Yoga Nidra – Supreme Stillness and Insight

I was introduced to the practice of Yoga Nidra many years ago as a method of deep relaxation. It was described as a great way of coping with tiredness and feeling under pressure and overworked. ‘This will give you the rest of 4 hours’ worth of quality deep sleep,’ I was told. All of this sounded very appealing, but, as I now know, Yoga Nidra is so much more than this. Most certainly, it is relaxing, most certainly it is restorative, but when practised for a longer time and with a deeper understanding of its purpose, the benefits of Yoga Nidra are far more profound than just relaxation.As Swami Jnaneshwari Bharati describes it:

Yoga Nidra brings an incredible calmness, quietness, and clarity. Yoga Nidra is one of the deepest of all meditations, leading awareness through many levels of mental process to a state of supreme stillness and insight.

Waking, Dreaming and Dreamless Sleep

The word Nidra means Deep Sleep, that is the sleep in which you are not dreaming, and it is one of three states of consciousness that we all experience on a daily basis. The others are the Waking State and the Dreaming State. At any given time of the day you are in one of these three conditions. You are either awake, in dream sleep, or in deep, dreamless, sleep. These relate to the three levels of functioning of our mind, the Conscious, Unconscious and Sub-conscious layers.

The Stresses of being ‘Awake’

When we are awake we function on three distinct, but interrelated, levels. We are basically a biological organism made up of a body, a mind and an intellect. We move through, and experience, the world through our body and our senses. We perceive sights, sounds, sensations etc. You can say we function as; ‘I, the Perceiver.’ This level of perception is followed by an emotional response to our experiences. We can generalise this into whether we liked or disliked the experience. This level of functioning we can think of as, ‘I, the Feeler.’ Then comes the third level; that of, ‘I, the Thinker.’ Having experienced and emotionally evaluated any given experience, we now think about whether we want to repeat or avoid this. This is where the ‘Waking’ experience becomes tricky! The polar opposite qualities of attachment and aversion start to exert their influences, and this is a root cause of unhappiness and stress. Let’s examine the pathways.

I the Perceiver

I the Feeler

I the Thinker

Attachment, Aversion and Unhappiness

Attachment and aversion are two sides of the same coin and are at work anytime we wish that things might be different to the way they are. Whether it is a wish to fulfil some desire, or to avoid something we have to face, the result is the same. We are unhappy. The simple truth is that everything in life changes and being able to cope with change is key. The problem is that we constantly strive to find lasting happiness in things which, by their nature, change. Unfortunately, we are in the habit of putting ourselves in this situation almost constantly. Or we believe that we will be happy if ‘this happens,’ or we ‘get that thing, or job,’ or ‘this person loves me,’ or we ‘don’t have to do that,’ or some other ‘requirement’. We make being happy conditional on outside circumstances, which are mostly not within our control. The result is stress, fear, anxiety, and perhaps ultimately illness.

If only we could find a respite from the continuous stream of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts. If we could alter the conditioned, habitual, patterns, thereby avoiding being led down the same pathway, to the same inevitable unhappiness. Well. There is a way to do this and it is through Yoga Nidra.

Finding Peace in Yoga Nidra

As we can see, the experience of daily life, of the Waking state and Conscious Mind can cause us distress. In dreaming, the expression of the Unconscious mind, we are still subject to the same types of images, sensations, emotions and thoughts as pervade the waking state. We can go through the same joys and sorrows, triumphs, failure and fears as we do in everyday life.

This is what is special about the third state of Consciousness, Nidra or deep sleep. It is characterised by the absence of the perceptions, emotions and thoughts of the other two states. Here, in the sub-conscious layer of mind, nothing has yet taken form. Everything exists only as a blueprint of what might be. Like an architect’s drawing. The only difficulty is we are unaware of anything at all.

Which is why Yoga Nidra is so special. The word Yoga, as we probably know, means ‘union’. Yoga Nidra is a particular form of Deep Sleep in which, unimaginable as it may sound, you remain fully alert and aware. It is a state of Conscious Deep Sleep in which the characteristic experiences of the waking and the dreaming states have all subsided. Here we ‘fall’ or ‘drop’ into a state of deep stillness, of a special kind of ‘emptiness’ one might say. One in which we are empty of thoughts, of fears, of suffering. Empty of separation, but full of awareness and insight. Here we can sense the blueprints which form the habits of our waking and dreaming experiences. But seeing them here, in this state of deep peacefulness, they begin to lose their hold over us, and we become more capable of letting go of those patterns of thinking, of feeling, of behaving, that do not serve us, that do not create happiness.

The Journey and the Destination

We should remember that the journey and the destination are not one and the same. The state of conscious deep sleep, insight, awareness and the felt sense of Being, is Yoga Nidra, is the destination. The journey involves a progressive releasing of the conscious and unconscious states by taking the awareness inwards, moving from the body, through the breath, through the mind, before dropping into the state of Yoga Nidra. It is important to understand that the journey is extremely relaxing and beneficial in itself and, even if it takes a great deal of practice before one can experience the final letting go, the process is hugely worthwhile and has so many positive effects on our health and well-being.

Benefits of regular Yoga Nidra practice

  • Decrease in levels of cortisol and adrenaline, reduced stress
  • Reduced blood pressure and heart-rate
  • Improved digestion, better absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxins
  • Improved respiration / oxygenation of tissues

  • Increased vitality and immunity
  • Greater mental clarity and acuity
  • Better sleep
  • More awareness and a greater feeling of contentment with life
  • More joy and compassion and connectedness

Well worth the effort

If the above was an exhaustive list, which it’s not, of all the good that can come of regular practice of Yoga Nidra, it would be more than worth the effort. (And, in truth, the only effort is to take the time for yourself. The time to lie down and listen to a guided Yoga Nidra!) That the achievement of Yoga Nidra in its deepest sense promises even more profound results is an even greater incentive. I practice Yoga Nidra on a daily basis, as much as possible, and I can attest personally to the veracity of its impact. If only more of humanity might discover its wonderful potential, the world would be a much more loving and peaceful place. Try it yourself and see!

Hari Om Tat Sat

David teaches a regular Yoga Nidra practice every Wednesday evening as well as occasional masterclasses. CLICK HERE FOR CLASS INFORMATION