By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500
Where and when did the origin of Yoga Nidra begin? Within the Mahabharata – Book 1: Adi Parva/Section XXI, it is stated: “It becomes the bed of the lotus-naveled Vishnu when at the termination of every Yuga that deity of immeasurable power enjoys yoga-nidra, the deep sleep under the spell of spiritual meditation.” The point being: Yoga Nidra has been around for many centuries. It is safe to say the text was compiled around 300 BCE; give or take a few centuries and this knowledge existed in verbal format before it was put down in writing.
In the Yoga Taravali 25.26 it is stated:
“Absorbed in the auspicious state of continuous practice
The state of Yoga Nidra expands in the Yogi.”
Within the Bhagavata, there is an explanation of creation and Yoga Nidra is also mentioned.
“He is described as lying on Adisesha, His couch. His eyes are closed as if in deep meditation, having withdrawn from the activities of creation, preservation and dissolution. He is in Yoga Nidra, appearing to be asleep; yet, He is ever awake with His omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence intact.”
Modern Yoga Nidra is credited to Swami Satyananda Saraswati who was also the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. That said, the exact origin of Yoga Nidra is not entirely clear, but the concept seems to be on a steady course. In the deep sleep state known as “prajna” or wisdom, the Yoga practitioner may experience Yoga nidra. This state of understanding is where one can come to perceive the universal flux of being. In a state of prajna or Yoga nidra, the Yogi is able to eliminate afflictions.
The meditative sound of “aum” is composed of three letters—a, u and m. The “a” is the state of wakefulness, and external awareness through the mind and sense organs. The “u” represents the dream state, composed of internal experiences. The “m” represents the Yoga nidra state of deep, lucid sleep, being the third of four levels of consciousness. (The fourth level—absolute emptiness—is that of no sound with neither inward nor outward consciousness. This fourth level lies beneath the other three states.)
In the depictions of Vishnu reclining on the naga (snake), Sesha or Ananta, he is in a state of Yoga nidra, creating the phenomenal world, and taking part in it, similar to the sense of lucid dreaming. Swami Satyananda Saraswati developed this system of relaxation in the mid 20th century, after studying and practicing the tantric scriptures. His explanation of Yoga nidra was as a state of mind between wakefulness and dream, wherein deep constructs of the mind become opened.
He defined a practice of eight stages to bring the practitioner to a pure state of Yoga nidra. The eight stages are:
• Sankalpa—a resolution made during the practice by the individual to clearly define and focus on a particular goal, effectively awakening willpower by uniting conscious awareness with unconscious, dormant energies
• Rotation of One’s Consciousness
• Breath Awareness
• Manifestation of Opposites
• Creative Visualization
• Sankalpa—understanding one’s resolution at a yet deeper level
Yoga Nidra is similar to a state of lucid dreaming where an internal lucidity is maintained. Experiences are directed and manifested in the sleeping-waking dream state that are not only directed within the altered state of consciousness, but are brought back to conscious awareness to inform the individual of progress with the sankalpa, or lessons, and other information to improve, heal and otherwise evolve the initiate.
Creative visualization is, therefore, a central technique of Yoga Nidra. As a “sadhana,” or spiritual path, it prepares the Yogi for spiritual, emotional, mental and physical awareness of self and the phenomenal world surrounding the self. It additionally informs the yogi the means by which to work through karma—the consequences of one’s deed, while clearing consciousness and purifying the unconscious mind.
The exact origin of Yoga Nidra is obscure, but the method has reached global popularity, because it has become “user friendly.” When we look back through history, the public did not have access to Yogic techniques. Yoga Nidra is classified as a higher technique, which is also said to be a gateway to samadhi. Today, there is less talk about samadhi through Yoga Nidra, when relaxation, stress management, and relief from anxiety have become the main reasons why people flood Yoga Nidra sessions.
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