Yoga nidra is a unique practice also called yogic sleep or psychic sleep. It is a guided meditation where one can experience the koshas or energy layers of the body and our existence.
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These layers are referred to as "bodies" and include the physical, energetic, mental, intellectual, and bliss bodies. Yoga nidra provides a framework to experience these layers individually and allow the practitioner to rest in conscious awareness.
The goal of yoga nidra, like all other yoga practices, is samadhi—blissful awareness and enlightenment. However, on the journey toward samadhi during yoga nidra, there are many ways your everyday life can benefit. Some of these include:
- Decreased stress.
- Better sleep.
- Increased imagination.
- Higher levels of self-awareness and understanding.
- More focus.
Interested in how yoga nidra works? Lets break down exactly how the stages of yoga nidra correspond with each kosha. It is also related to the stages of meditation as described by the sage Patanjali.
These stages are asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara, (exclusion of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi.
Read: The 5 Koshas: The Veils of Atman
Understanding the koshas is an important aspect of the yogic energetic body that takes some time to demystify. It is not something that can just be thought of theoretically; it is something that needs to be experienced.
The koshas take us on a journey from the outside in, as most yogic practices do. What they teach us is that the physical, manifested world is in a relationship with the unmanifested world and that actually there is no duality between them, as we typically tend to perceive it.
Annaymaya Kosha, The Physical Body
The physical body is correlated with the annamaya kosha and is directly linked to the third limb of yoga, asana. As humans, we first and foremost experience the world through our physical bodies. This is why it is one of the first limbs of yoga. It is the starting point.
During yoga nidra, there is only one posture used: savasana (corpse pose). You can use props to support yourself as you will lie there for anywhere from 20-45 minutes in a typical yoga nidra session.
How to perform savasana:
- Lie on your back.
- Bring your feet wide and your hands a few inches away from your body, palms facing up and fingers relaxed.
- Close your eyes and relax your whole body.
- Breathe while holding the pose.
If you have trouble relaxing or being still, try performing a few rounds of more intense asana such as navasana (boat pose) or plank pose to tire the body out for complete relaxation.
Read: Don't Skip Savasana: The Importance of Corpse Pose
Pranamaya Kosha, The Energetic Body
Here is where we begin our relationship to our life force energy, or prana, as well as emotional body. The energetic body is aligned with the pranamaya kosha and is linked to the fourth limb of yoga, pranayama. Pranayama is often described as breathing practice; however, it is also defined as the control and expansion of life force energy.
Yoga nidra includes not only conscious breath awareness but also various breathing practices designed to relax the nervous system. This also slows the brain waves from their waking beta-state to the meditative states of alpha and theta and finally to the deep sleep stage of delta by the end of the practice.
It is common at first to just witness the breath without changing anything. From there, various practices can then be utilized, such as:
- Sama vritti (equalized breath at 4 or 5 counts).
- 4 count inhale/8 count exhale ratio.
- Anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing).
- Counting the breath backward from any number. Multiple of 9’s are common, such as 27 or 54.
Manomaya Kosha, The Mental Body
This level encompasses the next 2 stages of meditation, pratyahara, and dharana, which directly correlate to the mind. This is called the manomaya kosha.
During pratyahara, you withdraw your chitta, or consciousness, away from the five sense organs. This is done in the practice of yoga nidra through the process called the rotation of consciousness. This is essentially a body scan where you move quickly from body part to body part with awareness and nonattachment. This prepares the mind for the next phase, which is to focus the mind.
Dharana, which means concentration, can only be achieved once the body, breath, and consciousness find stillness through the other practices. Now, the mind can focus on the next stage of yoga nidra, which presents various feelings, emotions, and visual imagery. This improves a sense of harmony without being attached to whatever is being felt or seen on the inside so the practitioner is prepared for deeper levels of awareness.
Vijnanamaya Kosha, The Intellectual Body
At this stage is where true meditation begins to occur. It is called dhyana by Patanjali and is known as the vijnanamaya kosha. At this stage, duality begins to dissolve so that the barrier between subject and object disappear. It is here that deeper understanding takes place as a result of concentrated focus.
Read: Trataka: How to Practice Candle Gazing
Anandamaya Kosha, The Bliss Body
As you continue to climb the ladder up toward realization, you finally reach samadhi. This stage is correlated with the anandamaya kosha, also known as the bliss body. At the core of every being is this innate bliss. It is absolute ecstasy and also completely indescribable. At this moment, you are merged with the source and feel completely at one with everything. This is the merging of the Atman and Brahman.
In order for this to occur in yoga nidra, the practitioner must remain awake. This is the tricky part because the brain is used to sleeping when in the delta wave state! It takes dedicated and consistent practice to train your consciousness in this way. But just like with all yoga practice, it takes effort to see results. This will improve with each practice.
During a yoga nidra session, time and space are given at the end of the session to experience the anandamaya kosha. This is done through a period of silence, anywhere to a few minutes, or up to ten. This allows the entire process to completely unfold until the practitioner is drawn back out to their physical body lying on the floor in savasana.
For those looking to explore different states of consciousness, yoga nidra makes an excellent practice.
The framework it gives through the lens of the koshas and their relationship to the stages of meditation can add a multidimensional experience to any yogi’s journey for greater understanding on the path toward samadhi.
During These Times of Stress and Uncertainty Your Doshas May Be Unbalanced.
To help you bring attention to your doshas and to identify what your predominant dosha is, we created the following quiz.
Try not to stress over every question, but simply answer based off your intuition. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.