Yoga Nidra Virtual–Week 2 draft–KEEPER

Week 2. Welcome back.

So, last week’s stories set the stage for our exploration.
We met some of the characters and looked in on situations surrounding the birth of Yoga Nidra.
Now let’s enter our imaginary laboratory to look deeper into the practice itself.

What’s on this page?

1. Week 2 Study in text and audio form

2. Exploration.  You’ll need the resource attached to this week’s email (“31 Point Shavayatra”) to do the exploration.

3. Our second Practice Audio, especially appropriate for sleep– a nap, or before shutting down for the night, as well as for interrupted sleep. 

4. References to some of the information on the page and links to learn more.

Yoga Nidra Week 2 Study (Text Version)
Yoga Nidra in a Nutshell, and through the Lenses of the Yoga Tradition, Modern Psychology and Neuroscience

What is Yoga Nidra in a nutshell? When we say “Yoga Nidra”, we refer to 1 of the following 3 things :

  1. a practice (referring to Yoga Nidra as a practice or technique, “I do Yoga Nidra before bed every night”.)
  2. a process (referring to the process or movement between various states of consciousness, “Yoga Nidra is a way to move from an awakened state to a sleep state, while bypassing the dream state, but maintaining a sliver of awareness”.)
  3. a state (The average duration of a Yoga Nidra state is quite brief– usually somewhere between a few seconds and a couple of minutes. “During the process of Yoga Nidra, one moves in and out of the state of Yoga Nidra”.)

Yoga Nidra through the Lens of the Yoga Tradition:

  • The practices or techniques that make up the Yoga Nidra process mostly originate from cave monasteries in the Himalayas where life and practice are based in darkness.
  • From the standpoint of tradition, the practices or techniques that make up the Yoga Nidra process are mostly rooted in Tantric Yoga. The Tantric tradition in yoga liberated the view of the body, life on earth and everyday consciousness, declaring all three potentially sacred, depending on one’s approach to them. So, even though Yoga Nidra is a meditative practice, it is an embodied practice, the body is being explored at its depths, rather than purified through ascension to higher realms. (Referenced below)
  • Within the Eight Limbs of Patajali’s Yoga Sutras (which is a text from the Raja Yoga tradition), Yoga Nidra falls into the fifth limb, “Pratyahara”, which involves the turning inward of the senses. When we’ve reached the STATE of Yoga Nidra (rather than just engaging in the practice or process) we’re in deep Pratyahara. (Referenced below: Tantric yoga and The Yoga Sutras)

Yoga Nidra through the lens of  Modern Psychology:

  • The practice and process of Yoga Nidra is similar in some ways to hypnosis. The principal difference is that in Yoga Nidra, the practitioner plants their own seeds via Sankalpa or resolve, while the guide plants the seed in hypnosis.
  • The state of Yoga Nidra is most like the “hypnogogic state”, defined as “transitional state from wakefulness to sleep (or vice versa) and a ‘threshold state’ of consciousness that is usually very brief, but can be extended by sleep disturbance or deliberate induction.” Hallucinations, lucid dreaming and “sleep paralysis” can occur during hypnogogic states because the subconscious and perhaps even the unconscious are open and active, while some conscious awareness is also present. However, hallucinations, dreams and sleep paralysis don’t occur in Yoga Nidra because the experience is guided rather than “random”.
  • I personally visit the hypnogogic state at least once every day, usually in the early hours from sunrise until I get out of bed. I usually access it through Yoga Nidra techniques and get a lot of my best work done during this time. I discover new ideas and get a lot of editing and revision done as well. The ideas and insights arise spontaneously. I also have been able to lucid ream since I was a child, without even knowing what it was. What about you? (Referenced below: Hypnogogic state)

Yoga Nidra through the lens of Neuroscience:

  • The process of Yoga Nidra moves from an awakened state to a sleeping state without entering the dream state.
  • The state of Yoga Nidra correlates to the “theta” state in neuroscience and sleep science, where the Brain Waves Graph- Normal Brain Activity-2dominant brainwaves are “alpha” and “theta” waves. Sometimes, there are also “delta” waves. Alpha and theta waves are in between beta (active states) and delta (unconscious sleep). The alpha brainwaves accompany more conscious, “awake”, but very relaxed states, while theta accompanies deeper states of consciousness (the subconscious and sometimes the unconscious are open) yet the subject is still awake. During theta states, the intellect is mostly absent while creativity, spontaneous insight and intuition become prominent.
  • EEG scans of Yoga Nidra practitioners show brain scans similar to sleep (delta waves), except that theta wave activity rises significantly in all 21 electrodes, which would NOT normally occur during regular sleep.
  • Normally, at any given moment in the brain, different regions show different brainwaves, reflecting different levels of brain activity in each region. Also, the brainwaves in a particular region continually change– speeding up and slowing down moment to moment.
  • During Yoga Nidra, the states are more constant and evenly distributed over the entire brain. Furthermore, both hemispheres of the brain are symmetrical— which rarely occurs for any reason.
  • Researchers Dr. Hans Lou and Dr. Troels Kjaer from the Kennedy Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark were the first to successfully photograph the brain during Yoga Nidra, using a PET scanner. These photographs provided three dimensional pictures of brain activity by measuring blood flow through different parts of the brain. (Referenced below: “Pictures of the Brain During Yoga Nidra”)

 

Stages of Yoga Nidra Practice

The 8 stages of the Yoga Nidra Practice:

1) Internalization / Relaxation – preliminary preparation of the mind-body

2) Sankalpa (Affirmation/Resolve) – a broad spiritual goal previously decided upon, declared silently

3) Shavayatra (Rotation of Consciousness) – the consciousness is guided through the whole body in a systematic way

4) Breath and Energy Awareness – a period of awareness of breath/energy in certain parts of the body or as clearly defined experiences

5) Manifestations of Opposites – oppositional pairs of feelings and emotions are experienced

6) Creative Visualization and Journey – Various Archetypal images are visualized or sensed mentally.

7) Sankalpa (Affirmation) is repeated and, now in a highly suggestible state of consciousness, is programmed into the subconscious mind

8.) Externalization / Return to Full Awareness – a gentle and gradual return to a normal waking state

Shavayatra, a Key Stage of Yoga Nidra

“Shavayatra” translates as “corpse journey”. “Shava” refers to the body in a relaxed supine (face-upward) position (like a corpse) and “yatra” refers to a journey, procession or pilgrimage.

(So, sometimes you’ll find Shavayatra translated as “funeral” in English, especially if the topic of discussion isn’t about yoga)

Shavayatra is often the stage in Yoga Nidra where the practitioner drops from a lighter state of relaxation into the deeper realms of relaxation and consciousness. Why?

For one thing, it re-integrates mind and body, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

You’ve likely noticed that the speed of movement through the body during Shavayatra is quite rapid– too rapid, in fact, for the intellect to remain active. As a form of consciousness, the intellect is relatively slow and needs more time to absorb and process. During Shavayatra, because the intellect can’t keep up, it falls slack, allowing the subconscious to open. Once the subconscious opens, the unconscious might also open, depending on what happens next, where the subconscious goes and what it experiences. 

During Shavayatra:

  • Simply visualize or drop your awareness into a part of the body.
  • Don’t move any part of the body.
  • If you know the pattern of rotation, don’t get ahead if you have a guide.
  • The whole process should be a pleasure and not a burden.
  • There should not be any expectation, especially not the expectation of relaxation.
  • Enter the process with beginner’s mind, open, but not cognizant of any result whatsoever.

The Little Man and The Mightiness of Shavayatra

The latest science has helped verify what yogis have known through deep internal experience for thousands of years. Neurosurgery (the ability to penetrate and open the brain) reveals that the sensory-motor cortex contains precisely those parts of the body touched upon in Shavayatra.

Shavayatra’s progressive movement of awareness through the body:

  • induces physical relaxation
  • clears the nerve pathways to the brain
  • does a “run-through” of the brain’s surface occuring from the inside out

What does this mean exactly? Within the cerebral “white matter” of the brain lies a neuronal map or homonculus1312580769638hologram of the body. Neuroscientists call this map or hologram the motor homunculus or “little man” because a tracing of the body is found there. (Referenced below)

All body parts through which the awareness passes during Shavayatra are located in this little man, for example, all fingers from thumb to pinkie on each hand, then wrist, elbow, shoulder, armpit, etc.

Perhaps you noticed in your Shavayatra practice that extra emphasis is given to the parts of the head and hands. This is because these parts of the body occupy areas of the brain tissue far greater than their actual relative size and dimensions within the body. So, a physical rendering of the little man reveals a being with a big head, lips, hands and fingers. The area the head and hands occupy is almost the same size as the rest of the body.

The flow of Shavayatra through points of the body creates the subjective experience of relaxation, release and “letting go’ that we feel and describe afterwards. In scientific terms, we’re undergoing a spontaneous disassociation of consciousness from sensory and motor channels.

In the language of the Yoga Tradition, we’re entering Pratyahara, the stage of meditative experience where the senses turn inward, or “withdraw”. Once Pratyahara is established, the deeper layers of meditation can be entered.

So, we’ve now scratched the surface of what Yoga Nidra is and does.

Exploration
31 Point Shavayatra

Wouldn’t it be great to have a little system in place right in your memory to use any time you need to relax or fall asleep, especially if you’re unable to listen to an audio?

Shavayatra (Rotation of Consciousness) puts a lot of people to sleep faster than taking a sleeping pill. This 31-Point Shavayatra is easy enough to learn and do self-guided. Try it. I mentioned above entering the hypnogogic state every day. This is one of the ways I enter. Sometimes I just fall asleep. Either way, I benefit.

(A copy of this 31-Point Relaxation and a graphic rendering of the body are attached to this week’s email. Download and print it out. You can use the 31-Points to label corresponding points on the body, which will help you learn the pattern.)

Lie in shavasana, relax completely for one to two minutes. Bring your attention to the point between the eyebrows and keep the attention there for a few seconds (eventually extend the concentration for a complete inhale and exhale). Continue moving through the points and corresponding numbers through point 31 (using the order below). Do as many rounds as needed/ desired.

  1. Center Between the Eyebrows
  2. Base of the Throat
  3. Right Shoulder
  4. Right Elbow
  5. Right Wrist
  6. Right Thumb
  7. Right Index Finger
  8. Right Middle Finger
  9. Right Ring Finger
  10. Right Pinkie Finger
  11. Right Wrist
  12. Right Elbow
  13. Right Shoulder
  14. Base of the Throat
  15. Left Shoulder
  16. Left Elbow
  17. Left Wrist
  18. Left Thumb
  19. Left Index Finger
  20. Left Middle Finger
  21. Left Ring Finger
  22. Left Pinkie Finger
  23. Left Wrist
  24. Left Elbow
  25. Left Shoulder
  26. Base of the Throat
  27. Heart Center
  28. Center of the Right Breast
  29. Heart Center
  30. Center of the Left Breast
  31. Heart Center

Wondering why this sequence only covers part of the body? See the section about “the little man”.

Week 2 Study (Audio Version)
Yoga Nidra Practice 2, Practice Especially Good for Sleep
Read Before Practicing: A Few Things About this Practice Audio

This week’s Practice Audio is different, because it’s geared for a practical purpose, going to sleep. Not all of “The Stages of Yoga Nidra” listed above are included in this version. Only the most relaxing stages are included.

You’ll find:

  • Internalization/ Relaxation (Stage 1)
  • Shavayatra/ Rotation of Consciousness (Stage 3) included for 3 rounds
  • Breath/ Energy Awareness (Stage 4)
  • Journey (Stage 6) without archetypes

Omitted:

  • Sankalpa/ Affirmation
  • Manifestation of Opposites
  • Externalization/ Return to Awareness

Also, if insomnia and/ or interrupted sleep are serious issues for you, I’d suggest trying this audio out at least once at a time when you don’t NEED to go to sleep. Consciousness is very subjective and working with it is never going to be an exact science.

Also, if you find a modification of this practice that works well, go with it. Let the first priority be learning/ experience and the second falling asleep. This audio offers plenty to ponder through experimentation– about the art of Yoga Nidra and the work of art that is you.

DOWNLOAD YOUR OWN COPY OF THIS PRACTICE
Need directions for downloading?

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 12.15.44 PM

To download, select the file name and click download at the bottom of the page. On a phone or tablet, there might be a box to check in the upper right corner before selecting the file. Please let me know of any technical issues. Thanks.

References
Use these resources to learn more

That’s all for this week. Sweet dreams and discoveries.

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COPYRIGHT © 2014 Tina Foster, Meditation for Non-Meditators. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.