Yoga Nidra literally means "yogic sleep," but that is a bit of a misnomer. The practice is not about falling asleep — though for beginners, that can often happen if we’re not used to slowing down so much and lying still! Rather Yoga Nidra is a meditation practice that draws us towards a place of consciousness that lies between sleeping and waking, that liminal state we might have already experienced where problems seem to melt away and we feel the simple joy of existing, without needing to do anything.
In a Yoga Nidra session the teacher typically guides students through several stages of meditation. The practice often begins by setting an intention or making a heartfelt prayer (sankalpa in Sanskrit). This might relate to our deepest yearning in life, but importantly is phrased in the present tense (for example “I am at peace”) to encourage us to realise that we already have everything we need within us. We learn to settle into what’s already available, rather than striving to achieve anything in particular. This place of wellbeing is an “inner resource” which helps us more easily access our own innate wisdom and can ground us throughout the practice.
The guided practice then leads us progressively through the layers of the Yogic body (koshas in Sanskrit). It begins with a focus on the physical body and encourages us to direct our attention to various parts of the body in turn, establishing greater concentration and awareness. As we travel deeper into the layers of the subtle (or energetic) body, a non-judgmental attitude is encouraged throughout, so that we learn to welcome all thoughts and experiences without labelling them. We cultivate "witness consciousness," observing and welcoming whatever is present, without getting caught up in it. Because it is always available and is non-changing, this sense of “witness” can help us to experience a sense of the interconnectedness of all life, tapping into an underlying feeling of peace that is always present. As we let go of our ego-centred narratives, we come to experience for ourselves that joy and contentment are not dependent on outside circumstances or the approval of others.
We are complete in ourselves. We can rest (but not fall asleep!) in this ground of wellbeing.
By Victoria Jackson
On 3rd February why not join us here for iRest Yoga Nidra: A Journey into Ease, Well-Being & Consciousness with James Reeves. Click here for more information and to book your place!