Change Your Life with Yoga Nidra

I was very lucky to learn yoga nidra (yogic sleep), a powerful raja (royal) yoga technique of conscious relaxation, during my first stay in India in 2004. I spent a month in a Bihar School of Yoga ashram in Bangalore where I learned yoga nidra directly from a yogacharya (yoga teacher) who was a disciple of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati for most of his life. It’s Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati, an outstanding spiritual leader and the founder of the Bihar Yoga Tradition, who adapted yoga nidra from tantric yoga and made it accessible to all of us. I am so very grateful to Guruji and my teacher for sharing this powerful technique which since then had become a permanent part of my personal yoga practice and my yoga teaching. Thanks to yoga nidra, many of my friends, students and myself personally have benefited greatly and brought essential positive changes in our lives.

Nidra is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as sleep, and yoga nidra is known as yogic sleep or sleep with awareness. It is a powerful technique of inducing complete and systematic relaxation on the physical, emotional and mental levels of our being. It uniquely unwinds the nervous system, which is the foundation of the body’s well-being. One can rejuvenate in a short period of time – 30 minutes of yoga nidra is as restful as two hours of conventional sleep! Practiced lying down, it does not involve movement, just listening and relaxing, therefore it is suitable for any physical condition.

The practice of yoga nidra consists of a few different stages among which are total relaxation of the physical body, breathing techniques to promote deep mental relaxation and guided visualization to resolve suppressed memories and desires. Another very important stage of yoga nidra, which turns it into a life-changing method, is sankalpa (resolution) but it’s a vast topic I wrote about previously.

Yoga nidra practice has been investigated in many research centers around the world and showed extremely favorable results in many fields. A state of profound psychophysiological relaxation and metabolic rest which occurs during yoga nidra is characterized by decreased sympathetic and increased parasympathetic nervous activity, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, altered levels of «stress hormones» such as adrenaline and cortisol, and enhanced concentration capacity. This state was given different names such as «the hypnagogic state», «the creative surrender» and «the relaxation response».  It is in this state, the awakening and mobilization of prana (vital energy) happens naturally, and with consistent practice the ability to consciously control and direct prana throughout the body can be developed. This ability to use pranic energy at will allows a yoga nidra practitioner to access unlimited potential of inner healing power and improve any diseased condition of body-mind system.

Doctors and healers in many countries now prescribe yoga nidra as a preventive and curative therapy for stress-related diseases. Stress is a contributing factor in everything from backaches and insomnia to cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. Some estimates say that stress is related to 40-80% of all doctor visits! Heart disease, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, arthritis, bacterial or viral infections, migraine headaches, asthma and respiratory aliments… Have you ever experienced any of these problems? Unfortunately, most of us have illnesses or conditions brought on by stress or made worse by it. Fortunately, yoga nidra has been successfully used in the management of many stress-related diseases, and is proved helpful in both acute and chronic conditions.

Yoga nidra is also a successful therapy for psychological disturbances of all kinds, such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, etc., as it helps remove emotional imbalances and mental fatigue and tensions. In yoga nidra the subconscious mind is tapped to bring out into awareness the source of psychic pain – previously suppressed emotions, memories and desires. Self-recognition and desensitization of these painful life experiences follow spontaneously, and it can be safely relived and reintegrated into the conscious personality. When practice yoga nidra you become your own psychotherapist, you follow the instructions and not the instructor. The instructor is only a guide who doesn’t dominate your mind or will in any way. In yoga nidra you do everything yourself, and when you become familiar with the technique you will not even need an instructor anymore. Yoga nidra helps you to recognize your own personal problems and systematically alleviate them.

You can also use yoga nidra to stimulate your personal growth. The combination of alert awareness and the deepest form of relaxation helps you to dive into the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. In this «hypnagogic state» the mind is exceptionally receptive, and its nature can be easily changed: bad habits can be given up more easily, personality can be reshaped and direction in life can be chosen more wisely. In yoga nidra state you can also restore your creativity: we all have genius but we often cannot find it under the layers of tension and ever-busy mental chatters. You might find that right after yoga nidra practice, your mind is clear and still, and you feel inspired and called by your creative muse. This time is precious and can be used to write poems or music, to paint, sculpt or for any other creative process.

Applications of yoga nidra are very versatile, and one of them is to enhance the learning process by using our ability to absorb knowledge through the subconscious mind. Experiments are showing that yoga nidra is an extremely efficient mean of increasing learning capacity and memory function. Many pioneering educators now utilize yoga nidra to create the state of active and relaxed awareness in which knowledge is soaked up without effort. If you are a scholar, you might choose to use the stillness of your mind after yoga nidra practice to memorize and study.

The last and for me personally the most important use of yoga nidra lies in its meditative nature. If you find it difficult to meditate in a sitted position, you should start with yoga nidra. Achieving deep relaxation and perfect state of pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) brings out sensory inhibition that enables you to watch your mental activity. This can be more difficult to achieve while sitting but it is a necessary prerequisite to any meditation. Once you master pratyahara and relaxation, you will be able to get to the stage of dharana (contemplation) where your inner focus on one point helps you not to get involved in your thoughts and to reduce their number.  This might eventually lead to dhyana – defocusing or effortless focusing, the state in which you keep one single thought effortlessly and are continuously present in the now. That makes meditation a meaningful experience filled with spontaneous awareness and deep insights. Knowledge of truth only comes when you are free of tension and mindful. The ultimate purpose of yoga nidra is to take you even further into the state of samadhi where your body, mind and soul are completely united and become one with all there is. This is the true goal of yoga – UNION.

Our inner Surya

Everything and everyone in this world possesses qualities of Yang and Yin, Ha and Tha, Surya (which translates as the Sun from Sanskrit) and Chandra (the Moon from Sanskrit). It’s only when these opposite forces are in balance, the perfection is achieved. The balance doesn’t mean 50/50. Thanks to all sorts of different ratios of Ha and Tha qualities in objects, animated and unanimated, we can enjoy the variety and beauty of our Universe.

But let’s look at a human being. Surya is our most fundamental life force, which is always within us. It enables our existence. It gives us that «I am» feeling which is crucial for our self-identification and survival, the understanding that «I am one and unique». The same way the Sun is constantly producing light, our inner Surya is producing awareness and projecting it into the world. This awareness allows us to control everything in our inner world, and projects it out creating our outer world. We need to spread out our awareness into all spheres of our being and life, the same way the solar light spreads out in all directions. Our awareness is our light that dispels the darkness of ignorance and gives us ability to see, to understand. It’s by becoming aware we get power to create changes. The more we pay attention to Surya, our fundamental force of existence, the more powerful we become.

Yellow And Orange Rays by David Wagner

Whatever we do in life is to feel better which can be achieved only by strengthening our force of Surya. All spiritual practices help to strengthen our Surya by connecting to this main life force within us. A meditation is always based on «centring» ourselves – coming to our centre, our Surya. Surya force is in the centre of everything just as the Sun is in the centre of our planetary system.  Imagine yourself standing in the centre of a circle or a sphere. How does it feel to you? Being in the centre, makes us feel better as we get supported by the force of Surya. Some people, however, might feel confused or shy which indicates that their Surya force is not quite awaken. Have you noticed how children love to be in the centre of attention? Their spirit is still weak, and by receiving people’s attention, they receive strengthening of their Surya. Children that will eventually get strong enough, won’t need it anymore, but those who fail to develop enough Surya strength, will always rely on others for the energy support. Egoism is a manifestation of the weak Surya.

Zoya reaching to Surya by Vladimir Dunaev

Take a minute now to feel this Surya force inside of you. Sit straight, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, breathing out all the thoughts out of your mind. Now open up your awareness and look within. Come to the centre, your centre. Feel where that most concentrated «I am» is. We usually feel it deep inside, in the centre of the chest. Stay there for some time and observe it. Something that is being observed is your Surya. Something that is observing it is also your Surya. And that expansion of «I» that is happening by this observation is of Surya nature too. Being in the state of meditation makes us stronger, warmer, more solid, more stable. It brings us experience of being united, being One with all, and gives us power to influence anything we want, as it becomes a part of our being.

Zoya

http://www.zoyayoga.com

15th of Jan 2012

7 Yogic Secrets to Get your New Year’s Resolutions Come True (part 2)

Have you come up with a sankalpa? Hopefully, as this year is coming to its end, you’ve found some time to look back at your past and evaluate your mistakes and achievements, and then to look forward and think about the improvements you want to bring up into the 2012. By the end of the process described in the Part 1 of this post, you should be able to formulate a perfect Sankalpa for yourself. Next, you need to know what to do with it to get your dream come true.

When and how to use my sankalpa?

  1. Let’s start with WHEN. It’s not just repeating it with a glass of champaign at midnight on the 31st of December. We want to repeat sankalpa as often as possible. However it’s essential that the seed of sankalpa is planted deep into the subconscious. That’s the MAIN SECRET: to be successful, a resolution should be repeated when the mind is relaxed and ready to accept and absorb it. In the receptive state of mind we are able to correct the negative patterns already existing in the brain and install the positive ones. Only this way sankalpa can be powerful and effective, and unlike most resolutions or affirmations, will always get fulfilled. Each of us has the power to remould our own mental structure in order to achieve our goals, no matter how impossible it may seem at the beginning!
  2. l got to know about sankalpa when I was learning yoga nidra in an ashram of the Bihar School of Yoga, and I’m ever so grateful to Swami Satyananda Saraswati for his empowering teachings. Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep is one of my favourite practices ever! All you do is just lie down comfortably in Shavasana, and relax your body and mind very deeply. For more on yoga nidra click here.  When we practice yoga nidra we achieve a very relaxed and receptive state of mind. We traditionally repeat sankalpa 3 times at the beginning of  yoga nidra practice, which can be compared to sowing a seed in the bed of our mind, and then 3 times at the end of practice, when the mind is receptive and sensitive to autosuggestion, which can be compared to irrigating it. William Wordsworth said: “Your mind is the garden, your thoughts are the seeds, the harvest can either be flowers or weeds.”What do you choose?:) I love growing flowers!
  3. I also repeat my sankalpa 3 times before and after any other yoga practice. Yoga ia all about  building up awareness, and being aware of the thoughts allows us to control them so we can get rid of «weeds» (negative or empty recycled thoughts) and encourage the growth of «flowers» (positive powerful thoughts).  Sankalpa comes as a yogic tool to plant and nurture a beautiful seed into the mind field. Let me just make it clear that by practicing yoga I don’t mean fitness yoga but yoga practice as it is meant to be – mindfully performed asanas, as well as pranayamas (breathing techniques) and meditation. 
  4. Receptive and meditative state of mind also occurs naturally when we are waking up and falling asleep. So it’s a good idea to repeat sankalpa in bed. At night, my sankalpa lets me smile and go to sleep in a positive state of mind (read the next point and you’ll get why), and in the morning it helps me to refocus my energy of the day.
  5. Now about HOW. We usually pronounce a sankalpa 3 times aloud or silently. However, it’s not just about the words, the sankalpa must be supported by our positive emotions in order to create a powerful binding mechanism within our subconscious. It’s more about the vibrations that we project out into the Universe, so an inner smile, symbolic positive images and/or pleasant physical sensations in the body will rise our vibrations and therefore increase the power of sankalpa. When repeating your sankalpa, always feel what you will feel when you achieve the desired outcome and see yourself in a new desired state.
  6.  You should have sincere faith that your sankalpa will be effective. The result does depend on your sincerity, as well as on a deep felt need to attain the goal of your resolve. Knowing how this works is irrelevant compared to knowing that it does work. Your faith strengthens the effect of the sankalpa on your subconscious mind, so that the resolve will become a reality in your life.
  7. Don’t expect results overnight – flowers don’t grow this fast! Depending on the complexity of the request the manifestation will take shorter or longer time to come into full being. Don’t give up! If you slip up a couple of days or weeks, just let it go and get back on track. To see the flower growing and blooming, we need to take care of the flower seed by regularly watering it, providing fertilizers, air and sunshine. The same way we have to keep practicing and continually repeating sankalpa every day with conviction and passion till the goal is achieved. The sankalpa when practiced correctly never fails!

If you know what you want to achieve in life, sankalpa can be the creator of your destiny. That’s what it’s become to me – my sankalpas (as I’ve been reaching my goals I’ve changed quite a few of them throughout these years) helped me be more clear, more self-confident, more loving, more disciplined and more accepting which ultimately has allowed me to live the life of my dream. I use my sankalpa all the time as a reminder, an uplifting and motivating force that keeps me content and joyful, that helps me to manifest all I want into my life. And I have dozens of stories from my friends and students about their changed lives, great achievements and beautiful experiences that were brought to life thanks to sankalpa practice.

You still have a couple of days before 2012 kicks in. Choose your sankalpa and make your new year a memorable one! Thank you for reading!

Zoya

www.zoyayoga.com

29th of Dec 2011