As a Canadian yoga teacher, it is often difficult to convince my students that a large part of their practice should be laying in Shavasana. In a society which has such a strong emphasis on physical fitness, students often don’t see the value in working with the more subtle bodies of energy such as our breathe, our mind and our heart. Although I am faced with initial resistance, I have witnessed profound effects from offering this age old practice to the people that I work with. I have seen individuals thrive by teaching themselves to slow down and tune in.
Yoga nidra is a practice derived from the tantras which teaches individuals to consciously move into deep relaxation. One goal of this practice is to remain mentally alert while the body is asleep. Often people view relaxing as watching television, playing video games, or other activities where the mind is stimulated and the body is activated. Even sleep is not always “relaxing” as many of us grind our teeth and wake up with soreness from tensing out muscles throughout the night. Yoga nidra uses the conscious mind to help our bodies achieve an ultimate state of relaxation. In this state the body can move into the parasympathetic nervous system; restoring, healing and rejuvenating itself. Yoga nidra has many benefits which vary from person to person. This technique brings people into balance by offering them more or less of a specific quality. For example, someone with chronic fatigue may feel energized by a daily practice of yoga nidra where another person may use yoga nidra to calm feelings of anxiety or hyperactivity.
Each yoga nidra practice begins with stating your personal Sankalpa. This can be translated from Sanskrit as your intention or resolve. Your Sankalpa is a statement constructed of positive words in present tense which identifies your deepest heart’s desire. An example of a Sankalpa is “I am in optimal health” or “I am full of joy”. We also repeat our Sankalpa at the end of a yoga nidra because in this state of consciousness are minds are increasingly open to change and growth.
The five Koshas are often spoken about in yoga and refer to the five energy sheaths that can be identified and which make up an individual. In Yoga Nidra, we bring awareness to these layers to help us move deeper and deeper and eventually into the more subtle layers of our existence. One of the goals of yoga nidra is to connect with your anandamaya kosha which is the most subtle sheath, referred to affectionately as our divine being our inner truth. By connecting to this level of existence we are joined with our natural state of bliss.
The first sheath in the kosha model is the annamaya kosha. This layer is often the easiest to identify with and refers to the earth elements, or physical body. In yoga nidra we use progressive relaxation (focusing on specific parts of the physical body) to bring our awareness into the physical body. We always start with the right hand thumb for a few reasons. First of all, we believe that by creating patterns, students will begin to learn how to move deeper and quicker into a state of deep relaxation. Additionally, our hands have many nerve endings which make it easier to feel sensations.
The second sheath is the Pranamaya Kosha. This is the sheath of breath and energy. In Yoga Nidra, we guide students to focus on their breath and become aware of the individual rhythms of breathe. Deep breathing and the Yogic three-part-breath can be used to further move students into a state of deep relaxation by increasing the amount of blood flow and oxygen into the body. Working with the breath additionally promotes deep states of relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
The last three sheaths of yoga nidra are very subtle and are referred to as the manomaya kosha, the Vijnanamaya kosha and the anandamaya kosha. I will write another post on these sheaths in the next couple of weeks. I hope this helps all of you to gain a bit more of an understanding around Yoga Nidra and the benefits of the practise.
I will be offering a workshop at The Yoga Passion on December 9, 2011 which will teach people how to create their own yoga nidras as well as how to continue to explore the science behind this practise. Thank-you all for reading my blog. I am honoured to share my wisdom with all of you!