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April 27, 2015
What is Yoga Nidra?
There are a wide variety of different yoga techniques that have been gaining a following in the West, and one of the most misunderstood is Yoga Nidra. What is Yoga Nidra, and what makes it special?
This is essentially a state of conscious deep sleep. Making it different from lucid dreaming, which is maintaining awareness during a lighter dream sleep. In this state of profoundly deep relaxation, the mind is made to be completely still, as if it weren't even there. The connection to the senses is severed so that no information from the outside world is taken into the mind. It is sleep, yet the individual is still awake.
The state of Yoga Nidra was recorded and observed by scientists in the early 70s. A yogi named Swami Rama allowed scientists to hook him up to all of the elaborate wires of an EEG and eased himself into a state of Nidra. The scientists were stunned to observe the master manipulating his brain state at will, entering an alpha state for a period of 5 minutes with relative ease. From there his brain acrobatics continued, further surprising scientists. The EEG read that the master was in a state of deep sleep, and his body snored, clearly in a physical state of deep sleep. However, the master recalled everything that occurred in the room while he was sleeping, including questions the researchers asked him.
The swami demonstrated what is called a super consciousness: the state of enlightenment where there is complete and total integration with all that is within the mind. Possessing the level of super consciousness is to have a relaxed and joyful default state of being.
Reaching states of profoundly deep relaxation does much to promote a state of Yoga Nidra, but deep relaxation is not Nidra itself. As this technique has gained popularity in the West, the definition has come to mean any sort of relaxing, dreamlike state but this is not actually the case; Yoga Nidra is a separate practice.
Nidra has been found to profoundly reduce stress in individuals who practice it. It is interesting that something that cuts off all contact with the mind and senses, thus leaving the physical body theoretically vulnerable and open to attack, would combat stress in such a powerful manner. Yoga Nidra eliminates the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including the headaches, heart palpitations and chest pain so many with PTSD struggle with. It is a powerful practice to counter stress.
Nidra is an advanced yogic practice that yields many great benefits, both spiritually and physically. Hopefully Yoga Nidra will continue to gain popularity in the West as the far-reaching benefits are further recognized by the medical community. I'm sure eventually we will see this technique become a regular part of yoga teacher training courses in the future, or perhaps a specialized course by itself.
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