By Dr. Rita Khanna
Yoga Nidra is one of the practices of Pratyahara, where the awareness is internalized. Literally, Yoga Nidra means – sleeping consciously. It is a kind of deep sleep in which you don’t lose consciousness. It is a more efficient and effective form of psychic, and physiological, rest and rejuvenation. Normally, when people sleep, they do not unburden totally. They carry their frustrations, conflict, pain, and turmoil with them; hence, sleep never goes deep. Due to this, there remains great tension in the mind and body.
The practice of Yoga Nidra, not only relaxes our mind and body, but restructures and reforms our whole personality from within. We burn old Sansakaras, habits and tendencies, in order to be born anew with every session. If you practice Yoga Nidra, then the nature of your mind can be changed, diseases can be cured, and your creative genius can be restored. A single hour of nidra practice is as restful as four hours of conventional sleep.
Origin of Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra has its origin in the ancient Tantric practice called, Nyasa, which means ‘to place’ or ‘to take the mind to that point’. Nyasa was practiced in a sitting posture, and involved the use of specific Mantras, which were identified or felt at different parts of the body. First, the name of the part was recited; then it was visualized or touched, and the Mantra identified with that part. Besides rotation of consciousness, there are many other practices, which are derived from the Tantras – awareness of the whole body, the brain and internal organs, the contact point between earth and body; feelings of heaviness and lightness, heat and cold, pain and pleasure; visualization of the things you have seen in your life.
Stages of Yoga Nidra
The practice of Yoga Nidra is divided into the following stages:
Yoga Nidra is performed in the posture of Shavasana, with the eyes closed. In this stage, initial relaxation of the body and mind is induced by the awareness of stillness, comfort, posture, position, breath, and listening to the external sounds, with the attitude of a witness.
When the body and mind are relaxed, then the practitioner is instructed to take a resolve, according to his or her own wish. The Sankalpa should be short, clear, and positive. The practitioner repeats the selected Sankalpa three times mentally, with full determination, conviction, and confidence.
Rotation of Consciousness
In the third stage, the awareness is rotated around the different body parts in a systematic and organized manner. The practitioner is instructed to remain aware, to listen to the instructions, and to move the mind very rapidly, according to the instructions, without making any physical movements. The rotation of awareness follows a definite sequence: right side of the body, beginning with the right hand thumb and ending with the little toe of the right foot; left side of the body, from the left hand thumb to the little toe of the left foot; back of the body, from the heels to the back of the head; and lastly the front of the body, from the forehead and individual facial features to the legs.
In this stage, one simply becomes aware of the natural breath, without making an attempt to change the flow of the breath. One may become aware of the breath by watching it in the nostrils, chest, and abdomen, or in the passage between the navel and the throat. The practitioner becomes aware of each incoming and outgoing breath, by counting it mentally.
Opposite Feelings and Sensations
In this stage, the physical or emotional sensations are recalled, intensified, and experienced fully. Usually, this is practiced with pairs of opposite feelings or sensations, like heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, pain and pleasure, love and hate, and so on.
In the stage of visualization, the awareness is taken to the dark space in front of the closed eyes, referred to as Chidakasha, in Yogic terminology. The practitioner is then instructed to visualize some objects, stories, or situations in the Chidakasha.
Once again the Sankalpa, taken in stage two, is repeated mentally three times, with full dedication, faith, and optimism.
Ending the Practice
Before ending the session of Yoga Nidra, slowly the awareness is externalized, by asking the practitioner to become aware of the external sounds, objects, and persons. They are asked, then, to slowly move the body parts and to stretch the body.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
The practice of Yoga Nidra has a number of benefits. Important among them are as follows:
• Yogic philosophy believes in three kinds of tension – muscular, emotional, and mental tensions.
1. Muscular tension results from nervous and endocrinal imbalances. It manifests in the form of stiffness and rigidity in the physical body. In the practice of Yoga Nidra, the body is progressively relaxed, which, in turn, releases the accumulated muscular tensions.
2. In the practice of Yoga Nidra, the practitioner slowly moves towards the deeper realms of the mind, where he or she confronts the deep-rooted emotional tensions. When the practitioner recognizes these emotional tensions, with full awareness, and a witnessing attitude, then repressed emotions are released, and the practitioner becomes calm and tranquil.
3. Due to excessive activity on the mental plane, the mind always remains in a state of arousal, which results in mental tension. In the practice of Yoga Nidra, especially in rotation of consciousness and breath awareness, the mind is relaxed, thereby releasing the mental tensions.
• The Sankalpa helps in training the mind because it is planted when the mind is relaxed and ready to absorb and accept it. The Sankalpa, taken at the beginning of Yoga Nidra, is like sowing a seed; and the Sankalpa, at the end, is like irrigating it. So, the resolve taken in Yoga Nidra always brings result, provided it is taken sincerely with strong willpower and feeling.
• The brain is the linking mediator between the mind, body, and emotions. In Yoga Nidra, intensifying the awareness of the body stimulates the brain. When the awareness is rotated on the different body parts, it not only induces physical relaxation, but also clears the nerve pathways to the brain.
(Each of the body parts has an existing centre in the cerebral white matter named, ‘motor homunculus’ or ‘little man’. The sequence of rotation of awareness, is in accordance with the map in the cerebral white matter of the brain. When the awareness is rotated in the same sequence again and again, it induces a flow of Pranic energy within the neuronal circuit of the motor homunculus of the brain. This Pranic flow brings in a subjective experience of relaxation in the brain).
• The repressed desires, wishes, and situations remain in the form of symbols, in the unconscious mind. In the deeper realms of the mind, this conflicting and frustrating matter does not die, but remains alive, and later manifests in the form of various pathological symptoms. During the practice of nidra, the Yoga instructor asks the practitioner to visualize certain symbols and images, with a witnessing attitude. If the symbols and images are selected properly, then they are in accordance with the symbols of the unconscious. An abstract association is created between the guided imagery, and the associated repressed experiences, of the unconscious.
(For example, if the teacher instructs the practitioner to visualize a dog, this may bring out a past traumatic childhood experience, in which the practitioner was bitten by a dog. The practitioner observes this associated painful experience with a witnessing attitude, which helps in cutting off the personal identification with the experience. When the personal identification ceases to be cut off, the painful experience associated with the dog is repressed again. In this way, the practice of visualization brings the unconscious repressed desires, experiences, conflicts, and frustrations to the conscious level, and then cuts off the personal identification with those experiences. As a result, the unconscious is cleared up.)
• When the mind is totally relaxed, the awareness slowly enters the deeper realms (subconscious and unconscious) of the mind, and the person becomes aware of the creative and intuitive faculties. Regular practice helps in making a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. Slowly, one becomes tuned with the unconscious workings, and then the power of creativity automatically awakens.
• The technique of nidra is helpful in increasing learning and memory capacity. When Yoga Nidra is used in education, both hemispheres of the student’s brain are involved in learning the subject, whereas in the classroom, teaching the left hemisphere functions more. In this way, the practice of nidra involves the total mind in learning.
• Stress is a cognitive or emotional response made by the individual towards any situation, which demands adjustment. When the demands of the situation, exceed the ability of the individual, and then distress results, which may manifest in mental and physical symptoms of abnormality. The practice of Yoga Nidra helps in building up the coping ability. The practitioner of nidra slowly becomes aware of the inherent dormant potentialities; and thus, prevents himself from becoming a victim of distress. In the practice of Yoga Nidra, the inherent tendency to become tense is rooted out, and the individual starts viewing the situation as less demanding. The practitioner becomes his own psychotherapist, recognizing and systematically alleviating his own personal problems, and interpersonal difficulties.
(Stress-related disorders evolve gradually through four stages. In the first stage, psychological symptoms, like anxiety and irritability, arise, due to over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The second stage is characterized by related physical symptoms, like high blood pressure, increased heart rate, etc. In the third stage, the abnormalities manifest clinically in the organ systems. In the last stage, severe symptoms in particular organs result, which need long-term medical management).
Yoga Nidra and Cancer
The growth of cancer is associated with a relative failure of the body’s immune defense system. It is known that cortisone (the main steroid hormone, secreted by the adrenal cortex, in response to stress) has an inhibitory effect on the immune reaction. This is why cortisone is used so widely by doctors. Cortisone injections help to relieve inflammatory response in allergic asthma; cortisone tablets usually remove the crippling inflammatory joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis, and cortisone creams aim at damping down the inflammatory reaction and itch, due to skin infections and rashes. However, there are a number of serious side effects of prolonged use of steroid therapy, including atrophy of the adrenal glands; the body’s own cortisone supplies cease to function when we provide an adequate long-term external steroid source. Also, predictably, depression of the response leads to a higher incidence of cancer development. If cortisone inhibits the immune reaction, then, as a technique of Meditation, Yoga Nidra, which can profoundly lower the levels of gluco-corticoids, like cortisone, in the blood will predictably enhance the immune response, thereby rendering the individual more competent to resist cancer development and to fight any pre-existing cancer in his body. The gluco-corticoids are secreted into the bloodstream in response to intra-psychic or environmental stresses.
How does Yoga Nidra Work in Cancer Therapy?
Along with conventional treatments, Yoga Nidra is suggested to treat cancer patients. It can be successful, by bringing back memories of the good old days, so as to coerce the body to change course and go back to its healthy self. Yoga Nidra awakens the Prana, or the bio-plasmic energies of the body, that help in resurrecting itself. It can augment auto-immune defense mechanisms of the body, to create psychological conditions that oppose excessive growth of cancer cells, thus, altering the entire process of development of cancer. Yoga Nidra, by maximizing the patient’s own conscious efforts to become healthy and whole, is an effective form of cancer therapy. In cancer therapy, nidra works at four different levels:
1. By Releasing Repressed Matter
Researches on cancer have brought out the fact that the repressed, and suppressed material of the subconscious and unconscious mind, reinforces the multiplication of anarchic tumor cells, resulting in cancer. In Yoga Nidra, cancer patients are taught to relax in a true sense. In the state of complete relaxation, patients practice the technique of visualization, which helps in bringing up the repressed unconscious matter to the present area of awareness. When these repressions are observed, with a witnessing attitude, the ego identity is cut off, and no more repression or suppression takes place. In this way, slowly the reinforcing factor of cancer is rooted out
2. By Pranic Healing
In the practice of Yoga Nidra, the subtle bioplasmic energy, Prana, is awakened and mobilized throughout the body. The practitioner is asked to consciously imagine the flow of light, or energy, within healing the infected area of the body. Slowly, this conscious imagination activates the dormant self-healing capacity, and actual healing takes place in the patient. This kind of healing is termed Pranic healing.
3. By Mental Healing
In Yoga Nidra, healing can also be initiated on the mental plane, through the technique of visualization. Here the cancer is visualized shrinking in size; an army of white blood cells is visualized fighting the cancer cells. This results in the activation of dormant mental power – i.e., the power of the unconscious to heal the infected part. When the body is visualized to be in perfect health again, and again, the inherent potency of the mind actually starts healing the cancer.
4. By Promoting Willpower
In most cases of cancer, the patients become devoid of hope, and gives up the fight against the disease, which further worsens the situation. To overcome cancer, enormous willpower and sustained endurance is needed. For this purpose, Sankalpa is practiced in Yoga Nidra. The Sankalpa helps in building up willpower and optimism in the patient, because it is sowed in the subconscious and unconscious mind, again and again, and can bring about even the impossible in life.
In this way, by developing confidence, willpower, and optimism; by clearing up the unconscious repression; and by healing the cancer site at the Pranic and mental levels, nidra may help to cure cancer and significantly increase the life span of cancer patients.
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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
She believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succour to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).