Yoga nidra – ‘the sleep of the yogis’

I have recently started offering monthly yoga nidra classes, timed with the new moon. So I thought it was timely to write a piece about what exactly this practice entails and what its benefits are. It strikes me that ‘magical’ healing and transformative practices like yoga nidra are much needed in the world at the moment, where we are really ‘at the wall’ as a species in many ways, and being called upon to up our game, heal our wounds and raise our consciousness out of this mess we’ve created for ourselves and our beautiful planet.

I deliberately chose to hold yoga nidra classes with the new moon, as the new moon energy tends to be cited as a potent time for planting new seeds of growth that can be nurtured through the lunar cycle. For me, teaching with nature’s cycles is an obvious way to help us come back to a deeper, wiser connection with the natural system of our planet and universe, which is so needed for our evolution at this time. At the very least, my hope is that more people might start to notice the monthly journey of the moon, and perhaps begin to track how it affects their psyche too, and ultimately how we can harness this for maximum benefit.

So what is yoga nidra? Nidra means ‘sleep’ in sanskrit, so it’s often called ‘sleep of the yogis’. However, really this is a strange misnomer as we very much don’t want to fall asleep in the practice! Essentially, in a yoga nidra practice the teacher reads out loud a written script, in a deliberately soft and even voice that helps to calm the nervous system of the listeners and guide them into a relaxed state. The script is, to begin with, a giuded deep relaxation for the body. However, it also includes within it many instructions that the listeners have to follow. Amongst other things, these instructions usually involve taking the awareness to different parts of the body in quick succession, counting breaths, visualising different scenes in quick succession, cultivating different sensory feelings such as light/heavy/hot/cold. The purpose of combining a deep guided relaxation with constant mental stimulation through following these different instructions is that we enter a different state of consciousness, often called the ‘hypnagogic state’. In this state of consciousness, which is likened to the place between wakefulness and sleep, the body is so relaxed that it actually thinks it’s asleep, but the mind is utterly alert and active. You might occasionally experience this before nodding off. It’s a well-documented ‘threshold’ state of consciousness, where interesting things can occur such as lucid dreaming, sudden insight and revelation, and in yoga nidra we proactively harness this potential and use it for personal transformation.

The reason why the hypnagogic state, which we enter through yoga nidra, is a potent one for proactively creating positive change in your life is because we are able to access the sub-conscious and unconscious parts of our being in a way that is usually impossible; we can literally re-program ourselves. You may or may not be aware that, for most of us, our reactions, emotions and behaviour are largely governed by the sub-conscious and unconscious parts of our psyche. The conscious part of our mind constitutes the tiniest tip of the ice-berg. So, we may think we are choosing to consciously respond to situations, but how often do we regret our behaviour, or not feel good in ourselves, or experience unhelpful emotions and thought patterns? The thing is, until we start a journey of becoming more and more conscious beings (through practising yoga or any other self-reflective modality for example), we’re not even conscious of the fact that we’re not acting in full consciousness! But, we all certainly start to become aware of certain aspects of our personality that we would wish to change, as we go through our lives. And, through yoga nidra, we can start to transform some of these unhelpful aspects, in the most easy and relaxing way you can imagine.

So now we come onto the ‘magic’ part of the practice. When we arrive in this hypnagogic state of consciousness, we deliberately plant a positive resolve or intention, which in yoga nidra is called a ‘sankalpa’. This is a short, positive affirmation of something you would like to do or be, said in the present tense as if it were already the case. The wording is important, as the subconscious and unconscious follow instructions literally. So, for example, if you wish to be less jealous, you wouldn’t say to yourself ‘I want to be less jealous’. This implies to the sub-conscious that you think you are jealous, so that is the ‘instruction’ that it follows and you continue to act from this unconscious belief that you are a jealous person. So, instead you would make your sankalpa something like, ‘I am always happy for others’ good fortune’. Of course, like anything, seeds need watering but, over time and through constant practice of yoga nidra, amazing changes can occur in your life. The proof, as always, is in the pudding, so the best thing to do is to practise regularly and observe shifts in your life.

I know it sounds too good to be true but really this is how we’ve always created ourselves as the people we are and created the lives we lead and the experiences we have; through programming the unconscious and sub-conscious with a particular collection of much-repeated mental statements, most of which we are likely to be completely unaware. The difference here is that we start to consciously do the same thing, by choosing the instructions that the programme of our unconscious follows. So it really is that easy. But, like anything, it requires practice and dedication – our behaviour and personality are a result of many years of following the same groove of largely unconscious and subconscious beliefs, so it’s going to take time for the new consciously planted beliefs to take seed and grow and, like all seeds, they need to be nurtured. So, it’s not just a matter of planting a seed in yoga nidra and nothing more. Really, the work is in the waking life that follows. We remember the sankalpa we made during yoga nidra, and we observe the situations that life presents to us and how we respond with much more mental acuity. Usually, when we challenge and work to transform an unhelpful belief pattern, things can get a little rocky in our life for a while, as we struggle to adjust to a new way of behaving. Often, those around us resist the change, because if one person changes their default behaviour in any relationship dynamic then the other person has to change, or has to leave the dynamic – it’s as simple as that. So this transition can often feel very uncomfortable indeed, but you just have to keep the faith that the new way of being will ultimately serve you and all others better than the existing pattern that you’ve observed as being unhelpful. Change is never easy.

So, yoga nidra plants the seed and, with regular practice, helps us to attune ourself to a much more conscious way of living. So, it’s not just that you can do this practice and nothing else, but it really is an amazingly powerful tool to use alongside the other tools you use, for example all the other amazing aspects of yoga and other holistic healing and transformation modalities, all of which are designed to make us more and more conscious beings. The great thing about yoga nidra is that it goes straight to the root of the issue, and can save us a lot of time; it has a ‘less is more’ wisdom and efficiency to it, which can be a great balance to the disciplined endeavours that we employ in our waking life. Yoga is, ultimately, a science of mastering the mind, and of bringing the totality of our being into balance so we are no longer at the mercy of the unconscious and sub-conscious mind, and yoga nidra can be a very helpful part of this journey.

So, if you’re curious, get in touch and join my monthly online yoga nidra class, offered by donation via Zoom platform on the Wednesday nearest to the new moon, 7:30-8:30pm UK time.


One thought on “Yoga nidra – ‘the sleep of the yogis’

  1. Oh, I missed this yesterday, as we were traveling. Any chance that you record these and make them available with a donation? I do miss your classes still! 😍

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