Why Falling Asleep in Yoga Nidra Isn't So Bad
I'm excited to be offering a Yoga Nidra Workshop at the studio again this November for a few reasons. Yoga nidra is indeed one of the most relaxing practices I have ever encountered but its the work in the subconscious mind that I find really fascinating. Everything about this guided meditation has a purpose, starting with the way that guiding is done. The student is asked to lie in the most comfortable lying down position possibile without allowing themselves to sleep. This first instruction can be very difficult to follow through on but ultimately, staying awake is not as important as one would be led to believe and I'll tell you why at the end of this article. Next, the student is brought, point-by-point thorough their body, their focus being led in a relaxed but brisk manner. This process is designed to draw the student out of the conscious habits of mind, its similar to what we do when we move through a flow practice where the student's mind is brought back over and over to connect mind and body through breath. When we guide the student through the points of the body in Yoga Nidra, the conscious mind is dragged away from its habits, it's overlays of roles, opinions, etc and there's a relaxation that occurs within these first minutes of the practice.
Prior to that happening, the practicioner is asked to set an intention. I always wondered about this part of Yoga Nidra and it wasn't until I discovered that in the most profound moments of Yoga Nidra that the mind gets absorbed into the same theta waves in the brain of self-hypnosis that I understood the significance of this moment. During the process of Yoga Nidra,we are brought to the same space of being able to influence the Self as when we are under hypnosis. This is exciting! Suddenly, that intention that we set takes on a greater significance. We are effectively able to ignite not just the intention but when we do, we are speaking to the most malleable part of the brain, the subconscious brain that in turn, affect the conscious actions we take throughout our waking lives.
As well, Yoga Nidra reduces stress. We carry tensions both within the physical body and within the Koshas as well. We may not even be aware of the strain on these subtle bodies. Physical tension can be eased by stretching, exercise or massage. But subtle tensions are difficult to recognize, problematic to work out how they are affecting our conscious selves and even harder to release. Yoga Nidra is the exclusive way to gobelow surface constrictions to release and transform stress at its deepest level.
"The normal waking brain activity produces the faster, fragmented beta waves. The waking state also engages the sympathetic nervous system which reacts to stimulus and the secretion of adrenaline. Chronic engagement of this state forcing the right brain and parasympathetic nervous system to progressively become more dormant.
Yoga Nidra allows you to drop into a sleep-like state with relaxed brainwave activity. Slow alpha waves, and even slower theta waves, produce deep relaxation and are the entry points to the subconscious. In this state, you can make a conscious cross over from the logical left brain to the intuitive right brain, connected to the field of conscious pranic intelligence, where intention is carried out spontaneously and effortlessly".
Another aspect of Yoga Nidra that I enjoy is the introduction of Archetypal Symbols while in this deeper state. Each image offered gives rise to a doorway into our own minds. I find my mind wants to linger, to hang on to the different imagery that arises, as if seeing that form has an answer or a familiarity that I cannot pinpoint. And yet in the interest of not creating a story, the Teacher moves forward, one likeness after the next is brought forth. These archetypes are introduced in order to penetrate into the unconscous mind's infinite storehouse that is thought to be shared by the Collective Unconscious.
So an hour of "deep relaxation" is really selling this experience short. Its a conscious-altering experience that stays with you way after the hour has gone by.
And why is it not so important to stay awake? Although you do miss out on the "trip" we experience in our minds when we drop off into what we perceive to be sleep, one of my teachers oncepointed out, even the biggest snorer in the room, arises when asked to finish the session. So, unlike in Sivasana where the truly exhausted ones drop into REM immediately, those that don't remember their journey in Nidra, still retained enough consciousness to know when the end of this experience has been announced.