Yoga nidra or “yogi sleep” is a sleep-like state which yogis report to experience during their meditations. Yoga nidra, lucid sleeping is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. Lucid dreaming is the Western term used to denote a practice similar to yoga nidra. The distinguishing difference is the degree to which one remains cognizant of the actual physical environment as opposed to a dream environment. In lucid dreaming, one is only (or mainly) cognizant of the dream environment, and have little or no awareness of our actual environment.
The practice of yoga relaxation has been found to reduce tension and anxiety. The autonomic symptoms of high anxiety such as headache, giddiness, chest pain, palpitations, sweating and abdominal pain respond well. It has been used to help soldiers from war cope with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Yoga nidra refers to the conscious awareness of the deep sleep state, referred to as prajna in Mandukya Upanishad.
History and background
The concept of yoga nidra is very ancient in Indian traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Krishna is often associated with yoga nidra in the epic Mahabharata. Similarly, many yogis and rishis are supposed to have experienced yoga nidra throughout their life. In modern times, yoga nidra was experienced by Swami Satyananda Saraswati when he was living with his guru Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. He began studying the tantric scriptures and, after practice, constructed a system of relaxation, which he began popularizing in the mid-20th century. He explained yoga nidra as a state of mind between wakefulness and sleep that opened deep phases of the mind, suggesting a connection with the ancient tantric practice called nyasa, whereby Sanskrit mantras are mentally placed within specific body parts, while meditating on each part (of the bodymind). The form of practice taught by Swami Satyananda includes eight stages (internalisation,sankalpa, rotation of consciousness, breath awareness, manifestation of opposites, creative visualization, sankalpa and externalisation).
Anandmurti Gurumaa defines yoga nidra as a state of conscious deep sleep. One appears to be sleeping but the unconscious mind is functioning at a deeper level: it is sleep with a trace of deep awareness. In normal sleep we lose track of our self but in yoga nidra, while consciousness of the world is dim and relaxation is deep, there remains an inward lucidity and experiences may be absorbed to be recalled later. Since yoga nidra involves an aimless and effortless relaxation it is often held to be best practised with an experienced yoga teacher who verbally delivers instructions.
Anandmurti Gurumaa taught two techniques based on creative visualization.Yoga nidra as Yoga of Clear Light is proposed as a spiritual path (sadhana) in its own right, held to prepare and refine a seeker (sadhaka) spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically for consciousness and awareness. The yogi may work through the consequences of deeds (karma), cleansing the store consciousness and purifying the unconscious mind. The state may lead to realisation (samādhi) and being-awareness-bliss (satchitananda). The yogi is held to be in communion with the divine. A tantrika engaged in this sadhana may become aware of past or future lives (refer bhumi) or experience the astral planes.