Our senses control our emotions and therefore our lives. We cannot escape from the perceptions created by the senses and our conscious life is ruled by them. As a result our mind is always in a flux, and happiness eludes us. To achieve lasting joy and happiness we must access our subconscious. When we are awake our mind is busy reacting to the feelings created by the senses and therefore it becomes impossible to listen to our inner voice or subconscious. Yoga Nidra or Psychic Sleep is a practice where the senses are subdued and our conscious mind can directly access the subconscious.
Yoga Nidra is derived from two words - Yoga means single pointed awareness and Nidra is sleep. During the practice of Yoga Nidra, you seem to be sleeping, but your mind functions at a deeper level of awareness. Wolfgang von Goethe used the inspirations and intuitions from this state to solve problems arising in his work. In dreams occurring in this state, discoverer of benzene ring realized the circular structure from the image of a serpent eating its own tail. Bohr saw the structure of the atom in his dreams, and Einstein propounded the theory of relativity.
Practicing Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is a guided practice which generally lasts for twenty to forty minutes, depending on whether you are a beginner or an advanced practitioner. You have to listen to instructions and follow them mechanically without thinking about the logic and rationale behind the instructions. You must suspend critical thinking. You can listen to a recording of guided Yoga Nidra.
During the first stage of Yoga Nidra the mind is focused on external sounds. If all sensory impressions are forcibly excluded, the mind becomes restless and disturbed. Therefore, the mind is directed towards external sounds. You have to listen to the external sounds and move from one source to another. Your attitude should be that of a witness. After some time the mind slowly withdraws from the outside stimuli and automatically becomes quiet.
Resolve or sankalpa
During this stage you must think of a resolve or sankalpa. Your resolve should be precise and clear, otherwise it will not penetrate the subconscious mind. The resolve can be anything as long as it’s not frivolous. Once you have chosen a sankalpa you must not change to another. Don’t expect results overnight. Time is required depending on the nature of the resolve and the degree to which it is planted in the mind. The result depends on your sincerity and deep felt need to attain the goal of your sankalpa.
Rotation of consciousness
The next stage is rapid rotation of consciousness through the different parts of the body. The rotation of consciousness in Yoga Nidra proceeds in a definite sequence, beginning with the right thumb and ending with the little toe of the right foot; rotation from the left thumb to the little toe of the left foot. Subsequent rotations proceed from the heel to the back of the head, and from the head and individual facial features back to the legs.
Awareness of the breath
After these rotations of consciousness have been completed, physical relaxation is continued and completed by drawing attention to the breath. In this practice one simply maintains awareness of the breath; there should be no attempt to force or change it. One may watch the breath in the nostrils, in the chest, or in the passage between the navel and the throat.
Ending the practice
The practice of Yoga Nidra ends by repeating your resolve. This direct order from the conscious mind to the unconscious enables you to radically change your attitude, behavior and destiny. It is very important that the resolve be stated clearly and positively. This will give the mind strength and a positive outlook. You should have sincere faith in the resolve. This faith strengthens the effect of the resolve on the unconscious mind, so that the resolve will become a reality in your life.
The practice of Yoga Nidra is concluded by gradually bringing the mind from the condition of psychic sleep to the waking state.
If you ever tried meditation, chances are that you struggled to keep your mind quiet. Even if you are an experienced meditator, you know what I'm talking about. The moment you close your eyes, your mind becomes flooded with thoughts. You start thinking about the past, make plans for the future, become annoyed by the impossible task of calming down the stream of thoughts. You discover that your mind is crowded like the Times Square… The thoughts come running, one after another. Even if you try do disengage and maintain the attitude of the mere observer, you get carried away in a train of thoughts.
Although the ancient Yogis spent hours of their time meditating, they knew well the problem of calming down the thoughts. Essentially, Yoga is an ancient technology of gaining control over the mind – not an easy task to accomplish! A great Indian sage, Swami Vivekananda compared the mind to a relentless monkey, jumping from one tree to another from dawn till dusk. Its nature is to remain in constant motion.
Luckily, there is an excellent tool for slowing down the thoughts – the pranayama.
Anchor your breath
Simply put, pranayamas are the Yogic breathing techniques. They have multiple health benefits, such as increasing the lung capacity and reducing the heart rate, but their main goal is to influence the mind. The pace of your thoughts and the rhythm of your breath are inseparably connected. You can easily experience it on your own. When you are active and agitated, you breathe faster and think faster. On the contrary, when you deeply relax or even become drowsy your breath slows down greatly.
Scientifically speaking, the mechanism of the influence of your breath on the thinking is also mediated by the cardiac system. There is a mechanism of natural arrhythmia: during your every exhalation, your heart beats a little bit slower than during the inhalation. In fact, you can control your heart rate and slow it down by making your exhalations longer. That’s why there is a great emphasis of slowing down the breath cycle in pranayama.
Concentrating on your breath and slowing it down, you automatically become more focused. The slower you breathe, the less thoughts come to your mind. You become less distracted. Your mind calms down, and slowly, slowly... you reach a state of meditation.
Your first Pranayama practice
How to begin with pranayamas? You can start with a basic, simple exercise.
Sit with your back straight in a meditative position. You can put a folded blanket or a cushion under your pelvic bones, to make keeping your spine straight easier.
Bring your concentration to the breath.
Try to be deeply aware of what does it feel like to breathe...
Feel the movement of the air in your nostrils. Notice that the air you exhale is a little bit warmer.
Feel the movement of your chest and your abdomen. Feel, how your shoulders move a little bit upwards with every inhalation and downwards with every exhalation.
Once you become focused, start slowing down your breath: make every exhalation twice longer than the exhalation. Although the sensation may be a little strange in the beginning, you will get accustomed to it. After a short training, exhaling twice longer will become effortless. If you feel short of breath or dizzy, it means that you are pushing yourself too far. Be gentle with yourself and patient – the progress will come with time.
Enjoy the calming effect the pranayama has on your mind. Notice, that with the control of the breath there are much fewer annoying thoughts coming to your mind and it’s much easier to mediate.
You can use your breath not only for meditation. It can be of great benefit in your everyday life as well. Every time I want to get focused, or when I do something demanding high precision, I switch on my breath awareness. It immediately gets me in the zone.
You can train your breath awareness even while performing your household chores. When doing the dishes or cleaning up your apartment, try shifting your attention to your breath. Notice that it does not make the work more difficult – on the contrary, you become much more focused and relaxed at the same time. You can coordinate the movements of your hands and body with inhalations and exhalations, turning your weekly cleanup into a Tai Chi practice…
Use your breath. It can be a tremendous tool, if taken care of properly.
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