How to Practice Yoga Nidra

This restorative yoga practice, often called yogic sleep, can help bolster your nervous system and dismantle disruptive, deep-seated mental and emotional patterns of behavior.

In This Article

Calm Your Nervous System

A major focus of Ayurveda is to disarm the protective nervous system in order to access deep-seated mental and emotional patterns of behavior that, according to Ayurveda, literally store in the body’s fat cells for years.

As the body relaxes, the mind becomes more still, silent and alert. I call this the “co-existence of opposites;” a body in deep relaxation co-existing with a mind that is silent but very much “aware.”

With this heightened awareness, one can gain the clarity needed to become free of old protective patterns of emotional behavior that are simply not serving us anymore!

During the Colorado Cleanse, I guide folks through a series of self inquiry exercises that pave the way for deep transformational changes.

I have been asked to offer more tools like this, simple tools that may be used at home to chip away at these protective patterns.

Today, I would like to share with you a seated, 4-5 minute Yoga Nidra practice (see video), taught to me by Amy Weintraub, who is a prolific author and expert in the field of Yoga and Depression. In the article that follows, Amy explains that Yoga Nidra is not just a relaxation technique, but a tool to create a platform for transformational change through “the co-existence of opposites.”

Please watch the video below in which I guide you through a short, deeply relaxing seated Yoga Nidra practice, guided by John Douillard. Additionally, please read the article, where this practice is beautifully described by Amy Weintraub.In This Article:Yoga Nidra – What It Is and Why It’s ImportantBasic Yoga Nidra Practice

Yoga Nidra – What It Is and Why It’s Important

Excerpted for John Douillard from
The LifeForce Yoga Practitioner Manual, Level 1 by Amy Weintraub

Unlike most guided relaxations and the practice of savasana, in Yoga Nidra (YN), we are not trying to relax. In fact, the word relax is rarely used. But relaxation happens because we are attending to and present to the body. While YN may look like savasana in that it is most often practiced in corpse pose and incorporates a body scan, which is common to many forms of relaxation, the goals are different.

Yoga Nidra is a form of meditative self-inquiry that, while relaxing the body, opens the mind to greater discernment and self-awareness, and the heart to love and acceptance of what is. It is a powerful tool for clearing away our limiting beliefs and emotions and for living from a more balanced (sattvic) state of mind. Practiced regularly, it can be a pathway to awakening.

Traditional protocols, like those developed by the Bihar School (Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Nidra) and the Himalayan Institute (Swami Rama), often move rapidly and mechanically through the body, suggesting that the practitioner visualize or sense each body part. This can be an effective means for stilling the busy mind and aligning it with body sensation and breath.

Muscular tensions are easily removed by the deep physical relaxation attained in the state of Yoga Nidra, says Swami Satyananda Saraswati. He goes on to explain how emotional tensions, which stem from the various dualities, are more difficult to erase and cannot be relaxed through ordinary sleep or relaxation. Yoga Nidra can tranquilize the entire emotional structure of the mind. Mental tensions, which are the result of excessive mental activity, can be harmonized in Yoga Nidra practice. Yoga Nidra is the science of relaxation, which enables each of us to dive deep down into the realms of the subconscious mind, thereby releasing and relaxing mental tensions, and establishing harmony in all facets of our being (Yoga Nidra, pg 13).

Through the practice of Yoga Nidra, we are not only relaxing, but transforming our personality structure. In Yogic terms, we are releasing the samskaras, those karmic knots formed in reaction to our actions that form a web of responses called the vasanas. This web is the template for our conditioned responses to the world.When we react from our conditioned responses, we are not free.When we find ourselves constricting in anger or grief, the practice of Yoga Nidra can immediately dissolve the constriction and progressively change our established mental patterns, so that when strong emotion does arise, we may begin to witness and welcome it, inquiring into its antecedents, without the need to react.

The Dalai Lama says that anger is blind energy. Yoga Nidra removes the blindness, so that we can observe the energy without reacting. In brain science terms, we are re-forming the neuronal pathways that may have been established in response to insufficient or inappropriate care from our primary caregivers, or the experiences of hurt and isolation we have had during our lives.

Basic Yoga Nidra Practice

Steps:

i.  Intention
ii.  Heartfelt Prayer (sankalpa)
iii.  Inner Resource (useful when working with trauma and negative mood states)

Stages:
1.  Awareness of Sensation (annamaya kosha)
2.  Awareness of Breath & Energy (pranamaya kosha)
3.  Awareness of Feelings & Emotions (manomaya kosha)
4.  Awareness of Thoughts, Images, & Beliefs (vijnanamaya kosha)
5.  Awareness of Joy, Bliss & Love (anandamaya kosha)

Steps:
iv.  Return to Heartfelt Prayer
v.  Return to Awareness of Breath
vi.  Return to Awareness of Sensation

The LifeForce Yoga Nidra for Mood Management CD by Amy Weintraub is a traditional Yoga Nidra practice informed by her iRest studies with Richard Miller, PhD. Amy is also the author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books, 2004) and Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management (W.W. Norton, 2012). For many other resources for mood management, as well as current research, visit www.yogafordepression.com. You can find the CD at http://yogafordepression.com/audio/lifeforce-yoga-nidra-cd/

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