Welcome to the principles and practice of Yoga Nidra. I’m Richard Miller, and I would like to present an overview of the core components that make up the practice of Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra is derived from the ancient Tantric Shastras, and forms a complete program of deep relaxation, intensive Self-inquiry and profound meditation. During Yoga Nidra we carefully and systematically investigate the nature of the structures and beliefs that define our personal identity. These structures include the physical body, the energy body, the sensation, feeling and emotional bodies, the bodies of thought and imagery, and the bodies of bliss and personal ego identity. We have come to believe that these bodies are solid and real structures. During Yoga Nidra we investigate the reality of these beliefs in order that we may go beyond what we have learned as second-hand information. Our objective is to develop an in-depth first-hand experience as to the structure and reality of our actual identity.
During the process of Yoga Nidra we also investigate the ground of awareness in which these bodies and beliefs are arising. Yoga Nidra is an inquiry into the actual substance and nature that everything is made of. Its aim is to answer the ultimate question as to the nature of our intrinsic, spiritual identity. Yoga Nidra asks: “Are we separate, finite entities, or are we something which is infinite and eternal? And if we are can we know ourselves as That, not intellectually, but as a fully embodied and every moment actual experience?”
The investigation that occurs during Yoga Nidra inevitably leads to the deconstruction and disidentification of our basic core beliefs about who we take ourselves to be. As our beliefs and assumptions dissolve, we glimpse our essential Nature as Presence and come to the first-hand conviction that we are not the limited, finite creatures that we mistakenly take ourselves to be. We find, instead, that we are a Vastness unfathomable to the mind; a joyous Beingness that is always present, even in the midst of the greatest difficulty. This is the supreme understanding that Yoga Nidra invites us to realize.
Yoga Nidra Defined
The word Yoga, from which we derive our English terms yoke and union, may be translated as “the joining together of two things that have never been separate.” The aim of Yoga is for us to realize that we are inseparably unified with the Vastness that everything in the Universe is made up of. And Yoga Nidra is a process that helps us understand that it is the mind, through its learned misperception, that keeps the belief of separation alive and prevents us from realizing our Divine nature.
The term “nidra,” from the Sanskrit, means ‘sleep.’ From the perspective of Yoga Nidra, we are asleep when we perceive the world to be made up of solid and separate objects. When we dream, we take the dream images to be real. When we wake-up, these dream objects are recognized to be empty of substance and we realize that all along they were only fabrications of the mind. During waking consciousness, we take our thought images and the ‘so-called’ solid objects of the world to be as real as the dream images are when we are asleep. We are convinced that waking thoughts and objects are real and we never question the validity of this belief. In fact, the thoughts and objects that appear to us in the waking state are as empty as dream images. And Yoga Nidra is a process whereby we explore and discover the truth of this fact.
In the context of Yoga Nidra then, the yogi is one who, whether asleep or awake, understands the fundamental nature of Reality. He and she embody the understanding that all things are inherently One, that there is only Consciousness, there is only God. There is no separation anywhere, under any circumstance, except as a mental conceptualization. Everything is made of the same substance. So Yoga Nidra is a play on words. It means the “sleep of the yogi” but implies that the yogi is one who is wide-awake to the real Truth or Reality of life.
Yoga Nidra may also be described as the practice of pratyahara. Pratyahara is classically defined as the process of withdrawing the mind from distracting sensory impressions such as sounds, smells, sights and thoughts so that the mind abides in a calm and undisturbed state of silent witnessing. The image of a turtle with its head drawn inside its shell represents this classical process of blocking out the sensory impressions of the world. But I think of pratyahara somewhat differently from this classical perspective. I view pratyahara as the transcending of, rather than the withdrawing from, sensory impressions.
When we are in a room with a loudly ticking clock, there is really no necessity of withdrawing away from, or trying to block out, the ticking sound. If we are open to hearing the sound without resistance, if we don’t fight the sound, or try to get rid of it, the body/mind accommodates to the sound, transcends it, and goes beyond the sensation. The sound no longer disturbs.
We find in this illustration the powerful law of awareness. Whatever we are willing to be with, we go beyond. Any sensory impression that is allowed to be in awareness without either the movement of repression or expression, dissolves back into the ever-present background of awareness and disappears. Whatever is allowed to simply be, as it is, in awareness, dissolves. It is no longer troublesome. And this truth pertains to any sensory experience be it the movement of a sound, an image, a taste, a sensation, a smell or a thought.
Why is this so? We mistakenly assume a sensory impression is a phenomenon separate from ourselves as the perceiver of the impression. We hear the sound of the ticking clock as if it were outside ourselves. But the fact is sensory impressions are not separate from the mind that perceives them. Perceiving is a unified field of awareness. The perceiver is not separate from what is being perceived. At the moment of perception, there is only perceiving. The idea of being a perceiver who is separate from the sound perceived arises as a mental formulation after the fact. You can experience this for yourself. Stop reading for a moment and hear the sounds that are around you.
Now listen again and inspect the moment that sound is perceived. In this timeless moment of perceiving you are not present as the listener. There is only listening. Now go ahead and listen to the sounds again.
In the actual moment of perceiving, there is only perceiving. We cannot perceive and think simultaneously. The mind can attend to one or the other. At the moment of perceiving there is only perceiving. At the moment of thinking there is only thinking. The thinker arises only after the fact of thinking. When we are not, perceiving is, thinking is. When perceiving is, when thinking is, we are not.
When we refuse or resist a sensory impression, such as the sound of the ticking clock, we are, in a manner of speaking, refusing ourselves because, ultimately we are made of the same substance as the impression that is being perceived. Trying to block out a sound is a movement born in conflict. We are trying to get rid of something that is ultimately ourself. We may be able to repress the sound, but we cannot, ultimately, get rid of it. We may be able to suppress various aspects of ourself such as emotions, thoughts or negative attitudes and beliefs we hold to be true about ourselves, but we cannot get rid of them. Better that we consciously allow them to be as they are. Our true Nature begins to shine as radiant and unperturbable joyfulness only when we accept and welcome all that is.
Like our body/mind, every impression, every sound and every thought is born, grows, decays and dies. And these movements all takes place within and against a background of awareness. This process of growth, decay and death is very quick for a perception. It is a longer process for the body and longer still for a mountain or a universe. When we do not refuse this natural process of life, whatever arises eventually dissolves back into its homeground of awareness. Any refusing only strengthens that which is being resisted. Trying to withdraw from anything ultimately fails. It is only in our being with things as they are that we are able to go beyond them and find our Ultimate Nature as the ground of Silence, Being, or Awareness, in which all things have their birth, their growth, their decay and their death.
During Yoga Nidra, we intentionally locate and investigate sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts and images. We go into them. We explore them. We bring them into consciousness. As these impressions are allowed to float freely in awareness, without our trying to repress or express them, they arise and fade away into the background, no longer bothersome to the mind because the mind has no intention to refuse or deny their existence. This approach to pratyahara is a process of elimination whereby unconscious material is allowed to surface into awareness, into consciousness. When repressed material arises without personal reaction, it dissolves into its homeground and is no longer problematic. Impressions, experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions are problematic only because we refuse them. We judge our experience and try to control what we perceive. In Yoga Nidra we realize that everything is made of the same substance. Refusing anything is refusing who we are. Refusing only creates chaos, conflict, war and suffering in the world and within ourselves. Whatever we refuse we repress into the unconscious and whatever lives in the unconscious gets projected out into the world. If we reject our anger and violence then we project anger and violence into the world. When we are angry that we are being judged it is only because we are already judging ourselves. You see, no one ever hurt us. We are only always hurting ourselves.
Embodying this understanding is powerfully transformative. When we shift from trying to change ourselves to being non-judgmentally aware, magic happens, for anything that is placed in awareness, transforms. Awareness is like fire. Fire purifies, and awareness purifies. Fire doesn’t judge. It simply burns away the impurities of what is placed within its presence. And awareness is simple presence, presence to what is. During Yoga Nidra we continually rest in and abide as the fire of awareness. This is an act of being open that comes from the tremendous insight that every way we have tried to change ourselves up to this point has totally failed. In this moment of resting in the fire of awareness the mind gives up and we are open to the unknown, listening without goal or intention.
But don’t misperceive that ‘being with’ or witnessing is a passive process. It is dynamically active. Being with an emotion may mean the resurgence of long forgotten memories, or the upheaval of strong cathartic feelings. But all the while these foreground activities are in process we find ourselves as a multidimensional listening. In this there is accepting rather than our usual and customary process of rejecting what we deem ‘bad’ while emphasizing and expressing what we prefer as â€˜goodâ€™.
We are often engaged in acts of self-hatred. In these moments we do not like ourselves as we are or life as it is. This is a form of self-loathing. Whenever we wish our experience to be other than it is we fight with reality. And when we fight with reality we always lose. What we need is to be with things as they are. Life is just as it is and we are just as we are. When we relinquish all attempts to change the world and ourselves, when we cease trying to re-make the world and ourselves according to our mental images and beliefs about how we think things ‘should be, transformation occurs. This transformation brings forward our native disposition as spontaneous accepting and we live in harmony with ourselves and with what life brings. In this there is self-love and love for life just the way it is.
When we live in accepting at first we emphasize the objects that we are accepting. These objects include other people and situations, our emotions, our memories and our thoughts and images. But as we live in accepting the state of accepting is emphasized. We live in accepting for its own sake because of the joy and freedom we feel. Then we are seized by the intuition to turn and investigate the ‘who’ that is living this accepting. In this the who-we-are-as-the-acceptor is emphasized. And in a spontaneous moment of relaxation, ourself as the acceptor dissolves into Being accepting where there is only accepting. In this timeless moment we realize that our very nature is accepting which is Consciousness, God or Divine Presence. We are now being who we really are. Then, when we look upon the world through these eyes of accepting, we realize that everything is made of the same substance as Accepting. In this there is no self and there is no other. There is only non-conceptual Oneness. There is only Consciousness. There is only God. And this is the ultimate realization of Yoga Nidra.
There are a number of foundational stages that make up the structure of Yoga Nidra. Each stage emphasizes a different body-sheath or kosha as they are referred to in Yoga. These sheaths include, as we mentioned before, the physical body, the energy body, the bodies of sensation, emotion, thought and imagery, and the bodies of bliss and ego identity. Each kosha may be likened to a territory we travel to during the process of Yoga Nidra. Upon arrival, we explore and map out the territory of each kosha – – getting to know it, so to speak. We have no agenda in our exploration other than being with the various sensations, images, thoughts, etc., that we encounter as we explore. This perspective of having no agenda is an important consideration to understand and contains within it a profound spiritual paradox that we must reconcile.
The aim of Yoga Nidra is for us to discover who we are. But who we are is not an object that we, as a separate experiencer, can discover. We can never see ourselves as we would an object that appears separate from us. We can only be who we are for our Essential Essence is non-objective Presence or Awareness.
When practicing Yoga Nidra it is easy to be confused that there is something we are trying to obtain or do. But anything that we obtain is not who we are as it remains a fragile object in our awareness. So Yoga Nidra is not in the becoming process. Yoga Nidra can never take us, through striving, to what we are. When we strive we are actually going away from who we are. Striving keeps us fixed in a mental image that prevents us from being who we are.
Each kosha represents a way our mind has turned what is actually a non-conceptual Unity into a conceptual, objectified perception. But all objects that are beheld in awareness ultimately dissolve as they return to their original nature as Presence. And Presence is what we are. With each dissolving of what we thought we were, we come to what we are. With a mind oriented in the understanding that what we are is not an object, each kosha is welcomed just as it is. When we live in this attitude of welcoming, the solidity of each kosha deconstructs, and we spontaneously disidentify from each body-sheath. As koshas dissolve we realize our natural ground of being which is non-objective, Pure Presence.
In the first stage of Yoga Nidra we assert our intention to enter into the practice of Yoga Nidra. We acknowledge that we will give the practice our undivided attention. This intention sets the direction and tone of our practice. Our intention is to remain focused and undistracted throughout each session. Yoga Nidra is therefore connected to mindfulness training, training the mind to return to its natural state of one-pointedness.
Our mind is currently many-pointed. It appears to be going in many directions at once, moving from thought to thought and from object to object. Our constantly changing mind sees a constantly changing universe comprised of innumerable separate objects. This constantly shifting mind is distracted, pre-occupied and identified with the pairs of opposites like attraction and repulsion, pleasure and pain and satisfaction and dissatisfaction. These pre-occupations reinforce our sense of duality and provoke feelings of separation, isolation and alienation. From the perspective of Yoga Nidra the many-pointed mind is the cause of suffering.
On the other hand the process of Yoga Nidra evokes the natural one-pointed foundation of the mind. One-pointedness exposes the Unity underlying the changing nature of the mind. And Unity awareness dissolves the misperception of dualistic thinking. With the disappearance of duality the underlying background of peace, joy, and serenity breaks through into our everyday living. And with the dawning of Unity Consciousness, we intuitively realize that the apparent multiplicities of the world are, in actuality, expressions of the underlying Unity Consciousness.
It is important to establish a firm intention at the beginning of our practice. As we enter deeply into the process of Yoga Nidra we come close to the state of deep sleep. Dream-like images, sensations, thoughts and emotions spontaneously appear. When our attention wanders we identify with these movements and unconsciously fall asleep. Our forthright intention at the beginning of Yoga Nidra affirms our aim to witness these mental dream fragments rather than falling into an unconscious sleep with them. So we set the intention right from the start, to remain alert and aware even while hovering at the edge of sleep consciousness.
During Yoga Nidra we witness the body/mind while having the experience that our body is actually asleep. This is the paradoxical process of being awake while asleep that Yoga Nidra invokes. This can be a strange experience at first. But this orients us as the witnessing Presence.
Our true nature is Presence. And Presence is always present, aware and awake whether during waking, dreaming or dreamless sleep. When the body falls asleep, the mind identifies itself as a dreamer. When the body is awake the mind identifies itself as the waking doer. In our identification with the waking and dreaming ego-I, the fact that Presence is present is missed. The mind is caught up in the foreground movements while the background remains uninspected. As the mindâ€™s identification with being a waking and sleeping doer dissolves witnessing consciousness becomes more apparently present. We find ourselves being the witness that is always aware and always awake. When objects are present there is witnessing of these objects. When objects are absent, as in dreamless sleep, witnessing is still present, but with nothing to witness but itself. This is why, upon waking from dreamless sleep, we are able to report that we had a wonderful sleep.
As witnessing moves into the foreground we identify ourselves with and as the witness. But we still feel separate from what is being witnessed. But as this identification deepens this stance of being separate collapses and we find ourselves being witnessing. In being witnessing there is no separation between the perceiver and what is being perceived. There is only perceiving, there is only witnessing. In being witnessing we openly live our true nature as Unity Consciousness knowingly knows itself whether during waking or sleeping consciousness. This is the culmination of the process of Yoga Nidra.
So our initial intention during the first stage of Yoga Nidra is very important. Self-inquiry demands undivided attention and total interest. The consistent practice of Yoga Nidra develops mental clarity and the ability to remain one-pointed. So we begin with the intention to remain focused, to be present, in each and every moment.
Prayer and Affirmation
After we have acknowledged our intention we move onto the next stage of Yoga Nidra. Here we evoke the heart-felt prayers that are living inside of us. These are prayers we hold about loved ones or ourselves. They may be prayers about health, healing, gratitude, compassion or enlightenment. We acknowledge and bring these prayers into clear detail in the forefront of our conscious mind. As we ponder them, we bring them into the present tense. We don’t hold our prayers for the future.
The future never comes. When the future arrives we will still be standing in the present moment. When we were standing in the past we were likewise, standing in the present moment. We are always living in the present moment. When we think of the future we are thinking about the future in the present moment. The same can be said for the past. So we phrase our prayers in the present tense. Instead of saying “I will be healthy,” “I will gain enlightenment,” or “my friend will be cured of disease,” we say “I am healthy,” “I now rest in enlightenment,” or “my friend is healed and healthy.” The future will never arrive. There is only now. When the future comes, it will be the present moment. So we always set our prayers in the reality that they are already true, now.
Then, once our prayers are acknowledged, we set them aside. We come back to them at the end of our practice of Yoga Nidra when we are in a disposition of complete openness. In openness our prayers are not future events, but present moment actualities. Living our prayers as actual facts opens them to their full potential and power.
Bodily Rotation of Consciousness
Now that our intentions and prayers are in place, we begin the next stage of yoga Nidra by systematically rotating consciousness through the Anamaya Koshaâ€”the physical body sheath. Our objective here is to re-awaken the body into its pristine natural state of infinite expansion that has no center or periphery.
While we presently experience our physical body as defined by boundaries it is actually a vibrational expanse radiating into infinity. But this is not likely our present lived-experience. In fact, we are numb to many of the physical sensations that are present in our body. This is one reason why disease processes go undetected for months or even years before they erupt to the surface of our awareness
When we are unable to perceive the subtle on-going sensations that our bodies are constantly offering up, we must wait for the grosser impressions to emerge into consciousness. Unfortunately, by the time we recognize these grosser symptoms it may be more difficult to bring forward the healing that is necessary for a speedy recovery. As we attune to the subtle resonances of the body through the processes of Yoga Nidra we become sensitive and creative caretakers of these beautiful temples we call our bodies.
For instance, take a moment and feel the sensations that constitute various areas of your body such as your mouth…your ears…your eyes…your scalp…your shouldersâ€¦your hands…your abdomen…your legs…and your feet. While some of these areas are easily experienced, others may be only faintly perceived. Yoga Nidra invites us to re-awaken these buried sensations and bring them blazingly to the forefront of consciousness.
When we rotate awareness through the body we begin and end in a particular order. We begin in the mouth and end in the feet. The areas we primarily work with are richly supplied with nerve fibers and reflex to the sensory cortex in the brain. If you were to see a picture of the sensory cortex mapped onto the human body, a homunculus or “little person” with enlarged features would appear. When you look at the picture you see that the tongue, mouth, lips, face, hands, genitals and feet are enlarged to a greater extent than the torso, arms or legs. So during bodily rotation of consciousness we begin with the tongue and move to the throat, mouth, and lips, and on into the hands, down through the pelvis and into the feet. As we move through the physical body we simultaneously travel through the brain by way of the sensory cortex.
This method of rotating consciousness through the physical body insures a quick and profound relaxation in the body and brain. And when we rotate consciousness through the body over and over again, practice after practice, we create pathways of conscious awareness. This process re-awakens the native disposition of the physical body as an expansive vibration. Where once we experienced the hand as a dense mass of sensation bounded by the walls of the skin, now we experience the hand as a vast field extending outwardly and inwardly in all directions into infinity. We find that the body is a vastness unfathomable to the mind, unlimited by conceptual boundaries. And we realize that this is the truth concerning all objects. All objects are radiating energies without distinct boundaries. Everything, taken together, is One radiating pulsation, vibrating from itself into itself.
Vitarka, Vichara, Ananda, Asmita
During Yoga Nidra we pay attention only to the naturally occurring phenomena in the body/mind. We invent nothing. We deny nothing. We have no agenda other than exploring and mapping the territory we are investigating. From this perspective, Yoga Nidra is not a strategy of self-improvement. We are simply observing the natural attributes of the body/mind. Listening and welcoming are our tools and Yoga Nidra is our path. In this attitude of listening and welcoming we are simply open to what is without intention. Since we have no goal, we are open to openness itself.
Usually our attention is oriented toward gross objects and movements in the world. We rarely stop to consider the deep energies that animate the movements of the universe. Yoga Nidra is the instrument that we use to explore these energies. The sage Patanjali explains this exploration in his treatise entitled The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. In the seventeenth sutra of the first chapter Patanjali asserts, ‘Vitarka, Vichara, Ananda, Asmita’. He proposes a fourfold process of observation. Vitarka represents the grosser aspects of an object and how we conceptualize objects through names and images. Vichara represents the subtle energies that animate the grosser nature of objects. Ananda represents the subtle currents of joy and bliss that we experience when we enter into deep meditation with any object. And Asmita represents the refined experiences of identity, which arise as we probe into the deepest recesses of what an object, including ourselves, is made up of.
For instance, with respect to Vitarka, when we first observe our body we relate to it through the images we have about it, all the ways the body has or has not served us. These are mental concepts and are not the actual body just as the name ‘rose’ or the memories we may have about a particular flower are concepts but not the actual flower. We must be able to see and understand these mental images if we are to go beyond them to a deeper level of relating with ourselves or any object.
During Yoga Nidra, we allow these mental concepts and body images, which I call residues, to arise just as they are. We do not fight with them or try to go beyond them to something ‘better.’ When these concepts and images are allowed to arise naturally, they bubble up and dissolve in awareness just like bubbles rising to the surface of a lake. What is important is that we don’t get involved with them. We neither express or repress them. As these images are observed they dissolve and we move naturally to subtler levels of attention. In Yoga Nidra we proceed through a natural progression moving from gross sensations (vitarka) to very refined levels of energy (vichara). For instance, we move from rotating consciousness through the Anamaya kosha, with its emphasis on gross body sensation, to being aware of the Pranamaya kosha, with its emphasis on the subtle movements of energy in the body.
The Energy Body
As we rotate consciousness through the Anamaya Kosha, the physical body expands multi-dimensionally. We become aware that this sensorial field is part of a subtler pranic or energy body that lies behind and animates the physical body. The breath is intimately linked to this deeper, pranic body. So as we begin to focus attention into the breath we move gracefully and naturally into the next stage of Yoga Nidra, the exploration of the Pranamaya Kosha or “energy body”.
We explore the Pranamaya Kosha by first joining with and following the breath. We take note that the body is always breathing itself and we attentively observe the natural action and movement of the breath. We do not try to change or alter the breath in any way. We simply note the spontaneously arising breath. By attending to the breathing body we become conscious of the subtle energies that animate the breath and the physical body.
While attending to the Pranamaya Kosha we follow the breath back and forth. We also spend time counting each breath. Counting is an important exercise. It is a form of mindfulness training. When you methodically place your attention on counting the breaths, you will, at first, find yourself being distracted and you will have to start the count again. You will begin again and once more, you will lose your count. And this will occur over and over again. But you will discover that the counting is sharpening your ability to focus. With practice you will find yourself wide-awake and alert. And this alertness will allow you to appreciate the subtle movements of energy, which make up the Pranamaya Kosha energy body. I encourage you to persevere in this art of counting, as it is a helpful practice in developing the one-pointedness required to progress into the deeper practices of Yoga Nidra.
While working with the Pranamaya Kosha we also synchronize body sensing with the breath. For instance we perform Nadi Shodhana pranayama, alternate nostril breathing, but we don’t use our fingers to control the flow of breath through the nose. Instead, we mentally feel the breath flowing through each nostril. We perform one exhalation and inhalation focusing on the sensations in one nostril and on one side of the body, and we perform the next exhalation and inhalation focusing on the opposite nostril and the sensation in the other side of the body. In this way we integrate the sensation of the body, the feeling-movement of the breath and the awareness of the energy that animates the breath.
The Bodies of Feeling and Emotion
As we experience the energetic movements uncovered by the breath, deeper components of feeling and emotion begin to surface into awareness. These signal that we have entered the domain governed by the Manomaya Kosha. Here we attend to the naturally arising pairs of opposites such as heaviness and lightness, comfort and discomfort, happiness and sadness, anger and equanimity, and pain and pleasure. And as we explore the Manomaya Kosha we intentionally invoke these plays of opposites.
The ego-mind moves linearly. It focuses in one direction or it focuses in another direction, but it cannot move simultaneously in two directions at once. For instance, in this moment be aware of the space out in front of your body. You probably take yourself as a ‘someone’ who is attending in this linear direction. But watch what happens to your sense of being a doer if I ask you to be simultaneously aware of the space out in front of and behind the back of your body. The mind becomes silent and the sense of being a doer drops away while you experience yourself expanding in a multidimensional spaciousness. The thinking mind has to stop when we invite it to be simultaneously open in different directions. And when the mind is quiet we taste our spacious, non-linear nature.
As we explore the Manomaya Kosha we play in the field of opposite movements where we first go in one direction, then in the opposite direction, and then we merge the two directions together as one movement. First we invite different feelings into awareness. We may, for instance, cultivate the positive feeling of comfort. Then we locate its opposite in the body, a feeling of discomfort. Then we swing back and forth between these two feelings going first to comfort, then to discomfort and back again until we are able to experience both simultaneously. We do this with feelings of warmth and coldness, lightness and heaviness, pleasure and pain, and many other naturally occurring feelings. Then we move on to play in the opposites of emotion. Here we deliberately explore the entire range of emotions over many practice periods of Yoga Nidra. We may take the emotion of equanimity and then explore its opposite of agitation or anger. Or we may choose the emotion of joy and then find its opposite in sadness or despair.
As you become familiar with the process of Yoga Nidra you will want to tailor the practice specifically to your individual needs. For instance, while preparing to work in the Manomaya Kosha you pick several emotions that you are having difficulty experiencing as well as several that you enjoy. You pair the opposites to each of these emotions and work with them during this stage of the practice. I invite you to eventually make the practice of Yoga Nidra your own so that you move beyond these tapes into a deeper exploration that is specific to your needs. You may wish to acquire The Principles and Practice of Yoga Nidra Workbook that provides the guidelines for adapting the process of Yoga Nidra to fit your requirements. Please refer to the address on the tape jacket for where to order this workbook.
While working with the Manomaya Kosha, we also explore where specific emotions are experienced in particular areas of the body. Here we utilize traditional symbols such as the chakras. For instance, the first chakra, which is located at the base or seat of the perineum, is associated with feelings of safety, security, groundedness and physical energy. The opposites are found in the feelings of insecurity, ungroundedness and fear. During our Yoga Nidra practice in the Manomaya Kosha, we move back and forth between the positive feelings of safety, security, groundedness and energy and their opposites of insecurity, fear, ungroundedness and lethargy while probing for sensations in the area of the perineum and lower sacrum.
Why do we want to work with the pairs of opposites? Repressed and unresolved feelings and emotions, stored in the unconscious, give rise to physical and mental unrest. There may be many feelings and emotions that we do not want to be with. We refuse them when they come uninvited into our environment. When they arise we move away, often with a great deal of reactivity, defensiveness and unconsciousness. The process of Yoga Nidra helps us reclaim these pockets of repression and aversion. Then, when these so-called ‘negative’ emotions rise up, we are able to welcome them. We are able to be with them rather than refuse them. We are open to perceiving and feeling them. We are not afraid of feeling afraid. We are not afraid of feeling insecure or unsafe. Then we see that when emotions and feelings arise just as they are they move naturally through the stages of birth, growth, decay, and death and always dissolve back into their homeground of awareness. We realize that these are only passing phenomena. They are natural movements in our body/mind. No longer afraid, we find a new ground of equanimity that is present whether strong emotions are present or absent. The natural ground of equanimity, which is our birthright, breaks through into our everyday waking and dreaming consciousness. Fearlessness pervades our psychological life. We are no longer afraid of fear and we are open to feeling whatever is present. Repression and aversion no longer control our lives and we live with a sense of ease and relaxation. Judgement looses its grip and our natural personality blossoms.
The Sheath of Intellect and Pure Mind
As we explore the pairs of opposites in the realms of feeling and emotion, images and scenes, even entire stories, spontaneously arise in our mind’s eye. Now we have arrived at the Vijnanamaya Kosha, the sheath of intellect and pure mind. Here personal and archetypal images emerge that are associated with unconscious forces below the level of the conscious mind. The images that arise vary across a wide spectrum from very positive memories, thoughts and symbols to very dark and negative ones. We may see a moon, a sun, waves on an infinite ocean, or images that evoke fond and loving memories. Or we may envision images of chaos, destruction and death. As before, we intentionally move back and forth between these positive and negative images and play with the pairs of opposites
These images that unfold are based on themes that live in our unconscious. These may be personal themes, images that represent values from the family or culture we have grown up in, or they may be archetypal collective and cross-cultural images. And as before, we intentionally conjure up and pair the opposites–scenes and images that we detest with scenes that make us peaceful. As in all the koshas during the process of Yoga Nidra, we learn to welcome all the experiences that life brings.
While exploring the Vijnanamaya Kosha we also work with color and sound. Different colors evoke different feelings, emotions, sensations and memories and sound vibrates different parts of the body. Each memory, emotion or sensation, as well as each body part or organ, represents a particular energetic configuration. Each of these configurations may be viewed as made up of vibrating particles or waves along the spectrum of energy. Color and sound are also energetic patterns along such a spectrum. Each body organ, sensation, image, emotion, thought and memory may be thought of as being composed of sound and color. For instance, the liver is a mass of particles vibrating at a particular wavelength of color and sound pattern. Alter this pattern and the liver moves either into a state of disease, or into a more optimal pattern of health. This is why various approaches to healing place tremendous emphasis upon sound and color as means for healing the body/mind. In Yoga Nidra we take advantage of this understanding and work intentionally with the different wavelengths of color and sound during different phases of our practice.
While working at the level of the Vijnanamaya Kosha, we also work with mental concepts that represent various qualities such as authenticity, essence, peace, joy or value. Each of these qualities engenders different sensations in our body/mind. For instance, we may non-verbally repeat the word ‘kindness’ and embody the sensations that the word ‘kindness’ evokes. Or we invoke the concept of personal will and engender the sensations of intention and willfulness. Or we call forth and embody the concept of transpersonal will by surrendering to the feelings engendered by the phrase, “Not my will, but Thy will be done”. As we explore the various images, colors, sounds and concepts that arise in the Vijnanamaya Kosha deep residues hidden in the unconscious are liberated and rise into awareness. As these residues move out of the unconscious and dissolve in the fire of awareness feelings of peace, stillness and joy manifest in the body/mind.
The Sheath of Joy and Bliss
The spontaneous arising of joy signals that we are moving into the territory of the Anandamaya Kosha, the sheath of joy and bliss. As we travel through the Anandamaya Kosha, we intentionally summon up images and memories that support these sensations of joy, peace and bliss. Memories help invoke these sensations into the body/mind. But then we detach the memory from the experience of joy and remain only with the embodied sensations.
Joy is native to the body. It is the inherent disposition of the body/mind. Joy is not dependent upon a situation or an object for its existence. However, our cultural conditioning informs us otherwise. We have been taught that happiness is dependent upon our having some experience. But joy is our birthright and is always present. It is not dependent upon the presence of an experience or an object. We miss experiencing joy and peace because we are distracted by the thinking mind. We are looking for some experience to bring us happiness and we miss seeing that joy and happiness are already always present. During Yoga Nidra we take time to live fully and consciously in joy devoid of any object. Then joy permeates the body as our moment-to-moment waking and dreaming experience.
The Sheath of Pure I-Ness
As we live for long periods in the experience of joy we understand that joy is not dependent upon an experience. It is the underlying condition of the body/mind. But this joy is still an experience, something that is in the body/mind and in our awareness. Just like body sensations, the movement of the breath, feelings and emotions, images, colors, sounds and thoughts, joy is an object that we are aware of. At this critical juncture of Yoga Nidra we stand at the threshold of the Asmitamaya Kosha, the sheath of pure ‘I-ness’, where the many-pointed mind no longer veils the pure light of awakened mind. At this stage of Yoga Nidra we ponder the nature and identity of the “I” that witnesses and experiences all the varied sensations, energies, feelings, emotions, thoughts and images.
In this moment our attention makes the ‘Great Turn’. Attention turns back upon itself and inquires into the very nature of this witnessing-I. When awareness turns upon itself, when the one who is welcoming turns and welcomes itself, a tremendous collapse occurs. We move from being a witness, from being a welcomer, to being witnessing, and being welcoming. We collapse from being a ‘someone’ who is aware into being awareness. Up to this moment we have been a beer and a doer. But now these collapse and we find ourselves simply abiding as Being and Doing, here and now with things just as they are. In this timeless moment there is only being. Only doing. Only hearing. Only seeing. There is no beer, no doer, no hearer, no seer.
The Sanskrit word, ‘asmita’ symbolizes the ego-I, our sense of personal identity. Personal identity is your belief that you are a separate individual. That you are separate from me and all of the other ‘so-called’ objects of the world. As we investigate the Asmitamaya Kosha we explore this belief and inquire, “Is it true? Are we actually a ‘someone’ separate from all the other ‘someone’s?”
Ultimately Yoga Nidra raises the questions, “Who am I? What am I? Who is another? And, What is another?” We explore the physical body through the Anamaya Kosha and we realize that it is not solid. It is infinitely spacious and open, without center or periphery. We explore the energy body through the Pranamaya Kosha and find that the body is an expanded energetic presence. We explore our emotions, feelings and thoughts through the Manomaya and Vijnanamaya Koshas and realize that they are only passing phenomena upon a background of awareness. And we open into a vastness of joy in the Anandamaya Kosha and realize that joy is not dependent upon any experience. And now, at the level of the Asmitamaya Kosha, we investigate the vital question of who is the one who is experiencing all these movements? Who is aware of the body sensations, of the flow of energy? And who is aware of the emotions, thoughts and images? Now, in the domain of the Asmitamaya Kosha we begin a deep, non-conceptual Self-inquiry into the question of who is this ‘I’ who is aware.
We investigate by feeling into the body location of this sense of ‘I-ness’. We sub-vocally repeat the word “I-I” and attempt to feel where this word resonates as a body sensation. The verbal statement, “I-I”, has a physical location. This location may at first be experienced behind the eyes in the head. But as the sensations evoked by the non-verbal sound of “I-I” continue to be experienced, we find that the sensation revealed by the vibration of “I-I” drops into the heart region. Not the physical heart, but a location in the chest to the right of the heart.
If you look at a traditional map of the chakras the symbol for the heart is made up of two triangles in the shape of a six-pointed star. When you inspect closely you find a smaller six-pointed star beneath this larger star. This small star is referred to as the seat of personal identity, the seat of thought or the seat of ‘I-am-ness’. The energy that gives rise to thinking rises out of this body location.
Thinking does not originate in the brain. It originates in and slightly below the heart. Energy pulses upward out of the heart and strikes the brain to become thoughts and images in the mind. As we explore the Asmitamaya Kosha we trace the feeling of ‘I-am-ness’, back into its origin in the heart. Then we locate the very essence that is present before the concept of being an “I” arises, before the mind is struck and divides the world into separate objects. And before thought arises, before energy moves out of the heart, we investigate the essence of who is observing all of this.
At this juncture we are involved in an infinite regression. We are an observer who is observing ourself. We have split into both an observer and an observed. We have positioned ourselves as an observer who is observing itself as an object. This is an infinite regression of awareness witnessing itself. And this position is a logical absurdity. When we fully investigate this situation the entire structure collapses and we find ourselves no longer in the position of being a witness observing itself. Instead, we are transformed into being witnessing where there is no longer a witness or an object that is being witnessed. There is just witnessing. Subject and object collapse into each other. In this there is timelessness and only seeing, but no one who is seeing. There is only hearing, but no hearer. The mind may attempt to re-establish its domain by trying to re-evoke the feeling of being a ‘somebody’ that is witnessing or hearing. But if we keep exploring the fabric of this mental movement, the mind continues to collapse into its deeper ground of simple beingness, simple Presence. Here we reach the culmination of Yoga Nidra. It has brought us to the very foundation of who we are as non-dual awareness or Pure Presence
Beyond the Asmitamaya Kosha
Non-conceptual Presence is undifferentiated. It is the Is-ness or Suchness of this moment. It is our ground of being. When we live in and as Presence we feel no sense of separation. At the end of Yoga Nidra we open our eyes with this understanding and now look back upon a world that we had thought was composed of separate objects. We see that there is no division anywhere. Separation is only the product of a split-mind. We understand that everything is made of the same substance. We may call this substance God, Spirit, Awareness, Consciousness or Presence. But we realize that the objects we are looking at are made of the same substance as that which is looking at them. There is no separation between the one who is looking and that which is being looked at. In this moment we are the Unity of all that exists. We live a co-merged reality where we simultaneously experience that the things of the world, while appearing separate, are actually extensions of the Unified field of Consciousness, God, Presence or Awareness.
Everything is made of the same substance, the so-called external objects of the world as well as the subtle inner objects like thoughts, images, sensations and emotions. From this perspective there is no need to repress anything. Why would we want to get away from anything when we are only refusing what we are? We see that the very substance of our emotion, our thoughts, our body sensations, our desires, our fears, everything, is made of the same substance. It is all non-conceptual Divine Consciousness or God. The split-mind that has divided the world into two is healed through this tremendous insight. Now everything is understood to be the undivided One. Now everything is welcomed. Even our reactions and judgments are welcomed because they are understood to be expressions of the very substance of what-we-are as Consciousness.
We understand that the personal ‘I’ that we thought was an independent entity is made of the same substance as Consciousness. We realize that there is no personal self, separate from anything else. Our sense of separate identity collapses we know ourselves as the essence of what everything is as pure Presence or Beingness. Understanding and embodying the realization that we are non-conceptual Presence is the culmination of Yoga Nidra.
The Many Faces of Yoga Nidra
There are many ways that we can practice Yoga Nidra. It can be done quickly in a matter of a few minutes, or we may proceed slowly and diligently, spending an hour to two hours thoroughly exploring each of the koshas or domains of existence. I recommend finding a practice and stabilizing in it for a period of time. Practice with these tapes until you stabilize in your understanding of the different components of Yoga Nidra. Then begin experimenting with your own practice, utilizing the different formats of Yoga Nidra that are laid out in the workbook. In your practice choose one approach to bodily rotation of consciousness and one breathing exercise. Pick one or two pairs of opposites of sensation, emotion, thought, image and concept, one or two memories that evoke the presence of joy, and one approach to the exploration of personal identity. Proceed slowly and dig one well deeply. The practice of Yoga Nidra takes us beyond the practice of Yoga Nidra so that in every moment we are feeling, sensing, intuiting and knowing our true nature as Undivided Presence.
I also recommend the use of Yoga Nidra whenever you go into sleep and whenever you are waking up. Waking and dreaming are a continuum of consciousness. The mind only pretends that they are separate states. When we are awake the mind assumes the waking state is real. When we dream the mind assumes the dream state is real. Both waking and dreaming involve the presence of objects that are beheld in awareness. And our mind is conditioned to divert its attention into these foreground objects and away from the background awareness that is always awake as witnessing Presence. Awareness or Presence is the background behind all movements of waking and sleeping. And Yoga Nidra teaches us to be who-we-are as Awareness during waking and sleeping without being distracted by the presence or absence of any object. For Awareness needs no intermediary to know Itself. It knows Itself. And the culmination of Yoga Nidra is Awareness knowingly knowing Itself.
Yoga Nidra invokes the sleep of the yogi where we are awake as Awareness during all states of consciousness. In this there is the understanding that we are non-separate Awareness, the substance that everything is made of. This is the realization and the fulfillment of Yoga Nidra.