Depending on where you are from or how far you are in your own personal yoga practice, you may not yet be familiar with Yoga Nidra. But with all the stress going on in the world, and more specifically, in our everyday lives, finding ways to relieve deep tension in our bodies and minds is becoming increasingly important. At our English Yoga studio in Kreuzberg, what unites us as a collective is that we end every class no matter which style of yoga (Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow and Tantric Yoga) with a guided relaxation using techniques inspired by Yoga Nidra. We also have an audio collection of recorded relaxations here on our website!
Yoga Nidra is the practice of conscious deep sleep. It is a specific yoga in and of itself where we learn how to relax deeply by practicing pratyahara, or detachment, with the eventual goal of attaining a state of inner peace. When we practice Yoga Nidra we enter a state of very deep relaxation in which we travel through the layers of our conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds.
3 Types of Tensions
When you think about your life, you may think that there are a million kinds of tensions around every corner, just waiting to cause you stress. But the tensions that people experience could be divided into three basic categories:
Muscular tensions arise from the body itself, the nervous system and through endocrine imbalance. Emotional tensions arise from the duality of emotions such as love/hate, joy/sadness, success/failure, which we are not able to express freely. This inability to express our emotions means that they become repressed and get deeply rooted in our unconscious. Mental tension arises from excessive mental activity. The monkey mind can be a whirlpool of fantasies, confusions, and oscillations of thoughts which when uncontrolled can become a source of real discomfort and pain.
Some of the techniques used in order to cleanse these tensions include the rotation of consciousness, concentration on different sounds, opposite sensations, rapid imagery and visualization. Through the practice of yoga Nidra the practitioner undergoes a cleansing of mental, emotional, and physical tensions.
Rotation of Consciousness
The rotation of consciousness involves taking the practitioner’s awareness to different parts of the body. It is said that wherever we center our attention it becomes the place where we also center our energy. Bringing ones awareness to each part of the body increases the energy in that part and allows the participant to identify and relax tensions there.
Often in our Yoga Nidra class we concentrate on different sounds. This technique helps the students to withdraw from the other senses (vision, taste, feeling, smells) and only leave one channel, the auditory one, open. The idea is that the participant stays aware of the directions coming from the instructor, but practices detachment from all other stimuli. This focus can increase a feeling of inner peace because when the mind is not getting overwhelmed with input, it is less likely to create intense mental fluctuations and more likely to be calm.
Students are asked to focus on experiencing opposite sensations in Yoga Nidra. For example heaviness/lightness, sadness/elation, cold/warm. As previously said, emotional tension arises from the duality of emotions. By asking the student to temporarily experience emotions that they are not presently feeling, and then to experience the opposite emotion, this technique is used to neutralize emotions. This often allows the practitioner to go into a deeper state of relaxation, one that lies beyond the limitations of their emotional world.
Rapid imagery involves a number of different things being named in quick succession and the student being asked to visualize each of them, then let them go so that they can move on to the next one. Because the mind tends to wander on its own and create its own fluctuations, this practice can help regulate this activity. For example when the image “waves breaking on a deserted beach” is given, then one could start thinking of the last time they were on the beach. They then think of who they were with, the emotions this caused and then start analyzing that past situation. But before this can happen in Yoga Nidra practice, the next image is given, considered and then asked to be released. It is a method of learning how to guide the mind so that we can learn to visualize and to release images that produce subconscious reactions. This, taken into our everyday life, can decrease our levels of stress and help us to achieve a more consistent sense of wellbeing.