Most of us think that watching telly, reading a book, playing with computer games and other forms of entertainment are ways to relax. Then you go to bed to sleep, which we tend to think of as being relaxing too.
To be truly relaxed we need to let go completely of our muscular, mental and emotional tensions. This does not tend to happen during the forms of entertainment listed above, nor indeed when we are asleep do we necessarily achieve complete relaxation. Most of us have experienced at some point the feeling of waking up and feeling less than adequately rested.
Yoga nidra is a technique which allows us to relax completely. Indeed some proponents of yoga nidra claim great things for the regular experience of the technique. These include, amongst others, reducing stress, improving chronic conditions, reducing the need for analgesic and sedative drugs.
It is based on ancient practices, developed in India, dating back to between 5th and 9th century AD. However in the 1970’s Swami Satyananda Saraswati devised the practice of yoga nidra after studying these practices. According to Swami Satyananda he built ‘a new system called yoga nidra which would incorporate the essence of these practices’. He describes it as psychic sleep and as a ‘systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation, while maintaining awareness at the deeper levels’.
The practice which can last from 20 to 45 minutes, follows a similar structure each time:
This covers how you should lie and involves calming the mind before the practice begins.
A sankalpa, which is the Sanskrit for resolve or resolution, is made. This takes the form of a short, mental statement which is always thought in exactly the same way, that is, the words used should be the same every time. It is a statement by you, of something that you wish to achieve or do with your life. In order to be successful you need to be strongly focussed on this resolve. It is believed that this can be a ‘seed of change’ which can help to shape and determine our lives, for good. The Swami believes that when ‘the sankalpa becomes the directing force, everything you do in life becomes successful’.
Rotation of Consciousness
During this phase, you travel around the body, remaining immobile, following the instructions and visualising the parts of the body being named. This should be systematic and follow the same sequence each time. It does not need concentration, only to be aware, following the instructor’s voice and moving with her to the part of the body named.
Awareness of the Breath
Bringing the attention to the breath is the last part of the physical relaxation.
Feelings and Sensations
From the physical, we now move to feelings and emotions. These are activated by practising with opposite feelings, eg heat and cold. The pairings are intended to balance the opposite sides of the brain in the areas of our basic drives and controlling functions. The intention here is to bring about emotional relaxation.
This last phase relaxes at a mental level. Images are used which are nearly universal and help us to delve into our deep unconsciousness bringing to the surface, some issues which we may have unhelpfully buried. In this way the mind is relaxed and released from pain stored over our lifetime.
Ending the Practice
We end by bringing our awareness back into our body and the environment around us. We also recall our resolve at this point in order to finish the practice with a positive view of ourselves and the world. When people come out of yoga nidra, they are generally quiet and slow in their movements. I don’t have to ask them if they have enjoyed the experience, I only need to look at their face.
Look out in the next issue of the magazine, for Anne’s Yoga Nidra CD which will be available for sale.