What is Yoga Nidra?
That’s a great question. First, I’ll outline briefly what the practice of Yoga Nidra originally was, and then what it’s morphed into today.
Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep. It is a state of conscious Deep Sleep. In Meditation, you remain in the Waking state of consciousness, and gently focus the mind, while allowing thought patterns, emotions, sensations, and images to arise and go on. However, in Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go past the Dreaming state, and go to Deep Sleep, yet remain awake. While Yoga Nidra is a state that is very relaxing, it is also used by Yogis to purify the Samskaras, the deep impressions that are the driving force behind Karma.
Yoga Nidra has been known for thousands of years by sages and yogis. Of the three states of consciousness of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep, as expounded in the Upanishads, Yoga Nidra refers to the conscious awareness of the Deep Sleep state. This is the third of the four levels of consciousness – the four states are Waking, Dreaming, sleep, and turiya, the fourth state. The state of Yoga Nidra, conscious Deep Sleep, is beyond or subtler than the imagery and mental process of the Waking and Dreaming states.
This practice is described in extreme depth in this lengthy article here: https://swamij.com/yoga-nidra.htm
The article is correct when in states that Yoga Nidra has morphed (some might even say evolved) into something else entirely – although it’s true to say that most of the versions of Yoga Nidra I have tried and facilitated recently include at least two of the elements of the original: The intention or Sankalpa – one’s deepest heartfelt desire, and the systematic rotation of awareness around the body in great detail in order to completely relax the body.
Some years after I started teaching Yoga Nidra as outlined by Swami Satyanada Saraswati, I came across another version called iRest, which I then trained in.
This basically takes elements from the original version and makes it more accessible and can be delivered without needing to know any Sanskrit terms or other jargon. It has been used successfully as a therapy for PTSD, first with War Veterans in the USA, but is also equally suited to anyone who is experiencing PTSD.
So where do I stand regarding Yoga Nidra these days? I’ve noticed that my own presentation has evolved into something that is more suited to being called Guided Contemplations
Gradually, I began to note the “ingredients” that helped people go deeper into the experience of deep inner peace. These included detailed inner investigations into the nature of thought or thinking, the experience of sensation, the experience of space, the perception of time.
A number of practices were introduced – some of these, in various forms, are used in other presentations of Yoga Nidra, and are mostly taken from certain Tantric practices – mainly from the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. There are also overtones of some of the teachings found in Dzogchen Buddhism.
The goal of all these approaches is the experience and realisation of one’s true nature as Awareness – “I”, or “I Am”.
I currently facilitate Yoga Nidra at Calm Collective in Sidcup every Sunday at 9.00am