calmly and practice detachment.

I should restrain impulsive reaction and hold my tongue.

I should practice tolerance and patience.

Detach your mind after several minutes of deep relaxation. Now be aware of your body.

Slowly turn on one side and curl up in the fetal position, and rest for a few minutes. Then get up.

Meditation

Meditation is another powerful technique you can use to augment yoga nidra to achieve a deep relaxation. You can do meditation before the yoga nidra or any other time by itself. Meditation also helps you to fine-tune your breathing skills that is required in yoga nidra.

In meditation you aim to reach a state where you are aware of an inner peace, and experience a sense of release from everything impeding that peace.

Meditation is a healing process. Meditation heals the effects of psychological stress by:

• Achieving an inner calm

and then

• In a peaceful state of mind, contemplating the problem, its cause and how to resolve it.

Practice Nadi-Sodhana and Ujjayi breathing exercises (pranayamas).

Now, sit relaxed for a couple of minutes. Loosen up your shoulders, neck and legs. Assume the Easy Pose (sukhasana). Sit cross-legged with your hands resting lightly on your knees, the tips of your index fingers touching your thumbs. If you wish, you can place a cushion under your buttocks for increased comfort.

If you prefer a chair, choose one with a straight back. Keep both your legs together with the weight of your feet equally distributed.

Place your hands in your lap, one on top of the other, palms facing up, or on your knees, the tips of the index finger and thumb together, palms either facing up or down.

Keep your eyes closed. Feel peaceful, and detached. Do not feel the need to do anything. Breathe spontaneously. After a minute, become aware of your breath, the coolness of the in-flow deep inside your head, and the warmth of the out-flow inside your lower nostrils. Train your mind to be more and more aware of the breath.

By concentrating on the flow of your breath, you will notice your breathing automatically slowing down.

In a relaxed state of mind, focus on prana, the vital energy of the breath. Allow your thoughts to flow undisturbed. Experience the alternating coolness and warmth of the breath. After a couple of minutes, associate your awareness of peace with the feeling of coolness, and the release of inner tension with the warmth.

Now move on to the next stage, which you should do for at least five minutes.

Repeat to yourself, inhaling and feeling the coolness, "Peace is my real nature", and exhaling and experiencing the warmth, "not conflict". Try to believe in what you are saying. Then, letting your mind gently float with the breath, be aware of the breath, the coolness absorbing and making grooves of peace in the subconscious, and the warmth smoothing and easing any thoughts or feelings of conflict, stress and inner tension.

After a minute, pause and just be aware of the breath for the next minute. Then resume the repetition slowly and clearly. When thoughts persist in floating into your mind, repeat to yourself "I am full of inner peace", inhaling, and "I am a free soul", exhaling.

You may choose phrases to suit your specific need, depending on the cause of your stress.

Select a few affirmations for each session and use them for as long as you need to. From time to time, alter the affirmations to suit your mood.

Detach your mind, and relax for two minutes, breathing normally and feeling peaceful and restful, before getting up.

Other Phrases or Assertions You Can Use

You can use a variety of phrases or assertions. We suggest that you use a phrase or assertion that has some significance to you, to correct the situation you want changed. Use the following as a guideline to come up with your own set of assertions.

"Harmony, profound inner harmony", inhaling; "all tension is draining out", exhaling.

"Gathering in the fullness of peace", inhaling; "smoothing out all conflicts", exhaling.

Goodness, beauty, grace and poise flowing in", inhaling; "pain, unhappiness, anxiety and stress flowing out", exhaling.

"Detachment is my real nature", inhaling, "not attachment", exhaling.

"Freedom is my real nature", "not bondage':

"Humility is my real nature", "not self-importance':

"Patience is my real nature", "not impatience':

"Tolerance is my real nature", "not intolerance':

"Love is my real nature", "not resentment", (or "hate").

"Truth is my real nature", "not dishonesty':

"Caring is my real nature", "not selfishness':

As Swami Shivapremananda wrote in Yoga for Stress Relief:

Light and shadow are part of life. We all possess the capacity to develop excellent qualities, and there are many positive aspects of life from which we can learn. The essence of yoga is to learn to appreciate the happier moments in life and to take in our stride the unhappier ones without rancor. In the spirit of St Francis of Assisi, we should have 'the courage to change what can be changed and the serenity to accept what cannot be, and the wisdom to know what can be changed and what cannot be

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