Deep Relaxation

“The mind will slip into Alpha and then Theta brain wave activity, this also happens in meditation at the point of going to sleep or waking. This is the most receptive time to implant new patterns of behaviour”

abhāva pratyayā ‘laṁbanā vṛttir nidrā

Nidra, according to Patanjali in Sutra 1:10 is one of the five thought patterns that prevent us from realising the true self beyond illusion. Deep sleep, or dreamless sleep when the mind thinks it does not think, is how Patanjali describes sleep, and as a state of mental inertia. When we sleep there is consciousness otherwise how would we be able to describe sleep, or the quality of sleep, Patanjali describes this as a tamasic state, a state of heaviness. To transcend this mental modification, we need to enter a state of deep relaxation with complete awareness, this is yoga nidra.

svapna nidra jnana alambanam va

In Sutra 1:38 , Patanjali tells us that if we remain aware of our dreams and dreamless sleep we calm the mind, which I think more aptly describes yoga nidra. This sutra may also be referring to lucid dreaming, or maybe even astral projection, but this is just my opinion.

The origin of yoga nidra is often cited to Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar school of yoga, from I believe, the mid-1960s’, although I think I read he tells himself how the system was passed on to him. How far it goes back I don’t know, it may well have been introduced by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, but my feeling is it goes back beyond the sutras into Vedic culture.

So to the practice of yoga nidra and its benefits. The student is led by the teacher progressively into a state of deep relaxation through verbal instructions and guided visualisation. One of the essential ingredients is the sankalpa, or resolve, which must be a positive resolve. I think one of the main stumbling blocks to a successful yoga nidra is at the point of sankalpa, and I definitely thinks it’s worth explaining to a class beforehand. In order for the sankalpa to succeed the student needs to have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. If the student is unclear about their intentions, then a clear statement of intent is impossible. The sankalpa must be as if it is now, it won’t do to say I will be or want to be. An example might be I am becoming more of who I am now! Or I am attracting more and more abundance into my life.

The practice begins in savasana, and may include blankets, cushions or other props as necessary. Once your students are comfortable and warm the verbal instructions may begin with breath awareness followed by a short body scan. Tone of voice is also vitally important, a calm reassuring tone of voice with clear instructions will keep your student’s attention, which is the main point, otherwise attention drifts and the mind wanders from topic to topic. You can then introduce a sankalpa. The next stage would then be a much slower and detailed body scan, starting with each toe working through the entire body. Again keeping the student’s attention is vital.

This can then be followed by a visualisation sequence. This is the chance to get the student to bring all their senses into play. The visualisation may be located on a beach, which can include all the senses, touch, hearing, smell, sight and sound. Encourage your students to bring the scene alive with as much clarity as possible. The script will encourage the student to smell the sea, feel the sun and hear birds in the sky. This part will help with the next stage which will be the second time for the sankalpa. Your student will be encouraged to bring their sankalpa alive and as if were now.

Just as a suggestion, maybe a car is needed in order to travel to a new job, then you would get the student to see the colour, feel the steering wheel and listen to the engine. I think it’s worth saying that wishing for material things is not what I would encourage, but it may be a means to an end. Also just visualising an end result won’t work without putting in the hard work as well. I would encourage my students to not put a time limit on their sankalpa, or be disappointed if it does not seem to work, otherwise this will undo the good work. The body and mind must be completely relaxed, but with complete awareness of the process. The mind will slip into Alpha and then Theta brain wave activity, this also happens in meditation and at the point of going to sleep or waking. This is the most receptive time to implant new patterns and concepts.

If the nidra works well your students will come back feeling refreshed and revitalised, calmed and ready to carry on with their day.

Martin Thompson.