When I first started practicing Yoga Nidra three years ago, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. Even though several people have mentioned how calm and relaxed they think I seem, I'm actually a pretty intensely wound up personality by nature!
But, over the past few years, Yoga Nidra has helped me gain a unique sense of composure, calm and understanding about myself. Despite it being a bit like the half forgotten little sibling of Asana and Meditation, Yoga Nidra has given me an understanding of my self, and the emotional scars I carry, quite different from the asana and meditation practice that I use on a daily basis.
So what is Yoga Nidra, and why should you at least strongly consider it as a part of your Yoga practice?
Sometimes called "yogic sleep", Yoga Nidra consists of practitioners lying on their back in Savasana, and listening in on a "guided" narration. It's a form of waking sleep, where you remain aware of the spoken words, but you're thoroughly tuned into your body.
Although their end goal is the same, Yoga Nidra and Meditation still remain different. Unlike in meditation, where a single point is the focus, with Yoga Nidra, four of your senses are focused within, with listening being the only one externalized.
Yoga Nidra essentially gives practitioners a means to delve into their deepest subconscious and rewire the way their brains work. Instead of continuing negative habits and traits, you bring to the surface all your fears and subconscious scars to cut your ties with them.
It's your best friend in difficult times, purely because it gives you the chance to face your fears straight on. Scary, this may sound, but as with everything in Yoga, you are always protected and supported. There is always a way to cope with what it is you may experience, whether it's pranayama practice to stop you panicking, or it is asana practice to give you the physical strength, balance and courage.
Yoga Nidra gives you a means to create deep emotional and physical healing. Because you're essentially tuning into your sub-conscious level, you're facing the deep-seated fears and scars that your soul has gained throughout your life. There is no escape – and it is because of this that Yoga Nidra has its power. Even the most happy-go-luck of people will have some scaring present on the subconcious level.
This wonderful practice also, and just as importantly, gives your body the chance to release and relax. Because a part of Yoga Nidra is about guiding the practitioner's body through awareness and relaxation, you quickly notice in which physical areas there is a build up of stress and tension. With that added awareness of how your body stores your reactions to the world around it, you can take the steps needed to let go and unwind. I know when I have let myself get tense, because my upper back and abdomen always release a noticeable amount of tension after Yoga Nidra!
Most significantly, the point here is that you're exploring your innermost self, away from the physical differentiations that are more obvious to the human eye. It is being aware of what it is that affects you and makes you who you are today.
Once you "rediscover" those deep-seated scars, you now have the opportunity to cut those ties that are keeping you attached to those scars. And now, you can simply start to let go.
It's pretty much how meditation is "taught" – be aware of the film reel playing out in your mind's eye, but don't let yourself get involved. That's the key – awareness, but not involvement. Instead, practice detachment.
For me, my most interesting experience in Yoga Nidra came only a few months ago. Instead of feeling warm and relaxed, as I normally do during a session of Yoga Nidra, I suddenly felt as though I was suspended, all alone and without any support or grounded item to hold onto, in a big body of cold water. And with the feeling that I was entirely at the mercy of this water, it was time for me to face my fear that I feel rootless and unsupported, entirely at the mercy of the world around me.
Needless to say, with the help of balancing and grounding asanas, I have gradually cut my ties with those fears. It also does illustrate just how powerful Yoga Nidra can be!