Book Review: Sleep Walkers Awake! - Yoga Nidra: by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, published by Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar.

Sisirkuxnar Ghose, Times of India, July 24, 1983

Man is not only conditioned, a creature of circumstances, but also a microcosmic creator, a participant of the Great pattern, of the mind at large.

Founded in 1964, the Bihar School of Yoga has come a long way. Expansion of activity, growing national and international contacts, conventions and clientele, yoga therapy, are part of its steady progress. An unusual feature has been the initiation of western sannyasins, many from Australia, some of them qualified doctors. I remember an impressive lecture demonstration by one of these.

As the book shows, the founder Swami Satyananda Saraswati has been able to give yoga nidra a new look indeed. A familiar yogic or tantric idea, something of a refinement of pratyahara, it is much more than a method of complete relaxation, though it is that also. Intelligently understood and practised, yoga nidra touches upon the awakening of a creativity able to tap all levels of being, and both hemispheres of the brain, the right and the left. What know they of sleep who but only sleep?

Based on a happenstance when the Swami himself learnt Sanskrit verses while asleep in the small hours, yoga nidra, as the Swami has worked it out, becomes a technique of learning and self-development. It promises tension-free body, mind and more, a de-conditioned ecstasy of sahaj samadhi. The destiny of man, if only we know how to claim it, gets a new thrust in terms of hidden wisdom or subjective science now once more recovered.

Simply put, the basic idea is that the deeper mind unfolded during yoga nidra is far more receptive and effective than the waking consciousness. As a teaching aid, it has perhaps few equals. The examples he gives of delinquent learners in and outside prison, are striking. Here is one:

'One of my most interesting experiments was with a little boy who presented himself at my ashram for sannyasa. I wanted to send him to school, but he flatly refused. He was a very naughty boy, an absolute monkey. All day long he broke things, harassed the visitors and caused accidents. Finally, he became such a liability that I decided to try yoga nidra on him.

I began by chanting the fifteenth chapter of the Gita to him three minutes after he had fallen asleep. Then, when he got up in the morning I would have him read through the chapter, which he would do, of course, mindlessly. After one week he was able to recite the whole chapter by heart. When this succeeded, I went ahead with other texts.

In this way, I managed to teach him such texts as Srimad Bhagawatam, the Upanishads, the Bible, the Koran, English, Hindi, Sanskrit, all that I knew, while he was sound asleep. Now that boy is twenty-one and I have sent him to USA He speaks eleven languages and writes and lectures in English better than I do, yet he has never been to school. All of his studies and learning took place within that two-year period when I gave him yoga nidra, and he does not even remember it.'

A new high, there are a large number of assumptions behind this. We mention only one, the central one : man is not only conditioned, a creature of circumstances, but also a microcosmic creator, a participant of the Great pattern, of the mind at large. And since science has now moved its paradigms, scientific tests are in order and freely mentioned. Swami Ramdas demonstrated the fourth state (turiya) at the Menninger Foundation, Kansas, USA. It is no longer anachronistic to believe in centres of super-sensorial perception and supersonic circuits in the brain. The old insights are standing up to scientific investigation. The whole cartography of consciousness is changing fast.

As expected, the book offers a number of techniques, such as shavasana, visualisation, total recall, the witness awareness, the use of symbols as catalysts. Though the Swami assures us that yoga nidra is a simple thing which you can learn from a tape or a record (the school supplies a few), the need for a competent teacher, such as the Swami himself, cannot be dispensed with. Though many apparently easy exercises have been explained, starting on the path on one's own may not be safe. Training (nirantarabhyasa) and competence (adhikara) are as necessary now as before.

A question remains. Whether you call it hypno-gogic or, as the swami does, hypno-yogic, is this not a form of brainwashing, what the Bulgarian scientist Georgi Lozanov calls suggestopedy? One thinks, with a chill down the spine, of Huxley's Brave New World. But the Swami has his answer pat: there is nothing wrong, he says, if the brain is from time to time washed with something clean till it becomes a fit receptacle for the real.

Well, here is the good news, how to turn the motor homunculus, the 'little boy', into a mature person, the Great Self. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear, and make the sankalpa, for without it nothing avails. Sleep walkers of the world awake!