Yoga Nidra : Stages of Yoga Nidra

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stages of Yoga Nidra

There are several stages that make up the structure of Yoga Nidra. Each stage emphasises a different
body sheath. These sheaths include, as mentioned before, the physical body, the energy body, the
sensation, feeling and emotional bodies, the bodies of thought and imagery, and the bodies of bliss and
ego identity. Upon arrival at each stage, we explore and get to know each of our body sheaths, without
any judgment on our part. We have no agenda other than being with the various sensations, images,
thoughts, feelings and any other impression that may arise as we explore. Each stage represents a way
our mind has turned what is in fact a non-conceptual Unity into a conceptual, objectified perception.
By bringing them to our awareness with an attitude of welcome, the solidity of each sheath
deconstructs, and we are hence able to disidentify from each body sheath. By doing so, we gradually
realise that all that remains is the consciousness behind all the different sheaths, and that is our true
identity – non-objective Pure Presence. (Miller 2002)

The practice of yoga nidra is divided into the following stages:

Preparation: Yoga nidra is performed in the posture of shavasana or corpse pose. The body is
stretched out with the head in a straight line with the body. The feet are slightly apart, the arms
are beside the body, the palms of the hands are turned upwards, and the eyes are closed. After
getting into a comfortable position, there should be no more movement. (Chopra 1996)

In this stage, initial relaxation of the body and mind is brought on by the awareness of stillness,
comfort, posture, position, breath, and listening to the external sounds with the attitude of a
witness. (Bhushan 2001)

Intention: In this stage, the practitioner asserts his or her intention to enter into the practice of
Yoga Nidra. The intention is to remain focused and undistracted throughout the session. For
instance, he or she may say, “I will not sleep, I will remain awake.” This intention sets the
direction and tone of the practice. (Miller 2002)

Sankalpa: When the body and mind are relaxed, then the practitioner is instructed to take a
resolve or sankalpa according to his or her own wish. The sankalpa should be short, clear and
positive. The practitioner repeats the selected sankalpa three times mentally, with full
determination, conviction and confidence. With deep relaxation, we are able to access our
subconscious mind. It becomes very open to suggestion, and thus we are able to effectively
change deep set patterns. (Bhushan 2001)

Rotation of consciousness: Next, the awareness is rotated around the different body parts in a
systematic and ordered manner. The practitioner is instructed to remain aware, to listen to the
instructions and to move the mind very rapidly according to the instructions without making
any physical movements. The rotation of awareness in Yoga Nidra follows a definite sequence:
right side of the body, beginning with the right hand thumb and ending with the little toe of the
right foot; left side of the body, from the left hand thumb to the little toe of the left foot; back
of the body, from the buttocks to the back of the head; and lastly the front of the body, from the
forehead and individual facial features down to the pelvis. The awareness is then brought to
major parts of the body – whole arms, whole legs, whole torso, whole right side of the body
and whole left side of the body. Eventually the entire body is brought together into awareness.
(Bhushan 2001, Chopra 1996)

Breath awareness: In this stage, one simply becomes aware of the natural breath without
making an attempt to change the flow of the breath. One may become aware of the breath by
watching it in the nostrils, chest, and abdomen, or in the passage between the navel and the
throat. The practitioner becomes aware of each incoming and outgoing breath by counting
them mentally. (Bhushan 2001)

Counting the breath is an important exercise as it sharpens the
practitioner’s ability to focus. With practice, he or she will be able to remain wide-awake and
alert. (Miller 2002)

Opposite feelings and sensations: In this stage, the physical or emotional sensations are
recalled, intensified and experienced fully. The practitioner is instructed to experience pairs of
opposite feelings or sensations like heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, pain and pleasure,
love and hate, and so on. (Bhushan 2001

The thinking mind is only able to focus in one
direction at any one time, it cannot move simultaneously in two opposite directions at once.
Thus when instructed to do so, it stops thinking and becomes silent. In this quiet, the
practitioner is able to experience his or her self expanding in a multidimensional spaciousness.
(Miller 2002)

Visualization: In the stage of visualization, the awareness is taken to the dark space in front of
the closed eyes, referred to as chidakasha in yogic terminology. (Bhushan 2001)

The practitioner is then instructed to visualize some images or symbols, which may include a castle,
the smell of the earth after rain, the ocean at night, a steady candle flame, a blue lotus and so
on. The symbols serve as a catalyst to provoke a reaction in the unconscious mind. However,
since the practitioner’s mind is not given any time to react, it becomes detached and the ego
becomes temporarily inactive. (Gilmore 2004)

Suppressed conflicts, desires, and deep patterns hidden in the unconscious are liberated and rise into awareness. As they are viewed in an attitude of welcome and not denial, they surface and then dissolve. When these deep residues move out of the unconscious, feelings of peace, stillness and joy manifest. (Miller 2002)

Sankalpa: Once again the sankalpa, taken in stage two, is repeated mentally three times in this
stage with full dedication, faith and optimism. (Bhushan 2001)

Ending the practice: At the end of the session of Yoga Nidra, the practitioner may still be in a
very deep state. As such, they are instructed to slowly externalise their awareness by listening
to external sounds, and becoming aware of objects and persons in their surroundings and the
room that they are in. They are asked then to slowly move the body parts and to stretch the
body. When they are sure that they are awake, they can then sit up slowly and open their eyes.
(Bhushan 2001, Chopra 1996)


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