Yoga Nidra (Yoga Sleep) is a state of complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. It takes you deep inside, through the different layers of your being, until you reach a threshold state between sleeping and waking. Once here, you are profoundly relaxed, but retain a trace of awareness. Yoga Nidra is a form of pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses described in Patanjali's Eight-limbed Path. Moving beyond the conscious mind filled with its likes and dislikes brings you to a level of receptivity - you open the channel to your inner wisdom and intuition, connecting with your essence. Practicing Yoga Nidra can clear away old patterns of thinking and behaving that no longer serve your greater good. As a result, it can be a tool of great practical benefit on your path of spiritual unfolding.
In her 3-minute introduction, yoga instructor Betsey Downing explains that Yoga Nidra, or Yoga Sleep, is a state of deep relaxation while maintaining awareness. Prior to beginning the practice of Yoga Nidra, Betsey encourages you to set a “san kalpa” (positive affirmation), which you will repeat during your session. For the 42-minute Yoga Nidra Practice Session, you will begin on the floor in relaxation pose, where you will remain throughout Betsey’s soft, guided instruction. First, she helps you to cultivate a sense of your surroundings, from any noises in the distance to the connection of your body to the floor. Once she has moved you through your entire body, Betsey has you slowly begin counting back from 54, using the pattern “I am breathing in, 54, I am breathing out, 54.” She instructs you to continue this patter on your own for about 8 minutes in silence, with only the sounds of soft music in the background. Next, she has you direct your attention to various body sensations, such as heaviness/lightness, cold/heat, and pain/pleasure. Visualization work follows, as Betsey coaches you to focus on various images, moving from a flickering candle and tall palm tree to clouds, ocean and lake, and a lotus flower in various colors. Encouraging you to maintain “detached awareness,” Betsey expands on the visualization exercise, guiding you on walk through a park, where you eventually come upon a garden of flowers. Betsey connects this garden to the garden of your heart and the concepts of love, joy, and compassion. During the final 5 minutes of the Yoga Nidra practice, Betsey gradually brings you back to consciousness of your body and the feeling of deep relaxation that you have achieved.Throughout the Yoga Nidra session, Betsey reminds you that you are NOT supposed to fall asleep; in fact, she encourages you to say to yourself “I am not sleeping; I am practicing Yoga Nidra.” I must admit, however, that Betsey’s soothing voice lulled me into dozing off several times during the practice—I certainly attained a deep relaxation! Happily, though, the second technique which Betsey teaches, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, is more intended to achieve a state of physical relaxation and to facilitate sleep. Betsey’s 15-minute Progressive Muscle Relaxation session differs from my own experience with this technique (as a psychologist) in that it lacks the traditional 2-step process of tensing and then relaxing each muscle group throughout the body. Rather, Betsey focuses solely on the relaxation aspect, beginning with the feet (which she states are often overlooked), moving up the legs and torso on one side of the body and repeating on the second side. She then concentrates on the upper body, this time moving away to the limbs (arms) last. The final area of attention is the face, where Betsey offers the greatest detail: she systematically guides you to relax each and every individual aspect of your face and head. The final minutes of the Progressive Muscle Relaxation practice are more meditative, with Betsey again working in the concepts of joy and compassion. After allowing for a brief period of silence (with the same soft background music as in the Yoga Nidra session), she gradually returns you to alertness and awareness.If you are wanting to connect to the more meditative, peaceful aspects of yoga, either or both practices included in Betsey Downing’s Yoga Nidra: Moving Into the Garden of Your Heart are likely to fit the bill. Definitely recommended for calming your mind, relaxing your body, and renewing your spirit.