Yoga nidra is rooted in the Tantric tradition. Tantric practices also combine visualization and respiration to induce particular psycho-spiritual states. The original Tantric form of yoga nidra is called nyasa, which means “to place.” Nyasa is a Tantric technique to awaken, harmonize, and perfect each part of the body through mantras placed in each body area. Each part of the body, including the joints of the fingers and toes, has a particular mantra dedicated to it as a way of sanctifying the entire body in a precise and all-inclusive manner. A simplified variation is to internally chant the sound of OM and place it in each area of the body.
This practice has a strong neural-physiological foundation based on the architecture of the cerebral cortex. The cortex has a “homunculus” or “little man” mapped along its surface. This little man has all the body parts of the human being, but the proportions are very different. The hands and face occupy the largest area and therefore the largest number of neurons. Complex movements of the hand and the mouth used for communication occupy large areas, while the legs and trunk occupy relatively less.
As we place awareness in each part of the body, we tune this area into the sensing channels and away from the thinking channels. The brain cannot think and feel simultaneously. The alternation is so quick that it appears to be simultaneous. Therefore, the overall effect of rotating our awareness through the body is the systematic disconnection of the body from the higher thought processes that induce tension. The result is complete relaxation.
Yoga nidra can be defined as yogic sleep. It is a combination of relaxation, affirmation, respiration, and visualization techniques that work together to facilitate the integration of body, mind, and spirit. Because of this multidimensional approach, yoga nidra is unsurpassed as a form of relaxation for the physical body, as a vehicle for clearing psychological problems, and as a method of profound meditation.
Yoga nidra can reach different levels of the individual, depending on their need and the type of yoga nidra presented:
At the level of Sthula sharira: (gross physical body)
Relaxation of the physical body
- Physical relaxation supports healing from stress-related illness.
- Physiological and psychological rejuvenation can arise from deep relaxation of the physical body.
- Enhanced body awareness supports self-care and reduces potential for injury and progression of disease.
At the level of Suksma sharira (subtle body):
- Here yoga nidra is considered traditional yogic psychotherapy. Through self-awareness and mindfulness, the yogi comes to witness the mind and thoughts, a process called antar mouna or inner silence. Another technique known as Chidakash dharana internalizes the senses to improve perception of inner mental and psychic experiences.
- Deep relaxation techniques are helpful in the treatment of insomnia.
- Learning is enhanced as a result of the deep concentration and focus that arise from these practices.
- Acceptance and integration of emotions is brought about by these practices.
Karana sharira (causal body):
- Yoga nidra reaches the deepest parts of the mind.
- It supports the connection of the individual to cosmic consciousness.
- It is a tool used as a portal to higher consciousness.
*extracted from Teacher Training Manual