Getting to Know about Yogic Sleep (Yoga Nidra)
Yogic Sleep is a very powerful relaxation technique that you can do after you gain some control over the relaxation response. When practiced successfully, this technique is as restorative as sleep — except you remain fully aware throughout.
Its traditional name — yoga nidra (pronounced yoh-gah nee-drah)— makes reference to Brahma, the Hindu creator god, who "sleeps" between successive world creations. His sleep is never unconscious.
During Yogic Sleep, try to focus (in relatively quick succession) on individual parts of the body. Mentally name each part, then feel it as distinctly as possible.
In the beginning, you may find it difficult to actually "feel" certain body parts. Don't let this dismay you, but continue to rotate your awareness fairly rapidly. Later, as you become more skilled at this technique, you can slow down the rotation and feel each part ever more distinctly. With practice, you can even include some internal organs in this circuit.
Practice Yoga Nidra before actual sleep, because it's an excellent technique for inducing lucid dreaming and out-of-the-body experiences during sleep. Great Yoga masters remain aware even during deep sleep. Only the body and brain are fast asleep, whereas awareness is continuous.
Here is how you perform Yoga Nidra:
1. Lie flat on your back, with your arms stretched out by your sides, palms up (or whatever feels most comfortable).
Place a pillow behind your neck for support and another pillow under your knees for added comfort.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Form a clear intention.
4. Take a couple of deep breaths, emphasizing exhalation.
5. Starting with your right side, rotate your awareness through all parts of the body — limb by limb — in fairly quick succession.
Become aware of each finger, palm of the hand, back of the hand, the hand as a whole, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder joint, shoulder, neck, each section of the face (forehead, eyes, nose, chin, and so on), ear, scalp, throat, chest, side of the rib cage, shoulder blade, waist, stomach, lower abdomen, genitals, buttocks, whole spine, thigh, top and back of knee, shin, calf, ankle, top of foot, heel, sole, each toe.
6. Be aware of your body as a whole.
7. Repeat the rotation one or more times until adequate depth of relaxation is achieved, always ending with whole-body awareness.
8. Be aware of the whole body and the space surrounding it.
Feel the stillness and peace.
9. Reaffirm your initial intention.
10. Mentally prepare to return to ordinary consciousness.
11. Gently move your fingers for a few moments, take a deep breath, and then open your eyes.
No time limit applies to your Yoga Nidra performance, unless you impose one. Expect to come out of Yogic Sleep naturally, whether you return after only 15 minutes or a whole hour. Or you may just fall asleep. So if you have things to do afterward, make sure you set your wristwatch or clock for a gentle wakeup call.