Yoga Nidra might sound like a complicated yoga pose you’d twist your body into on a mat but it’s actually most often practiced lying down completely motionless, and simply following someone’s voice guiding you through a series of mental activities lasting about 20 to 30 minutes.
Yoga Nidra is dynamic sleep – the threshold between sleep and wakefulness where you can take a deep dive into your subconscious and turn away from outer experiences and find your peace within. We all like to think we’re in relaxation mode sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine, watching the TV or reading the paper but those are just 21st century diversions where we fool ourselves we’re switching off. Yoga Nidra for me is the most effective and speedy way into complete relaxation for my body and mind.
When we’re awake were in our alert beta state making decisions and thinking constantly whereas during Yoga Nidra we drop into an alpha state where true rest and healing takes place. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to be guided there which is why the practice normally lasts at least that long.
Yoga Nidrais many things within a simple framework. It’s a series of guided mental exercises, a guided meditation to some, a form of progressive relaxation and a way of relaxing consciously to others. It’s definitely not sleep although it can feel like you’re moving towards sleep and very occasionally if you’re tired you may find yourself slipping into snoring for a few moments! As you’re led into the practice your mind finds itself occupying the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness – and that can be a sublime sensation and leave you feeling like you’ve had a couple of hours of extra sleep when your body and mind come back to the room.
Yoga Nidra’s roots can be traced back to 1000 BC as a verbal form of teaching and was first written down around 700 BC. This practice has a very ancient roots but wasn’t formally structured in the form we’re talking about until the 1970s, and that’s one of the reasons why I love it – it’s as old as yoga but has a well thought out almost scientific flow underpinning it and its been tried and tested for thousands of years.
Like meditation, Yoga Nidra is hard to describe without practicing it and it’s an effortless practice. Like physical asana Yoga teachers, each Yoga Nidra teacher will have their own style, but most will include some, or all of the following in their flow:
1) Preparation – involving listening to sounds, following the breath and getting comfortable
2) focussing on a sankalpa or setting an intention
3) following the teacher talking you through a rotation of consciousness where each body part is named in order and you take your attention to that place briefly before being instructed where to go next
4) awareness of breath
5) a section involving sensations and possibly opposite sensations (hot and cold, heaviness and lightness)
6) a visualisation often talking the listener on a journey or following a series of images in your mind and finishing by replanting that sankalpa or seed of intention in your mind which can make a real positive change to something in your life you’d like to manifest.
I spoke to my friend Fearne who had this to add on the power of yoga nidra…
“As someone who has had troubles sleeping and switching off I have found yoga nidra a huge help. Not only does it help you your brain quieten but it’s massively relaxes every part of your physical body. It’s a real retreat for your body and mind I first tried yoga nidra when I was pregnant. I was getting very tired in the daytime so a friend suggested I try out an online yoga nidra session. Within minutes I was in a deep state of relaxation and then fell to sleep. I woke at the end of the session feeling refreshed rather than groggy. I used them all throughout my pregnancy and now use them when I know I’m headed to burn out and need my mind and body to properly rest.”
So there you have it – a lot of words describing something indescribably beautiful which I urge you to practice as often as you can and discover the calm, still places within your body and mind.
I hope you enjoy my practices,
Rob da Bank x