Yoga Nidra: Yogic Conscious Deep Sleep
- Excerpted from the approximately 19-page article:
Five Methods of Yoga Nidra:
YOGA NIDRA: YOGIC CONSCIOUS DEEP SLEEP
MEANING OF YOGA NIDRA: Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep. It is a state of
conscious Deep Sleep. In Meditation, you remain in the Waking state
of consciousness, and gently focus the mind, while allowing thought
patterns, emotions, sensations, and images to arise and go on.
However, in Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go past the
Dreaming state, and go to Deep Sleep, yet remain awake. Yoga Nidra is
a state that is very relaxing, but is also used by Yogis to purify
the Samskaras, the deep impressions that are the driving force behind
SEE ALSO the Karma article:
MEDITATION: Imagine that you are in the WAKING state, with all of its
distractions of mind. You systematically do this and that with
directing your attention. You are practicing concentration and
letting go, leading you towards meditation. The thoughts and pictures
of the DREAMING state start to come to the surface, even though you
are still in the WAKING state. Gradually, the distractions fade away,
your mind becomes focused, and you are having a nice meditation. You
are deeply relaxed. You are still in the WAKING state of
consciousness, which is the nature of meditation.
YOGA NIDRA: Now, imagine that at some point you DROP or FALL or EMPTY
(or other such words) into the STATE of DEEP SLEEP, much like you
would normally do at bedtime (when not dreaming). However, this time,
you fell all the way THROUGH the dreaming state, and came to rest in
the DEEP SLEEP state, though, paradoxically, you remained aware and
alert. This is the level UNDERNEATH both the WAKING and DREAMING
states, and all of the thoughts and impressions that go along with
those two states. Now you are in the STATE of CONSCIOUS DEEP SLEEP.
This state is the state of YOGA NIDRA (Yoga Nidra refers to a state
of consciousness, not just the methods that lead you there). Nidra
means sleep (not dreaming), and Yoga means union, where all of those
other thoughts and impressions have receded back into the unified
field from which they arose.
SEE ALSO the article:
Bindu: Pinnacle of Yoga, Vedanta and Tantra
COMPANIONS TO THE HIGHER GOAL: This is not yet the higher goal of
sadhana (spiritual practices), which is to experience consciousness
itself, independent of any grosser false identification, etc. (one
might call this purusha, atman, or the experience of the state of
turiya, the fourth, but that's a different thing, which is just
beyond the level of conscious deep sleep, the goal of Yoga Nidra).
However, Meditation and Yoga Nidra work together, as companion
practices, in preparing one for such higher experience.
SEE ALSO these articles on the Levels of Consciousness:
OM and the Seven Levels of Consciousness
4 Levels and 3 Domains of Consciousness
HOW CONSCIOUSNESS RECEDES IN YOGA NIDRA:
WAKING STATE: In the Waking state of consciousness, all three levels
are active and being used. The Conscious mind is obviously being
used. The Unconscious mind is also processing, though typically out
of view, much like the active microprocessor of a computer (during
Meditation, this comes into view). The Subconscious is also active,
in that it its data is available when needed, much like the data on
the hard disk of a computer. [Note that sometimes people reverse the
names for the Unconscious and Subconscious. The choice of words in
not important; the meaning behind them is what counts.]
DREAMING STATE: In the Dreaming state of consciousness, the level we
call Conscious functioning has receded back into the field of mind
from which it arose. Only the Unconscious processing is still there,
along with the storage source of the Subconscious. The impressions
from the Subconscious stir and become part of the dream process that
is going on in the Unconscious level of mind.
DEEP SLEEP: In the Deep Sleep state of consciousness, both the
Conscious and Unconscious levels have receded back into the field of
mind from which they arose, where memories are stored. Only the
Subconscious level is still active. At this Subconscious level the
memories are in a formless form, and there are therefore no pictures
or images as in the dream state. Rather, this is the level that gives
birth to those images. At this level there is also no playing out of
thoughts and actions in the Conscious state either. This deep
stillness is the domain of Yoga Nidra, when experienced consciously
rather than inertly, as in typical sleep.
RECEDING PROCESS: The significance of this receding process cannot be
overstated. It has become very common in modern Yoga circles to think
that Yoga Nidra is merely another terminology for relaxation
exercises. This is not the case. Almost all relaxation exercises
operate when one is in the Waking State or in the reverie between
Waking and Dreaming. Some modern practitioners consciously dream, a
process which has become known as Lucid Dreaming. While this may be a
useful exercise as a Meditation exercise, particularly if used to
cultivate non-attachment (vairagya), this too is not Yoga Nidra. (Non-
attachment or vairagya is one of the two core principles of Yoga. See
Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16)
FORMLESS THOUGHTS: To understand Yoga Nidra, it is imperative to
understand that thoughts are in a formless form. There are literally
no pictures and no words (as there are in the Waking and Dreaming
states). There is no visual awareness of any form whatsoever,
including the physical aspects of your own body, or of any dream
sequence. Yet, there is a truer, deeper knowledge than any of the
knowledge that is of pictures and words. This level has been called
the infinite storehouse or knowledge, or the infinite library (Deep
BIRTH OF DREAMS: While there are no pictures at this level, attention
may drift slightly outward (thus, starting to leave Yoga Nidra),
through the transition stage between the Deep Sleep state and the
Dreaming state. Here, the birth of images leading to dream sequences
and mental processing is experienced. In Yoga Meditation science,
this transition stage is called Aladani, somewhat like the story of
Aladin's lamp, where the genie who was in latent form (like in Deep
Sleep) goes through a transition stage of being like a wispy cloud
before taking the human like form.
BEYOND ARCHETYPES: Some schools of psychology refer to deep
impressions of archetypes. However, these archetypes are referred to
as having form. In the context of these archetypes, Yoga Nidra is
touching the causal level that is prior to, or underneath the
archetypes. It is the seed or bija level out of which the archetypes
and subsequent dramas arise. It is because of the access to the seed
or bija level that one is able to directly attenuate the samskaras,
or deep impressions that drive karma, or actions.
CONSCIOUSNESS IS THERE 24-HOURS: Another way to view this process is
that the consciousness at the subtler level is existent 24-hours per
day. Sometimes that consciousness comes outward, expressing into the
subtle, psychic, or astral level, which we commonly know as Dreaming
state. At other times consciousness comes even further outward,
expressing into the gross, external world through the physical body.
Viewed this way, it is also easier to see how it is that the sages
have said that death, Deep Sleep, and samadhi are very similar, or
related like siblings.
NOT YOGA NIDRA:
NOT MERELY RELAXATION: It has become popular to use the term Yoga
Nidra for any method that might help induce relaxation. Yoga Nidra is
not mere relaxation, as very useful as relaxation exercises might be.
Yoga Nidra is a specific state of consciousness, which has to do with
the conscious experience of dreamless, Deep Sleep. This may seem
unimportant, but if one does not discern the difference between
relaxation and Yoga Nidra, the greater depth of Yoga Nidra might be
completely missed. Better that one see the difference, enjoy
relaxation for its own value, and then pursue the depths of Yoga
Nidra when he or she is ready for this deeper practice.
NOT GUIDED IMAGERY: If one is in the process of guided imagery, that
is not Yoga Nidra. Guided imagery may be a very useful practice, and
may be used as preparation leading up to Yoga Nidra, but it is not,
itself, Yoga Nidra. In the depth of Yoga Nidra, the aspects of mind
used for visualizing have receded, as described in the last section.
NOT AFFIRMATIONS OR AUTOSUGGESTION: Yoga Nidra is also not a practice
of autosuggestion or verbal affirmations, whether affirming desired
personal qualities or worldly objects that are desired. It is also
not a process of verbally affirming that you are in Yoga Nidra. If
you are still in such a conscious level that you are still making
oral affirmations of any kind, then you are definitely not in the
subtle state of Yoga Nidra. In such a case, the conscious, Waking
state mind has not yet receded into the cause from which it arose.
NOT MUSIC: Yoga Nidra is also not music, as relaxing as music might
be to the conscious mind. It is not that music is a bad thing to
experience. It might be very pleasant, but it is simply not Yoga
Nidra. No amount of pretending that it is will make it so. Yoga Nidra
is the experience of conscious Deep Sleep (Prajna), and that does not
occur while you are listening to music.
NOT NEW: Yoga Nidra is an ancient most, universal process that has
neither been invented nor rediscovered in recent years, as is claimed
by some. This practice has been known to the sages of the Himalayas
for a very long time. With some reflection on the nature of Yoga
Nidra as conscious Deep Sleep (Prajna), it is self evident that this
is a universal process.
DEPTH COMES IN TIME: What if you are practicing Yoga Nidra, but not
yet attaining the state of Yoga Nidra? The practices leading up to
Yoga Nidra are very useful. It is good to enjoy that relaxation and
training of the mind. At some point, the practice deepens, maybe just
for a moment, like a flash, when one experiences the depth of Yoga
Nidra. It may come soon, or it may come later, but it will definitely
come with patience and practice.
RELAXATION MAY COME FIRST: When first practicing Yoga Nidra, there is
a good chance that one might not experience Yoga Nidra itself. The
practices might be very relaxing, with brain waves slowing from Beta
to Alpha or Theta, but not slowing to the Delta level. Or, the other
possibility that often happens initially, is that one falls asleep
into the Delta level, losing conscious awareness, and thus not
experiencing true Yoga Nidra.
BE PATIENT: It is important to be very patient over time in
practicing Yoga Nidra. The relaxation that comes with the Alpha and
Theta levels can be extremely useful for mental, emotional, and
physical health. It is not bad that one does not initially experience
the depth of Yoga Nidra by consciously entering Deep Sleep and Delta.
These relaxing experiences are a very nice part of life, and also
prepare one for the later experience of the depth of Yoga Nidra.
DELTA BRAINWAVES, NOT ALPHA: There has been some degree of confusion
circulating about Yoga Nidra and brain waves. Possibly due to the
fact that many experience only the Alpha level of brain waves
initially, many teach that Alpha is the goal of Yoga Nidra. While the
Alpha or Theta levels can be very useful steps along the way, the
ultimate goal of Yoga Nidra is the experience of conscious Deep Sleep
(Prajna), which correlates with Delta brain waves.
YOGIC SLEEP, NOT YOGIC DREAMING: Remember, the aspirant wants to
reach Yoga Nidra, conscious Deep Sleep, so that the samskaras, which
are the driving force behind karma, can be purified in their latent,
formless form. And this process happens beyond, or underneath all of
the activity in the Waking and Dreaming states of mind. Yoga Nidra
means Yogic Sleep, not Yogic Dreaming.
PURIFYING SAMSKARAS, THE DEEP HABIT PATTERNS
EXAMINING: While Yoga Nidra is very relaxing, it is also an extremely
useful state for spiritual practices. The yogis use Yoga Nidra to
examine thought patterns in their latent, non-active form.
SAMSKARAS: This level of consciousness is the place where thoughts,
emotions, images, and sensations go when they recede from their
actions in the Waking and Dreaming states. These formless forms, or
deep habit patterns are called samskaras, which are the driving force
of actions, or karma.
REDUCING DEEP HABITS: Thus, Yoga Nidra is a tool for examining,
attenuating, and eliminating habit patterns or samskaras, which are
not useful. Habitual negative actions, normally arising from these
deep impressions can thus be reduced and eliminated through the
practice of Yoga Nidra.
UNDISTRACTED BY THE FORMLESS: In the Waking state, thought patterns
can be troubling. In the Dreaming state, they can form trains of
thoughts that seem to drag you around. However, imagine that you
could observe your thought patterns when they were not active, when
they were in a latent, sleeping form, while you were awake. Then they
would not disturb or distract you. This is what happens in Yoga
Nidra. The paradox is that while they are not in active form, they
are still there. This can be frustrating to try to conceptualize, but
this is as close as we can get, to just say they are in a formless
SUBTLE THOUGHTS WITH LITTLE CHARGE: Imagine a photo on the screen of
your computer. It might be a picture you find pleasing or offensive.
However, imagine that you saw a print of the binary numbers, all of
the zeros and ones, that mathematically formed those pictures in the
memory of the hard disk. There would be no reaction whatsoever. There
would just be a bunch of numbers, without any emotional charge to
them. This is what happens when witnessing samskaras (deep
impressions that drive karma, or actions) while you are in Yoga
Nidra. There may be subtle traces of emotions, but they are very,
very subtle, and do not seem to have the charge of active desires,
wants, wishes, dislikes, or aversions.
TRANSFORMATION OF SAMSKARAS: By witnessing the samskaras in the state
of Yoga Nidra, a certain transformation happens. They start to lose
their coloring of attraction and aversion. They start to weaken, and
are less and less able to later control our thoughts and actions. In
this way, we use Yoga Nidra to reduce or soften the impact of our
samskaras that play out as karma.
WHO I AM: Through Yoga Nidra, there is an ever increasing awareness
that, "Who I am is different from my thoughts!" In Yoga Nidra, you
experience consciousness underneath, or prior to all of the active
mental process, both conscious and that which is normally
unconscious. Being awake in this place, underneath or behind the
thinking process can seem quite strange, bewildering at first.
Gradually, it brings increasing peace of mind and insight about the
nature of who we truly are.
DOORWAY BEYOND: In Yoga Nidra one touches the doorway to the
awareness that still operates beyond all of the levels of mind, that
leads to realization of the center of consciousness, or Self.
IT COMES IN TIME: Once again, you may or may not reach the state of
Yoga Nidra in the beginning. It does not matter. The deeper
experience of Yoga Nidra may come soon, or it may come later, but it
will definitely come with practice. In any case, you will surely find
Yoga Nidra to be a very relaxing part of your life.