Yoga Nidra

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk at the First International Yoga Convention, Bihar School of Yoga, November 5, 1964, originally printed in YOGA, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1965

Yoga nidra means psychic sleep. Sleep rests the body, but yoga nidra rests both the mind and body. When you are asleep, your consciousness sleeps in your astral body, but in yoga nidra your consciousness is awake within. Yoga nidra performs two beneficial functions. It removes fatigue and invigorates the body. The stresses and strains of daily life create tensions and these rob the mind of its serenity. Yoga nidra removes tensions and restores the elasticity of your mind.

The evils of day-to-day life are deposited in our subconscious mind and in due course they exert a deleterious influence on our mental make-up. Just as our house must be swept daily to keep it tidy, similarly, to have a normal personality we must remove the samskaras, the mental dirt that accumulates daily in our subconscious. Yoga nidra performs this essential service for us, removing our mental abnormalities and clearing the way to spiritual progress.

How to practise yoga nidra? First do a few asanas and pranayamas and follow them up with yoga nidra. This technique is best learned from the guru. Not that it will harm you if you practise it without his help, but if you do it on your own, the chances are that every time you begin you will end up falling asleep. Then your samskaras will not be destroyed and you will not make any progress. To be absolutely successful, yoga nidra presupposes a spirit of communion between the guru and the disciple. Only that disciple who has complete reverence for the guru can obtain the benefits of yoga nidra.

Yoga nidra should not be practised immediately after meals. Mentally sick persons should practise it three times a day for longer durations, say for one hour each session, after a preparatory round of asanas and pranayamas. Trataka will increase the efficacy if practised before yoga nidra, but if it is found to be too difficult, then shambhavi mudra or nasikagra drishti can be done. If these preliminaries are performed, the guru is in a better position to help the disciple. Yoga nidra is a psycho-physiological therapy.

What is yoga nidra? It is a state in which you are neither asleep nor awake. If you fall asleep, it is not yoga nidra. If you remain awake, then too it is not yoga nidra. If dreams overtake you, it is not yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is a state in which there is awareness of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious fields of your mind all at one time. It is a perfect therapy. It removes all psychological abnormalities and samskaras, and helps you to become your normal, natural self.

Patanjali has defined yoga as the control of the chitta vrittis, mental modifications. Good behaviour is the outcome of the chitta vrittis; similarly, bad behaviour is also the outcome of the chitta vrittis. Our conscious, subconscious and unconscious fields are our chitta. Simultaneous awareness of these three fields is Aham asmi or ‘I am’. This state in which you are aware but not aware that you are aware comes in yoga nidra. Thereafter a process of sure but imperceptible sublimation takes place within.

It is said that meditation creates a fire which burns away our sins. What is sin? Actions which create uneasiness and abnormal feelings in the mind are sins. Cynics dismiss the word sin with a smile of derision. Whenever your conscience pricks you for any of your actions, that action is sin. Cynics are no exception to this rule; sin is there whether they admit it or not. In meditation your consciousness penetrates the various layers of your inner self. This is the fire that burns away the dross of samskaras within. Thereafter comes the yogic state of supreme peace and tranquillity of mind described in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.

Yoga nidra is one of the main techniques for the attainment of this peace. The all important point in yoga nidra as well as in other meditation practices is that you must not allow yourself to fall asleep. In yoga nidra, sleep tries to overpower you. If you can overcome this weakness, you will gain in willpower, and through willpower you can do great things in your life. If sleep comes, concentrate on the body or on the sleep itself as if it is trying to possess you and you are watching it. If images arise before your mind, go on watching them. In yoga nidra, when you feel that you are unconscious, it actually means that you are conscious of being unconscious.

Those who follow the guru’s instructions implicitly in yoga nidra are assured of success. Circumstances or worldly ties are not hindrances to spiritual progress. The only hindrances are your own ignorance and sloth. We must make the blessings of yoga nidra as widely known as possible. Many mental and physical disorders of both young and old are cured by yoga nidra. It is a psychosomatic technique and could do immense good to our children if educational institutions were to include it in their curriculum.

How old is yoga nidra?

The practice of yoga nidra is very old. You can still find references to it in the tantric texts. However, I have revised this ancient tantric teaching and brought it into practice. Yoga nidra is intended to use the mind to transcend the mind. Somehow I discovered that yoga nidra was beneficial for my own personality, and then I saw that it would also be useful for spiritually minded people, especially in the beginning. Of course, I had no mental or physical problems as such, but everybody has spiritual problems. Therefore, I discovered yoga nidra for myself in order to solve my spiritual problems.

What is the difference between yoga nidra and psychoanalysis?

In yoga nidra there is virtually no knowledge of the experiences whereas in psychoanalysis you are aware of each and everything that is happening, but at the same time the problems and complexes are brought to the surface and examined. During yoga nidra the problems and complexes inherent in the mind are dissolved of their own accord in deep states of relaxation. However, in psychoanalysis it is a very lengthy process and finally nothing is resolved. The purpose is the same, but yoga nidra is very easy. It is not a very technical and complicated process. Practically everyone can do it after a little training.

What is the difference between yoga nidra and transcendental meditation?

Transcendental meditation is a combination of mantra and antar mouna, which means you go on practising a particular mantra and become aware of all that is happening in your mind. In yoga nidra you do not use a mantra at all, but you use your own mind without bringing in anything from outside to influence you. In yoga nidra you have created a system for yourself, a particular series of practices ranging from fifteen minutes to half an hour. During that period you lead your mind as you would lead your baby or anybody else from one point to the next and the next. So in yoga nidra you are actually training the mind consciously. You are taking the mind from step to step, from point to point. You are not allowing your mind to run riot, whereas in transcendental meditation you are only practising mantra and if your mind is just dissipating, you go on watching it. This is the fundamental difference.