The intuitions received in yoga nidra enable one to find within himself [or herself] the answers to all problems. One’s true nature and integrity manifest, enabling him [or her] to live a meaningful and peaceful life in any environment. This is the opening of the ‘third eye’, which takes the consciousness beyond the conditioned personality with its tensions and complexes. No longer emotionally identified with the mind and body,
one’s entire being is pervaded with divine consciousness.
~Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Yoga Nidra is a term used for many forms of guided deep relaxation. Nidra in Sanskrit means sleep and Yoga means union, or single pointedness. The period of rest at the end of a yoga practice in savasana with guided instructions for progressive relaxation is often called yoga nidra. Some people refer to yoga nidra as psychic sleep. Today, yoga nidra is practiced by yogis from many different lineages. Nyasa yoga nidra is a specific multistep process for the integration of body, mind, and spirit. This multistep form of yoga nidra is based on the practices developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga and disciple of Swami Sivananda….
The practice of yoga nidra is part of the tantric tradition. It is developed from an ancient practice, called Nyasa. Nyasa is usually defined as to place or to take the mind to that point. Nyasa can also be translated as imprinting, consecrating, charging, energizing, arousing consciousness, and imbuing. Essentially the practice involves infusing divine energy into one’s body or into the body of another. Nyasa is traditionally practiced seated. In Nyasa, first…the body part is named, then it is touched or visualized, and then the mantra is placed there. There are different variations of Nyasa. In Nyasa [one can place] deities, mantras, mental objects, [and] the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet on the body physically or mentally. There are many types of Nyasa, with varying degrees of complexity. Nyasa can be done externally using the tips of the fingers of the right hand to touch the parts of the body, or it can be done mentally….
On the threshold between wakefulness and sleep is a state of consciousness characterized by dream-like visions and unusual sensory occurrences. Psychologists call this stage hypnagogia, or the hypnagogic state....
During REM sleep (the state of deep sleep when we dream) the mind free-associates through thoughts, ideas, memories, and emotions. During hypnagogia one is conscious enough to be partially aware of the mind’s activity.
The hypnagogic state lasts a few minutes at most. One is in limbo between two states of consciousness. There are some elements of sleep mixed with some aspects of wakefulness. In yoga nidra we inhabit the hypnagogic state for an extended period.
During hypnagogia, scientists have observed the presence of both alpha and theta brain waves. Alpha waves are the dominant brain wave mode when we are conscious but relaxed, for instance when daydreaming or meditating. Theta brain waves are associated with restorative sleep. Usually, these brain waves occur only separately. The unique combination of alpha and theta brain waves brings the visions and sensations experienced in the hypnagogic state. The state is also marked by reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for planning and decision-making.
While in the hypnagogic state we experience a free flow of ideas and associations. Here the brain reviews and processes memories, thoughts, and feelings. Hypnagogia can be a rich source of creativity, ideas, and inspiration. It’s common for people to experience dream-like visions, static images, partially formed thoughts, sounds, flashes of color, insights, and sensations….
Granthi means "doubt" or "knot.” It can more specifically [be] defined as "a difficult knot to untie." Granthis are knotted areas of energy that block the flow of prana in the body. Granthis can prevent prana from rising up through the sushumna nadi. These knots prevent one from realizing their full potential. Granthis are barriers to freedom and self-realization.
Granthis are what keep an individual entangled in their preferences, desires, and fears. Both knowledge and action are needed to work out the knots and transcend their restrictions. In yoga nidra we can untie our granthis….
The increased body awareness fostered in yoga nidra promotes healing through the intervention of the mind into areas that it can now feel that it was once disconnected from. In yoga nidra, the mind reaches into areas of the body which hold memories, beliefs, and thought patterns that can be the root cause of illness, disease, tension, or discomfort. By bringing awareness to these areas, deep tensions that hold belief patterns in place can be resolved and released….The overall effect is the activity of the brain leads to the relaxation of the mind, body, and spirit.
Tips for Using Yoga Nidra
- Experience live yoga nidra sessions.
- Focus on one main teacher.
- After you are experienced with yoga nidra practice move from one teacher to a variety of teachers.
- Don’t overanalyze how you react—just experience the practice.
- To supplement your “live” experiences, work also with recordings. Preferably start out with many repeated listenings to a single recording. Then branch out to a range of recordings and voices.
- Once you have had some months of experiencing yoga nidra: transcribe a couple of your favorite yoga nidras and investigate the differences.
- Practice yoga nidra where you mentally guide yourself.
- Make recordings or your own yoga nidras—try them yourself and see how they make you feel.
- Practice yoga nidra on yourself—using unspoken mental commands and your own recordings and those or your favorite teachers for many months before you consider using it with students and/or clients.
- Be patient.
- Love the process.
*Adapted from "Nyasa Yoga Nidra Teacher Training Manual," Nya Patrinos, 2021.