Yoga Nidra (Yogic or psychic sleep)
Turning on the tv, taking alcohol and tranquillizers provide limited respite from gross tensions. It does not bring deep relaxation. It is deeper perception of one’s inner being that leads to deep and lasting relaxation. In yoga, relaxation is clearly defined as a state in which there is freedom from physical, emotional and mental tension. It speeds up learning process and memorizing the rules and facts of language, maths, science and so forth. It awakens innate inner intelligence.
In Sanskrit nidra means sleep. Nidra is unconscious sleep. Yoga Nidra is conscious sleep. In yoga nidra, there is loss of awareness of the outer world but awareness of the inner world is retained. In nidra there is loss of both outer and inner world. It is said that one hour of yoga nidra is equal to four hours of normal sleep.
Yoga nidra or yogic sleep induces deep relaxation in the whole of the body including muscles, nerves and various organs. It also helps in eradicating deep rooted psychological complexes, neuroses, inhibitions etc., in removing a vast number of ailments mainly mental such as high BP. Regular practice slowly clean and polish the mind. It releases fears, anger, jealousy and emotions that cause tension. Real relaxation comes only when one achieves a state of what can be called spiritual awareness.
Scientific tests have detected several physiological changes which occur in the body during yoga nidra – profound reduction in the heart beat, measurable decrease in the brain wave patterns (mainly from beta to alpha -associated with relaxation), dampening down of the sympathetic activities of the body (generally associated with stress, fear, and overactivity of body-mind), measurable reduction in the lactate level in the body etc.
Yoga nidra is method of exploring the different layers of the mind (conscious / sthula / gross mind, subconscious / sukshma / subtle mind, unconscious / karana / casual mind and truiya state). It recharges physical, pranic & mental levels, in improving both absorption & retention of information from outside as well as inside, in improving intelligence, in opening up the potential of the mind and also awakening the faculty of intuition.
Sleepless sleep is highest state of yoga nidra where one balances between introversion and extroversion. This is the path of sushumna and corresponds to the awakening of the kundalini. It is the method of ridding the mind of chronic tension, and of inducing inner knowledge and meditation. It nulls the rational thought processes and brings inner peace. It harmonizes pranic flow.
The technique can be used to treat various ailments – asthma, diabetes, headache, migraine, neuro-physical disturbances such as neurasthenia, peptic & duodenal ulcers, hypertension, rheumatism, cancer, hormonal imbalance, sexual problems, mental illness such as schizophrenia, melancholia, neurosis, psychosomatic diseases etc.
Process & Stages of Yoga Nidra:
Yoga nidra has nine stages which are sequential. the instructions on the successive stages can be by direct words of teacher, electronically or self-mental commands. The instructions should be sufficiently fast and capture the attention of the practitioner and prevent distractions. During the practice, there will be fluctuation between periods of awareness and unawareness. Gradually, external perception is dimmed but inner awareness is maintained.
Yoga nidra can be done in shavasana (corpse pose) on the flat level ground with eyes closed. The practice of yoga nidra should be done in comfortable clothing, in a quiet, dark & freshly ventilated room and at the time of one feel physically and / or mentally tired. But not after meals. The nine stages are as under:
The awakening and intensification of feelings is an integral part of the practice. Its purpose is to help induce deeper states of relaxation and to awaken and perhaps relieve emotional knots in the mind as a means to their removal. The six main types of feelings used in the practice are: heaviness, lightness, heat, cold, pain and pleasure. In this practice, one can develop the above sensations and eliminate at will. One can also bring vivid pain experienced in past and throw it out of mind. Emotions such as jealousy, anger, fear, and so on can also be awakened by remembering the past experiences. These are powerful in cleaning the mind of accumulated tensions. One more stage – intensification of feeling, can be added before sage of visualization. In this sage, one should create the above feelings from best of the abilities. Create the intense feeling, feel it in the body and relive it.
Reference: A systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya – by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Repetition of the mantra is known as “Japa” which removes those desires which obscure one’s vision, such as anger, fear, greed & lust, and bestow peace, bliss, illumination and consciousness. It awakens the intellect by opening the intuition, which in turn inspires the intellect. Creative thinking occurs spontaneously, between any efforts to think.
Japa may be by chanting of mantra with awareness (Japa sahita dhyana), practice done throughout the day (Sumirani japa), writing mantra in a notebook (Likhit Japa) and spontaneous japa which arises in harmony with the natural rhythms of mind-body complex (Ajapa japa).
Scientific studies have shown that the human body responds differently to noise and music. There have been reports of adverse symptoms resulting from exposure to very high frequency sound (11.2–17.8 kHz) and ultrasound (> 17.8 kHz) such as nausea, pain or pressure in the ears or head, a feeling of light-headedness or dizziness, anxiety, annoyance, tiredness, and inability to concentrate. On the other hand, research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. It can also reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the blood. It elevates mood. Music can boost the brain's production of the hormone dopamine.
Regarding Japa, scientists say that when a mantra is chanted rhythmically, it creates a neuro-linguistic effect (NLE). Such an effect occurs even if the meaning of the mantra is not known. But knowing the meaning of what you are chanting tunes your mind towards reaching your goal. Scientists call this the Psycholinguistic effect (PLE). Research done by professor Dr. T. Temple Tutler of Cleveland University in the U.S., has revealed that NLE and PLE effects are due to the production and spread of chemicals in the brain, which have a calming and curative effect on the body. Listening to mantras regulates blood pressure, the heart rate, brain waves and the adrenalin level. But, remember, just like regular medicines, there are specific chants for specific purposes.
Chanting eventually makes us meditate. Meditation requires focus, which is difficult to achieve. But, when one chants with concentration, the mind gets focussed. It synchronises the body, mind, voice and breath, creating inner harmony, which paves the way for spiritual awakening.
The Sanskrit word Japa means ‘to rotate’. In Japa, the movement of the mala becomes synchronized with the chanting. Japa is a useful method of slowly drawing out the negative aspects of the subconscious part of the mind. Japa is a system of maintaining individual awareness. The mind automatically becomes calm and more one-pointed. During japa, when mind becomes one-pointed and deeply absorbed in the mantra, one may be suddenly confronted by a vision or thought that arises almost unexpectedly. The vision or thought represents one of the deeper problems and needs to be removed.
The japa needs to be done with faith (Shraddha), love (bhava), and concentration (dharana). A mantra is a word which replaces the “I” centeredness with “God” centeredness. To be effective the mantras should be done without desire for personal benefit. This helps to bring about an attitude of inner detachment, wherein one’s inner Self can be experienced. The mantras frequently end with the word “Namaha”, meaning “to surrender”.
Traditionally, japa is practised while holding the right hand in the front of the heart. The sound patterns of mantra will stimulate a certain effect on the mental and psychic nature of the individual. Ideally, the mantra should be received directly from a guru or a person with elevated awareness. Japa can be done audibly, whisperingly or mentally. If one does japa mentally, the mind is wandering too much or becoming drowsy, so one switch to chanting mantra audibly. Mantra should be chanted with feeling and intensity.
The practice of japa can bring wonderful benefits if you reflect on the meaning of the mantra. Each mantra has vast power which one has to unfold. One has to merge oneself with the mantra and experience everything that the mantra evokes. Each mantra is shakti. Each mantra is a direct link to the divine. Therefore, when one chant the mantra, try to feel that one is communicating with the divine essence. Feel love in the heart. Be aware of all the associations of the mantra. Intensify this feeling and let it fill the whole being. Eventually the heart will recite the mantra spontaneously. This will intensify the whole process of japa. Devotion is another powerful method of intensifying the practice of japa.
The practice of combining japa and awareness of an inner symbol (antartrataka) is Japa sahita dhyana. If one chant the mantra Aum then one can use the corresponding symbol as a focus of attention. If one has an ishta devata, then one can use this for trataka.
Various Upanishads, such as Prashna and katho, deal quite extensively with the mantra, Aum. Manduka Upanishand devotes its entire commentary on Aum. Aum induces meditation. A mantra is Divinity. Aum acts bridge between individual and universal. Aum is a bow; individual is the arrow and Brahman are the target. If it is chanted quickly, then it is a power full method to synchronize it with the heartbeat. Another method is to coordinate the Aum chanting with the pulse at the eyebrow centre. During the practice, the sound can be combined with its meaning; the sound combined with concentration on the symbol; or concentration on the symbol combined with the reflection on its meaning. If one practice trataka on Aum, then image can be external or internal, depending upon the capacity of visualization. Be aware of the internal sound of Aum at eyebrow centre, vibrating in harmony with the pulse.
The process of japa (continuous repetition of a mantra), when becomes spontaneous, without efforts is ajapa. Japa generally functions on the conscious plane of the mind, whereas ajapa reaches down into the subconscious plane. The ancient yogis realized that the breath is constant rhythm that continuously repeats a mantra. This mantra is normally ‘Soham’ or Hamsa, ‘So’ with inhalation and ‘Ham’ with exhalation. So means Shiva or He; Ham means Aham or I am. Continuous repetition makes the mantra penetrate the deeper layers of the mind, the mind becomes harmonized and one pointed, leading to meditation.
Ajapa of chosen mantra goes on unconsciously from heart twenty-four hours. It can be practised in any position, any place and at any time. It reduces breathing rate, calms mind and raises levels of awareness and understanding. This brings one-pointedness. Ajapa is an integral part of kriya yoga. In case of the Gayatri mantra, one half should be repeated with inhalation and other half with exhalation. This is extremely powerful technique that has been used by many of the great yogis such as Kabir das.
Basic features of ajapa:
It can be done in any meditative asana and can be integrated with ujjayi pranayama and khechari mudra. Sit in meditative asana, close the eyes, perform the preliminary relaxation procedures, become aware of the breathing process, chant Aum a number of times, do ujjayi pranayama and khechari mudra, watch breath going in and out, feel rhythm, imagine inhalation between naval and the front of the throat and exhalation between throat & naval, watch the breathing becomes slower and slower, practise & maintain awareness on this for 5 minutes, then merge & synchronize the mantra soham with movement of the breath as above, only be witness, periodically stop ajapa and chidakasha dharna for a short duration.
Stage 1 – the mantra ‘soham is synchronized with breathing (inhalation between naval and the front of the throat and exhalation between throat & naval);
Stage 2 – the mantra ‘Hamsa’ was merged with breathing;
Stage 3 – Ham and So will be regarded as totally separate entities, ‘Ham’ being synchronized with exhalation and ‘so’ with inhalation.
Stage 4 – Mantra be endless repetition – Ham-So-Ham-So-Ham----
Surrender: Pure & unconditional love and compassion towards all are necessary for all true seekers after God. With the universal vision of love unfolding in the aspirant, one reaches to the God. In fact, such love alone is God.
Reference: A systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya – by Swami Satyananda Saraswati