During lock down when the pandemic was sweeping through the world causing fear and anxiety, I took to my bedroom floor with a blanket and listened to a deep meditative resting practice known as yoga nidra. Never had I had been in more need of a restorative, effortless practice for nourishment and healing. It had a transformative effect. As a yoga teacher I have experienced many different relaxation methods and meditative techniques but for me, at that time, and with the right teacher, yoga nidra hit the sweet spot.
Yoga nidra means yogic sleep, it is a state in which we are consciously aware but also in a deep state of rest. It can be described as a space between being fully awake and asleep. Liminal describes this space between these two states of awareness.
What happens during yoga nidra?
Yoga nidra is usually guided by a teacher. Making your environment as comfortable and cosy as possible can help to feel more relaxed; closing curtains, dimming lights setting-up devices so as not be disturbed are some suggestions. Blankets can be used to keep warm and other props to support the body such as; cushions, bolsters, eyebags or anything that helps you to settle with more ease.
You can choose to rest in savasana, the yoga resting pose lying on the floor, or any comfortable position of your choice. You can choose to lie on a bed but the association with sleep may mean you fall asleep more easily during the practice.
Once settled the teacher will systematically guide your attention inwards from the external to the internal by what is commonly known as a rotation of consciousness. This is a process where various parts of the body are named. As you follow the instruction your awareness rests on each body part. It is without effort. There is no right or wrong way to do it. The invitation is to rest.
As your consciousness becomes receptive to the sensations of your body your outer experiences become less dominant. The mind travels within and becomes more connected to the physical body, and naturally quietens.
The delivery of a yoga nidra can vary in tone, speed and style. Some deliveries are prescriptive and others invitational, they can include different components such as breath awareness, visualisations, and intention setting (Sankalpa). Some teachers awaken the senses using sound with instruments, chanting or singing bowls. Aromatherapy oils can also be used in a diffuser. The common thread of all elements is to guide you safely into a state of inner awareness and deep rest. Key to the yoga nidra experience is that the instructions are suggestions, and invitations, all intended for you to explore your inner experience.
Usually, yoga nidra is between 15-30 minutes long but this can vary from a few minutes to an hour or longer.
It is a good idea to try different teachers to find a practice and delivery that resonates for you. You might prefer some voices to others, or the speed of delivery to be slow or quicker. Trying different practices and teachers is the way find out what you enjoy.
When should you not practice yoga nidra?
It is not advisable to practice yoga nidra when in a public space or doing another activity. It might not be suitable if you feel unwell or have a recent injury. Whilst there are very few known ill side effects to yoga nidra if you have certain health conditions it is best to consult a medical practitioner before practising.
During the practice if it doesn’t feel right feel free to move, wriggle, open your eyes and come to sit slowly and ground yourself before continuing with your day.
After your practice of Yoga Nidra
Once your yoga nidra is complete you are encouraged to take your time to readjust to your surroundings and do something grounding. You can tidy up your space, make a cup of tea, pet an animal, stare out the window, or go for a short walk. Give yourself time to notice how you are feeling as you transition into the rest of your day.
What are the different states of awareness?
As your awareness shifts from the external to the internal it can be paradoxically referred to as a waking-up. Instead of being occupied by thoughts of the past or future we 'wake-up' to the present. In the ancient yogic texts, it describes four states of awareness which can be distinguished by altering brain wave frequency. They are: wakefulness, deep sleep, dream sleep and pure consciousness. The fourth state is one of 'thoughtless awareness' .
This fourth state of non-doing, and of being, or pure awareness is mentioned in the ancient yogic texts as turiya. Yeats, the Irish Nobel Laureate poet, had a personal and scholarly interest in Indian philosophy and describes this fourth state as:
‘the state in which the soul, purified of all that is not it, comes into possession of its own timelessness’.
When experiencing the stillness of yoga nidra the brainwave activity is quietened. This was scientifically demonstrated in the 1970s by Swami Rama in a controlled study his brain waves were recorded by EEG as he practised yoga nidra. Delta waves were recorded as Rama remained aware of where he was. Delta waves are the slowest, lowest frequency brain waves normally generated in a dreamless sleep or deep meditation. Healing and regeneration are stimulated in this state.
There is much about sleep we do not understand. Rest, sleep and yoga nidra all facilitate healing, and activate the rest and digest response in the body, the parasympathetic nervous system.
The origin of yoga nidra stretches back over many centuries. It is referred to in different forms in Indian epic poetry, tantric and medieval texts. Swami Satyananda is largely responsible for the forms of yoga nidra we experience today. His book on Yoga Nidra published in 1974 made yoga nidra widely accessible and most modern schools of yoga nidra trace their version back to Satyananda but with different emphasis.
It (yoga nidra) is a state in which you are neither asleep nor awake. If you fall asleep, it is not yoga nidra. If you remain awake, then it is also not yoga nidra. If dreams overtake you, it is not yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is a state in which there is awareness of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious fields of your mind all at one time. It is a perfect therapy. It removes all psychological abnormalities and sanskaras, and helps you to become your normal, natural self.
If you are interested in experiencing yoga nidra with Marianne Marshall a British Wheel of yoga teacher and an experienced fully qualified yoga nidra instructor please click here