Man's mind is normally inhibited by his own ignorance. When he has tensions due to the problems which he has created by his own limitations and idiosyncrasies, he is unable to function properly on the mental level. This is reflected in his behaviour and habits. Yoga nidra is the relaxation process which brings the mind back to a normal level of receptivity where the personality can be realigned and a greater destiny met.
Yoga nidra is a powerful technique derived from the tantras in which you relax with total awareness. In yoga nidra we do not regard sleep as relaxation. For absolute relaxation, you must remain aware. This is yoga nidra, the state of dynamic sleep.
Ordinarily man's mind is constantly wavering, but in this practice you create a base for the mind, so that it can relax. This is the concept behind yoga nidra. When the same base is provided consistently, the mind becomes one-pointed and relaxed. Without any base, the mind becomes restless and tense. So, in the practice of yoga nidra, you maintain a rhythmic base for the relaxation of the mind.
In yoga therapy, yoga nidra is used for mental diseases. For little children, we also use yoga nidra to change some of their personal habits or negative patterns. But for those people who want to rise high in spiritual life, yoga nidra is used as a practice of pratyahara.
In yoga nidra, the association between the mind and the senses is cut off temporarily. Only the auditory sense is put into action. This means that the terminals for the sensory nervous system and their connections in the cerebral cortex are dissociated. In this way, no message gets through to the motor organs. Otherwise, the senses carry stimuli to the brain, where the message is recorded and the motor organs are automatically stimulated, whether we are conscious of it or not. When the senses are disconnected for some time in yoga nidra, this is the fifth stage of raja yoga, known as pratyahara.
The science of yoga nidra is based on the receptivity of consciousness. When your consciousness is operating with the intellect, it is less receptive and more critical. If your consciousness is operating with one sensory channel, it is very sensitive, but not total. When your consciousness is divested of all the associations of the senses, it is total.
In daily life, most people are not very receptive. This state occurs only when the mind is withdrawn and brought to a point of innocence. There is a scientific definition of innocence which describes it as a state of mind free from the association of logic and mathematics. Innocence is a state of the brain also. There is a time when our brain is completely without inhibitions, and if you plant a seed it will definitely germinate.
During my earlier years, I often experimented with this state of mind. One of the most interesting experiments was with a little boy who presented himself at my ashram for sannyasa. I wanted to send him to school, but he flatly refused. He was a very naughty boy, an absolute monkey. All day long he broke things, harassed the visitors, and caused accidents. Finally, he became such a liability for the ashram that I decided to try yoga nidra on him.
Every night I put him to bed in my room and as he was falling asleep, I taught him Gita, Upanishads, Bible, Koran, English, Hindi, Sanskrit, all that I knew. It took me nearly two years.
When the boy was ten years old I sent him off to Belfast to teach yoga. When he was thirteen I sent him to South America, at sixteen to Australia, at eighteen to Europe. Now he is twenty and I have sent him to USA. He speaks eleven languages fluently, writes in English better than I do, yet he has never been to school. All of his studies and learning took place within that two year period when I gave him yoga nidra, and he doesn't even remember it now.
How does this happen? The answer is simple. When the relaxation is complete, the receptivity is greater. When the consciousness is connected to all the senses, the receptivity is less. This is yoga nidra. The receptive state of yoga nidra can be effectively used to correct the habits and behaviour of your husband, wife or children. If you want to try it, don't say anything to them. Just note what is wrong and keep quiet. At night, as soon as they fall asleep, wake them. At this point, everything you say will make a deep impression on their mind.
When the child goes to bed, it usually only takes him about three minutes to fall into deep sleep. After this, he loses all contact with the sensory channels and you cannot contact him. Adults generally take much longer. When the person is falling asleep and has nearly lost contact with the sensory channels, wake him up by name. He will not respond at the first call if he has lost all sensory contact. So move him a little and call him by name, then he will turn his body. The moment he mumbles, it means one sensory channel is in contact with the consciousness.
Intellect and discrimination are not in touch. At this point, repeat what you have to say two, three or more times. This is especially necessary with children because they are unable to maintain contact with the sensory channels once they have fallen asleep. Carry on this process for fifteen days and you will be surprised at the changes it brings about.
Because yoga nidra can be used to influence the mind, many people think that it is a form of hypnosis. But the truth is that these two are totally different sciences. Although they may start from the same point of relaxation and receptivity, yoga nidra proceeds in one direction and hypnosis in another.
The state of mind achieved in yoga nidra is far beyond hypnosis, but when the mind is dissociated from the sensory knowledge it does pass through a hypnotic state. However, if you can disconnect the sensory channels and still maintain awareness, you will be able to transcend the barriers of your personality and go to any depth or height. The consciousness can go as far as you can lead it. This is the aim of yoga nidra. But at the same time, you must know when you are transcending, that up to a certain point, you are passing through the territory of hypnotism.
Therefore, throughout the practice, one important instruction is always given: 'Do not sleep'. In yoga nidra you must try to keep awake. You are relaxed, but you do not sleep. You are not conscious on the sensual plane, but you are conscious that you are practising yoga nidra. A process of automatic thinking is going on.
In yoga nidra the brain is completely awake. It receives a higher quality of stimuli and develops a different type of awareness than what we are experiencing now. Whereas in hypnosis, the subject is led into a deep sleep in which the brain is completely shut down. The consciousness is confined to a small area and the capacities are limited. This is a very tamasic condition, while yoga nidra increases the capacity and creates a sattvic condition.
In yoga nidra the instructor is only a guide. He gives the technique and answers any questions, but he will never force or compel the student in any way. It is the technique which leads the mind to illumination and independence of judgment, not the instructor.
In hypnosis, however, the therapist generally dominates the mind and will of the subject. This often results in obsession, captivity, lack of initiative and self-confidence. The sex drive, intellect, logic and determination are suppressed. The subject asks his therapist, 'Shall I go to the toilet now?' and the therapist replies, 'Yes' or 'No'.
If you ask the yoga instructor the same question, he will tell you, 'That's your business, not mine. I'm not responsible for you. You are responsible for yourself and I am responsible for myself.' Even if his student's bad habits or behaviour rebound on him, he remains unaffected and makes no attempt to alter his character. This is the attitude which yoga nidra develops. When you absolutely refuse to become a part or shareholder of what is happening around you, then yoga nidra becomes a stepping stone to higher yoga.
Yoga nidra must be practised with a specific purpose. It is the creator of your destiny. Whether you want to become a painter, writer, orator, or anything, you can train yourself, but first you must know what you want to become. There are many things that one can do in this life, but everybody needs a direction.
Most of us are floundering in the darkness, like ships without rudders, anchor sheets without sails. We don't know which way we are headed because we are being led, forced and pushed by the tempest of life. Sometimes we go the right way too, but that's usually because we are pushed into it; we have no choice. In yoga nidra, however, we have a choice, and that choice is created by sankalpa.
The sankalpa has to be made, not when you are intellectually active, but when you are intellectually quiet, when the child within you is awakened. Before and after the practice of yoga nidra there is a short period dedicated to sankalpa, the resolve or determination to become something. The sankalpa you make in the beginning of the practice is like sowing a seed, and the resolve at the end is like irrigating it.
The power of sankalpa is very great, and those who make a petty resolve misuse it. If you have faith in the sankalpa you have made, and if you use it consistently, then it will become a reality in your life. Though you can use the resolve for therapeutic effects, in my opinion it should be used for a greater purpose, for achieving the state of samadhi.
The practice of yoga nidra begins with preliminary relaxation and the sankalpa. Then you are ready to start rotation of consciousness through the different parts of the body. This is not a practice of concentration, nor is any physical movement necessary. There are only three things which you have to do: (i) remain aware, (ii) listen to the voice, and (iii) move the mind very rapidly according to the instructions.
When the instructor says 'right hand thumb', repeat it mentally, think of the right hand thumb, and move on. It is not necessary to be able to visualise the different parts of the body. Just get used to following the series and mentally repeating the names of the different parts in the same fashion as you repeat the letters of the alphabet. Then you will have no difficulty. You don't have to think what is after B or H because it is all part of your subconscious mind. The series has to be automatic, spontaneous and thorough.
There are many people who teach yoga nidra in a very unsystematic way. Sometimes they start at the toes and go up to the head, or they start at the head and go down to the toes. Sometimes they begin with the left hand thumb and sometimes with the right. Of course, they have their own theories on this, but the practice of yoga nidra which I have devised is very systematic and it is based on tantra and modern anatomy.
There is an obvious link between the body and brain which was recognised by the yogis of old. Today brain researchers have shown us that each part of the body is mapped out on the gyrus in the central motor cortex of the brain. All the parts through which the awareness passes during rotation of consciousness can be found there. If you study the arrangement of the different parts of the body on the gyrus of the brain, you will understand how the practice of yoga nidra should be systematically laid out.
In yoga nidra we start with the right hand thumb for many reasons. First of all the hands are among the most sensitive of man's organs of action, with a greater number of nerve endings in the palms and fingers to transmit messages to the brain. Because the nerve connections in the hands are most frequently used, it is relatively easy to develop awareness of the hands in yoga nidra.
When you refer to the motor homunculus, you will also note the disproportionately large amount of brain space concerned with the hands and fingers. This region is almost as large as the space allotted to the entire remainder of the body from the wrist to the toes. So, beginning with the right hand thumb, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th fingers, palm of the hand, back of the hand, etc. is not only easier, but it also affects a large area of the brain, giving an initial impetus to the process of relaxation.
In yoga nidra, the order in which the body parts are named is very important. Once the sequence has been fixed, it should not be altered. The other practices can be varied from time to time, but you should get used to doing this series in the same way every day. Then you are sure to progress.
In tantra, this practice was originally known as nyasa which means 'to place' or 'to take the mind to that point'. Nyasa was practised in a sitting posture and involved the use of specific mantras which were placed or felt at the different parts of the body. First the name of the part was recited, then it was visualised or touched, and the mantra placed there.
Besides rotation of consciousness, there are many other practices in yoga nidra which are derived from the tantras: awareness of the whole body, the brain and internal organs, the contact point between earth and body; feelings of heaviness and lightness, heat and old, pain and pleasure; visualisation of the things you have seen in your life.
In yoga nidra, after relaxation of the sensory motor surface of the brain, the practice shifts to arousal of feelings. Throughout the body are numerous cells which are sensitive not only to normal electrical nerve impulses, but also to mechanical stimulation such as pressure or touch, temperature and so on.
Although we do not usually think of them as such, these cells are actually tiny sense organs that are continually gathering information from all parts of the body and sending it to specified sites deep in the brain. Neurologists have located these focal points, the most important of which are those concerned with food and water intake, heat and cold, pain and pleasure.
As we awaken the sensations of heat and cold, pain and pleasure, we stimulate those centres of the brain responsible for maintaining harmony between our inner and outer environments. Each of these centres has the reciprocal for balancing our basic drives, and the pairing of these sensations in yoga nidra helps this balance as well as bringing normally unconscious functions under control.
In yoga nidra, by developing various feelings and sensations, you are also reminding yourself of the experience. When you are tasting a particular fruit, at that moment you experience it, but after a few days, weeks or months, you can only imagine the experience. You cannot manifest it on account of the inability of the mind to bring the experiences of the past into the present. Like this, various experiences which individuals have in their lives are buried in the past. What remains in the mind is knowledge, a memory, an interaction, but not experience. The experiences of every type that we have in day to day life become different samskaras, potential impressions. And it is these samskaras which are the basic cause of all our inhibitions and suppressions.
The moment these suppressions and inhibitions find a channel of outlet, the experience becomes overwhelmingly vivid in the mind. At this point we have seen people sobbing, shaking, crying or shouting. In yoga nidra, as we move our awareness through the range of sensations, we are bringing these samskaras back to conscious manifestation, back to the point of experience. If the samskaras become an experience once again, they can be eliminated. This is how the process of yoga nidra eliminates the whole store of samskaras and purifies the deeper levels of the mind.
This also means that you are able to comprehend a greater part of your mind. After hearing some beautiful music which you like, you will definitely remember it. You may even imagine or feel it. But, if you can really close your eyes and begin to hear the music inside, exactly as you heard it originally, it is an exploding experience, which changes the whole structure of the mind completely.
This is why in yoga nidra the experience of pleasure and pain, heat and cold, lightness and heaviness, should be brought to the forefront of the mind as real experiences. If you are trying to feel heaviness, you should feel your body so heavy that even if you want to lift your hands or feet, you won't be able to. Or if you are feeling heat, you must feel the heat in such a way that you may even perspire. That is called experience. Just to feel heat is not enough; you have to experience heat. It has to become a living experience.
By the practice of yoga nidra, we are not only restructuring and reforming our personality from within, but like the mythological phoenix, with every session, we are burning the old samskaras, habits and tendencies in order to be born anew. This process is not only a lot quicker, but the results are also more reliable and permanent compared to other systems which work on an external basis only.
I will tell you about an experience I had with hardened criminals, which will make this more clear. In 1968, when I was on a world tour, I was invited to a detention camp to teach yoga. As soon as I arrived in the compound, about 600 prisoners converged on me. They laughed and hooted, pulled my dhoti, and one of them presented me with a packet of cigarettes. They had no sense of honour or respect.
I knew I could not teach them any yoga in that state, so I decided to try yoga nidra. I told their monitor to instruct them all to lie down quietly on their backs and get ready for the practice. But they could not be still. They kicked and pulled each other, shouted, spat, and did many disturbing things while I was waiting for them to calm down. For half an hour I only uttered two sentences, 'Please close your eyes. Don't move your body.' I was waiting for them to lie still but they never did, so finally I gave up and returned to my hotel.
The next day I phoned the detention camp to inform them that I wouldn't be coming again. But the man in charge said, 'Oh no, Swamiji, you must come today. When you left last night, all the inmates went to bed quietly without giving any trouble.
So I went back the next day with great trepidation, but when I arrived, they were already lying down. I asked them all to get up as I wanted them to practise surya namaskara, but they said, 'No, we want yesterday's yoga.' So I gave them yoga nidra for one week and every day the effects were greater and greater. The camp director was very pleased because there hadn't been any fighting or disturbance since the yoga nidra sessions began.
On the seventh day they conducted a reception and I gave them a short speech. I told them that on the first day someone had offered me a packet of cigarettes and now I would accept it. But the man who had offered them came running up onto the stage apologising profusely. 'You are a holy man,' he said, 'and I was wrong.'
How did such a change come about in only seven days? When a man is under tension, his behaviour is influenced, and when he relaxes, he becomes natural. He knows the reality, the truth. So teach your children, husband or wife, yoga nidra. Don't try to change them, just remove their tension. Then they will know the truth, and they will also know how to behave, because the knowledge of truth is necessary for right behaviour. And knowledge of truth only comes when you are free of tension.
With complete relaxation, meditation takes place. Yoga nidra can be utilised for directing your mind to accomplish anything. When all the great yogis and swamis practise yoga nidra, they lie down and project their bodies wherever they like. Many things can happen in yoga nidra. You can travel into time and space, you can levitate, or enter the supreme light. This is the highest of all spiritual practices.
Would you please explain sleepwalking?
When you sleep, the mind withdraws itself and undergoes a state of transformation. The senses and the body are detached from the mind and do not function in deep sleep. But when the mind is not completely withdrawn, a part of the mind sometimes remains attached to the body and the senses, so people get up and move around.
I have seen quite a few cases of somnambulism. Once a man came to me at about midnight and wanted my permission to leave the ashram. He seemed very disturbed and I told him he could go. The next morning, he returned and narrated that he had gone to sleep in the ashram and when he woke up, he found himself at the railway station. He knew nothing about the time from the moment he went to sleep until he woke up with a ticket in his hand.
In the state of deep sleep, many children speak, make movements, and even urinate. People go to the bathroom, leave their watch there, and go back to sleep. Next morning, they search for the watch and wonder how it got into the bathroom. This happens to most of us, but we don't take note of it. It means that during deep sleep, the mind is not completely detached; the physical functions and mental control still exist. When this association is more real, one starts walking in his sleep. But the co-ordination between the mind, senses and body is not complete at that time so an accident can easily occur. In order to function properly, there must be co-ordination between the mind, senses, and the body, which is absent during deep sleep.
Some psychic mediums enter into a state of trance in deep sleep, but still they can speak. For hours together, they go on making predictions and prophesies, and some of them dance. This is a controlled state of somnambulism. It can give us an idea as to how to train the mind, so that when we intentionally enter into the state of trance and deep sleep, we can utilise this trained mind, which can make the body walk and speak without personal knowledge of what is happening. When the mind is able to function without the interference of the body, it becomes very psychic and capable. Those people who make predictions in a state of trance, first separate the body and the mind, keeping one of the senses, say speech, connected with the mind. Their inner mind and speech are in co-ordination, but nothing else. You ask them something and they go on speaking, although their body is asleep.
You may have heard of Edgar Cayce, 'the sleeping prophet'. He used to sleep and speak, and his speeches were recorded. He also made prophesies about world events, many of which have come true. We can develop our mind in such a way that we can make our intuition function during that state of trance. Sleep can be transformed into trance and untrained somnambulistic behaviour can be transformed into psychic or intuitive behaviour.
Can dreams help us to understand the mind?
The science of dreams is very important in order to know the hidden part of the mind. Dreams occur on account of a disturbance, awakening, or explosion in the psychic energy levels. When the intellectual and material barriers are removed, symbols, colours and sounds from the psychic realms are revealed. These are the archetypes. The process of knowledge takes place through these archetypes, which form our inner programming. According to modern psychology, everything in the cosmos is contained within the mind in archetypal form. These archetypes are suppressed in our being. They have to be exposed, so that we can know what we are. One of the best ways of doing this is through the symbols revealed in dream.
Is the time barrier transcended in dream?
Actually, past, present and future are only categories of this mind. In reality, this division does not exist. In dream, these categories are broken down. The mind can still sense the time/space continuum, but it is able to grasp a greater area of time in one glance.
There is a mechanism in the human mind which can monitor the brain and command the mind to go back into the past or into the future. But this process of monitoring happens involuntarily, and generally man does not know how to initiate it voluntarily. This mechanism has been investigated scientifically, and in yoga we call it the ajna chakra. The meaning of ajna is 'command' i.e. monitoring.
Recently, there has been a scientific investigation of this phenomena and I can give you a resume of the experiment. The subject was put to sleep by inducing delta waves. When you intensify delta waves in the brain, you sleep. Then the monitoring centre was controlled by some sophisticated scientific instruments and the subject's mind jumped back into the past - perhaps a thousand years. Then his mind jumped into the far future. Now, what the man said about the distant past and the far future could not be verified, but when his mind was monitored to traverse a recent path, it was possible to correlate the facts. In this state the human mind can travel into the future or the past of time and space. Sometimes this happens in dreams as a natural event, but it does not happen all the time.
Why do we forget our dreams?
Often when you wake up in the morning, you remember a dream very clearly, but the moment you get out of your bed, you forget it completely. This indicates the difference in the states of consciousness. Often you dream but you don't remember it, until that dream is about to happen, is happening, or has happened. This means that the two states of mind- the dream state and the waking state, have absolutely no communication with each other. In order to create a link of communication between the two states of mind, you should note down every dream as soon as you remember it. In the course of months or years, it will be possible for you to interpret the language of your dreams.
How can we have more meaningful dreams?
The dreams which follow sound sleep are mostly in order and correct. Therefore, it is best to find a yogic way of sound sleep. Then you will have very significant dreams.
The condition of the stomach has a strong influence on the dreaming process. At night, if your stomach is disturbed, if there is a lot of wind and gas, then the sleep will not be deep. The dreams that come during that condition of sleep are dissipated, scattered, broken and unsystematic. In order to have more meaningful and easily interpreted dreams, you must sleep with your stomach in an absolutely smooth condition.
There are people who can sleep very well with an empty stomach; these people are sattvic by temperament. There are people who cannot sleep with an empty stomach; they need something in it. These people are rajasic in nature. Then there are people who can only sleep with an overloaded stomach; these people are tamasic. Tamasic people will have destructive dreams; rajasic people will have symbolic dreams, and sattvic people will have exact dreams.
The nature of the mind also plays a very important part in one's dreams. There are people who jump from one thought to another like a monkey, and there are people who know how to think. When these people enter into dreams, they project their mental conditions. On account of mental incompetence, dreams come in very distorted forms. Many tunes, even in dreams, there are traces of inhibitions, then the dreams come in symbolic form. When the mind is completely free, the dreams are exact projections of one's personality, mind and inner space.
Dream is a form of awareness. It is a vritti, a pattern of mind. This means that the mind undergoes a state of transformation in the form of dreams. If you remain a witness to this dream consciousness, then you are able to complete one aspect of pratyahara. Witnessing the dream is the dynamic form of pratyahara, and not the hypnotic form.
At a certain stage of pratyahara, the energy level is exploded, and when this happens, you have certain experiences. These experiences manifest from the contents of your mind, just as dreams come out of the contents of your own mind. So, the same objective is easily fulfilled by practising pratyahara. The difference is in the level of awareness. Usually what happens when you dream is that the awareness is gross and incapable. Therefore, many people have dreams, but don't remember them. The witnessing consciousness of the dream should be alert, then only is it possible to visualise the dream clearly.
Is it possible to gain control over the dream process?
When you have reached a certain stage in spiritual life, then you should also be able to control your dreams. The dreams come of their own, but in the middle of the dream you can change it, and create your own dream. For this, you must be able to maintain the consciousness of the dreamer and the dream, so that while you are dreaming, you know that you are dreaming.
One night, many years ago, when I was living with my guru, I had a wonderful dream. I remember it as if it were last night. In the dream, I dreamed that I was dreaming. I was lying on the bank of the Ganga. It was a black, still night and stars studded the sky. Every part of the dream was very brilliant. Then I thought in my mind, 'Oh, I'm dreaming! Now, let me see if I can withdraw this dream.' I could see my hands in the dream. So, I looked at them and the dark night vanished, but I knew that I was still dreaming. So, I thought, 'Now, I will see if I can do it again.' I brought my fingers into the dream and the same vision reappeared: dark night, sky brilliantly studded with stars. Everything was beautiful and tranquil.
Then I thought, 'I want to withdraw this experience and have another experience. I want to see the full moon.' Again I tried. Then the darkness was illumined by a bright moon, and the stars were all overshadowed by the moonlight. I looked at it. The scene was very peaceful. Then I thought, 'I will withdraw it again.' Every time I tried it, I could come out of that experience. This time I thought I'd like to see the sun, not the midday sun, but the rising sun. So, I looked and there was an apple coloured sun rising over the horizon.
I withdrew it and thought, 'Well, I have had two starlit nights, one moonlit night, and one rising sun at dawn. Now I can hold, change, withdraw, or impose my vision, because I am controlling the movement of my consciousness.' I came out of the dream and wrote about this experience in my diary.
Next morning I went to my guru, Swami Sivananda, about some typing matters, and he asked, 'Can you create a dream and destroy it?' I answered, 'Yes.' He said, 'Well, you can start meditation now.' From this, you can understand at what point you must enter meditation, and to what extent you must be able to control the mental manifestations, if you want to go very far and very deep.
How much do we dream?
Dreaming is what I call an energy pattern and man dreams even when he is awake. We are dreaming now, but we don't know this because our sensory functions are extroverted. If you stop your sensory functions, you will start to witness the dreams. I don't know about animals, but I know that the psyche of man is dreaming all the time, twenty four hours a day, consciously as well as unconsciously. The dreams which we have at night are only a small part of it. Maybe if we were a little more conscious at that time, we would see the dream process.
I have thought for many years about the level of animal consciousness and I have tried to imagine in my own way, but not with any scientific proof, how an animal dreams. When I see an animal sitting quietly or sleeping, somehow it has come to me that they dream all the time too. They are rooted in a state of dream consciousness.
When I see a little baby, just out of the mother's womb, I have tried to assess the quantum of their consciousness and I have found that, up to a certain state, a baby is dreaming. He is not conscious; he is in a world of his own, with his own level of experience. Similarly, all animals have a level of experience. The dream state is present within both animals and new-born babies, but it is functioning on a level which is not sensory. Gradually, in the case of the human baby, the consciousness comes out of the dream level and is able to unite with the sensory level.
So, remember that we are dreaming constantly, and have been doing so for millions of years. Somehow, we have to get out of it. You asked about the importance of dreams, but I want to stress the importance of renouncing the dream. We have to get out of that spontaneous occurrence of dream consciousness and raise our level of consciousness.
Do realised souls have dreams?
No. They have one state. They don't alter. For them, waking and dreaming are the same. They are always in a spiritual state.