We think of yoga nidra as a relaxation practice, a preliminary practice of meditation, but it is the simplest technique devised to give the deepest experience of the cohesiveness of the human mind. Yoga nidra is the trademark of Satyananda Yoga. What does it do? Yesterday we were talking about the concept of pratyahara and mind-management. Ashtanga yoga aims at becoming aware of the mind and managing the different tendencies which come to the surface without our conscious knowledge.
These activities which come to the surface of the mind are known as vrittis. The word vritti means 'a vortex', 'a circular activity which has no beginning and no end'. Yoga describes five kinds of vrittis. However, rather than going into an understanding of them, we shall look at the components that make up a vritti.
The first component is knowledge, understanding. We have a partial understanding of how we behave and interact in our lives. The understanding aspect is the ability to see in which direction we are going. The second component of a vritti is reaction. Here there is no logical judgement, but a spontaneous reaction to things from outside in the form of pleasure and pain, happiness and frustration.
The third component of a vritti is feeling. We feel the actual condition of a given situation or environment, and this can take many forms. It can be coloured by the gunas, positive, negative and neutral. It can be coloured by our projections, our ego, our ambitions, and we see the world according to that colouring of feeling. The fourth component of a vritti is memory or impressions which we have received and stored in our mind, and which become the guideline for our future expression and behaviour. So, knowledge, reaction, feeling and memory are the four components of a vritti.
The vrittis are continuously active in our mind. I am not talking about the conscious or the subconscious or the unconscious, because the intensity of a vritti is different at each level. Rather we are going to look at how the vrittis affect the whole mind. In order to harmonize, sublimate and eliminate the vrittis we need to follow a process, a sequence.
Firstly, we need to develop objective awareness in order to see exactly what is happening around us and within us without being affected by it. Developing immunity to the activity of the vrittis by becoming aware is the first sadhana. Secondly, we have to learn to let go, to relax, to release the stresses which are generated in our mind, body and emotions without any conscious control. Every event in life causes tension; tension is also the natural outcome of life. However, the moment this tension becomes intense, it begins to affect the behaviour of the mind and body in a negative way. Learning how to relax and manage the external and internal tensions is the second sadhana. Thirdly, we need to provide a direction for our creativity to manifest through sankalpa. This direction is a conscious understanding of the positivity of life, and working to attain that positive quality becomes our direction.
Fourthly, we have to develop concentration through the process of visualization. This is possibly the most important part of any pratyahara technique, including yoga nidra. How do we concentrate? How do we focus our minds? We tend to think and intensify that thinking. We tend to become aware of something and intensify that awareness. We tend to hold our mind fixed at one point and intensify that fixation. That is the normal understanding of concentration looking at something very intensely through the eyes of the mind, and not allowing the mind to waver left or right. However, this kind of concentration creates more stress in the mind and psychic personality. Concentration has to be a uniform experience of one-pointedness, without creating any kind of internal reaction or tension.
In order to obtain this uniform, homogeneous, harmonious concentration, yoga uses the techniques of visualization and imagination. The ability to imagine, to visualize, is actually expressing the force of the mind. There are many forms of imagination. Imagination can be false or real, fantasy or awareness of something that exists in real life. Most of the time, when we are trying to escape from reality, we create a false imagination. This form of imagination is not accepted in yoga. Yoga says, observe the reality and experience that reality. Experience of the reality becomes manifest when we are practising concentration in which there is no wavering of the mind. But how do we train ourselves to focus? We train ourselves to focus by picking up either a physical activity and observing it, a mental activity and observing it, or by creating an image in our mind which allows us to release an impression embedded in the consciousness.
In order to go into this process of visualization, we can observe the different parts of the body and create a mental image of them. We can observe an experience which is stored within us in the form of a memory from the past. It does not matter whether that experience is physical or mental. The experience of heat or cold is a physical experience. The experience of pleasure, inner satisfaction, contentment and enjoyment is an inner experience. The experience of pain, suffering and hurt is an inner experience. We can bring that experience to the surface in the form of imagination.
The mind works in three ways. It has the ability to re-create something, but when the faculties and energies of the mind are dissipated, what we re-create inside our heads will not be clear. This is known as imagination. But as the faculties become more relaxed and focused, what we are trying to re-create will be seen in the form of a clear picture. Eventually there will come a time when we will not be able to understand that what we see internally is different to what we see externally.
Let us try an experiment. Close your eyes. With the eyes closed, mentally think of a flower, any kind of flower, and try to see that flower in your chidakasha, the inner screen in front of your closed eyes. Just observe the thought of the flower, and the impression that you are trying to build in your mind of the flower. Can you see it clearly? No. You are at present imagining it. You are at present associating an idea within yourself related with a memory, a sensation, a feeling, possibly even related with an emotion, but the visual clarity is not yet there. This is known as imagination.
Now the moment you are able to isolate the vision of a flower from personal superimpositions of feeling, emotion and other things, you may be able to gradually see the outline of the shape. You may even begin to see the colour or colours in the flower. The moment this flower takes a definite shape and form in your mind, it becomes a process of visualization. When you are able to disassociate yourself completely from the mental image or concept of a flower, when you do not allow the image of the flower which you are trying to re-create to be coloured or tainted by personal projections, then with intensity of awareness it manifests in chidakasha. That becomes darshan, the ability to see the reality behind the superimpositions of the human mind. Open your eyes.
We have to experience three states of mind: imagination, visualization and darshan. In each state, the quality of mind changes. In imagination, there are many associations of ideas, events and feelings. In visualization, these associations become less, and only one awareness remains. When all the associations stop and awareness intensifies, that becomes darshan, the actual manifestation of the flower within you.
To come to this level we have to begin with the basic practices of pratyahara. Pratyahara is developing awareness, dharana is developing concentration, and dhyana is developing the experience of unity, internal harmony and equilibrium. In awareness, there is recognition of the internal activities in the body, the dimension of the senses, the brain, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, and awareness of the association of the different areas of our life. When we have become aware of these activities, we move on into the next stage which is letting go, learning how to relax, and not allowing mental reactions to come to the surface. When we are able to observe the mental reactions, then the third part of pratyahara begins.
Yoga nidra is the first part of pratyahara, expanding and developing awareness of the total personality, not only of the body but also of the impressions of the mind, and eventually of the samskaras that are deeply imbedded in the inner mind. The process of yoga nidra is divided into three groups: pratyahara yoga nidra, dharana yoga nidra and dhyana yoga nidra. Until now we have only practised the basic techniques of pratyahara yoga nidra. The books have described pratyahara yoga nidra only, not dharana yoga nidra or dhyana yoga nidra. In dhyana yoga nidra, nidra, the vritti of sleep, is transcended and sublimated. In dharana yoga nidra, the vritti of sleep is brought under the control of the practitioner. Pratyahara yoga nidra is sleepless sleep, where we simply experiment with what is happening to us. So yoga nidra becomes an important part of perfecting pratyahara because it allows us to work at different levels of our personality in a systematic order.
I am sure that if you are sincerely practising yoga nidra, you will be able to experience the depth of relaxation, awareness and mental harmony it can provide you with. In fact, I do not teach meditation to anyone, especially now when we are moving into a new area of teaching through the yoga university. Meditation is a taboo subject and preparation for meditation is done through yoga nidra only. Until yoga nidra is perfected, pratyahara cannot be perfected.
To help in the process of perfecting pratyahara, we practise the basic concentration technique of antar mouna after yoga nidra. Antar mouna literally means 'inner silence'. It is a technique by which we can observe the conscious activities of the mind in the form of thought observation. The techniques of yoga nidra and antar mouna combined deal with the superficial human mind. Yoga says that there are two kinds of mind, the manifest, the superficial and the unmanifest, the real. We experience the superficial, manifest mind in all its glory. The ego is the final state of experience of the manifest mind and this ego is the negative ego. So we shall try to look at the components of the manifest mind and the negative ego when we practise yoga nidra and antar mouna.