Education is a drawing out from within of the highest and best qualities inherent in the individual.
The current approach to education does not affirm our divine nature and draw out the hidden unlimited potential within, but rather limits and blocks the free expression of children's inner potential and creativity. Research and practical experience has shown yoga nidra to be a powerful technique that can help transform the process of education in a positive and creative way.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1981) states that each person has the potential of a genius, but this potential is never realized. The reason is that there is a screen which keeps this potential hidden. This screen consists of mental blocks (fears, phobias, conflicts, complexes of different types), excessive egoism and conditioning. Once we remove this screen, all the inner knowledge will spontaneously reveal itself.
Every child possesses inherent potential, but neither the teachers nor the parents know how to awaken that dormant potential. The more this potential is awakened and utilized, the more children's lives will evolve in a satisfying and fulfilling way. This perhaps is the real education.
According to Sri Aurobindo, each human being is a self-developing soul and the business of both parent and teacher is to enable and to help the child to educate himself; to develop his own intellectual, moral, aesthetic and practical capabilities and to grow freely as an organic being, not to be kneaded and pressured into form like inert plastic material.
From time to time innovations have been made in the system of education, but they do not seem to have been completely successful in fulfilling this educational aim. One of the drawbacks of the present education system is that it is not helping children to know, develop and use all their potential. In fact it is making them more tense, and does not help them to become better human beings.
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2001) reported that psychological blocks in learning, remembering and memorizing were found in many elementary, high school and college students who were interviewed in San Francisco. It is therefore important to find a technique that can make young people aware of the psychological changes and remove their psychological blocks in order to make the process of learning easy and effective.
Another important factor is that until now education has mainly focused on the left hemisphere of the brain, giving importance to linear, scientific and purely logical disciplines. Although this imparts professional skills and develops the intellect, the artistic and intuitive subjects such as art, dance and other creative activities have received negligible support. This approach is lopsided and is only a partial education, leading to unbalanced development.
Yoga nidra is one of the most direct methods of helping to remove the screen that blocks the natural expression of inherent potential. It not only helps to awaken the fountain-Head of knowledge that lies within each individual, but also increases one's ability to absorb data from outside sources. As the conscious mind relaxes, the subconscious becomes predominant. It picks up the information and stores it.
Yoga nidra is a state of dynamic sleep in which one appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness. In this state contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions of the mind occurs spontaneously. One becomes present, receptive and sensitive. There is deep relaxation with alertness and inner awareness. When relaxation is complete, the receptivity is greater. This is the secret of yoga nidra. The main principle working behind yoga nidra is deep relaxation of the mind, which allows it to absorb knowledge like a sponge absorbs water, so the learning process is not physically or mentally tiring.
In Satyananda Yoga, the main emphasis is on awareness, and this is the second key principle behind the practice of yoga nidra. Throughout the practice instructions are given to be aware, i.e. "be attentive". This is precisely the quality required in order to learn well. When awareness develops in children, it becomes a very useful quality for self-development. As the awareness expands, the dark areas of the brain become illuminated, awakening the dormant centres of the brain and leading to the utilization of the maximum capacity of the brain. This will help children to develop their intellect, memory, concentration, power of discrimination and other mental faculties. Expansion of awareness will also make them aware of the storehouse of knowledge that lies at the subconscious level of the mind, as contact with the subconscious develops spontaneously.
The subconscious is the storehouse of all wisdom, knowledge, intuition and willpower. When we talk of drawing out the best from within, it is the subconscious mind which needs to be explored in order to have access to that knowledge. This can be done by completely relaxing the conscious mind, which can be best achieved through yoga nidra. In yoga nidra relaxation is associated with a state of alertness. This is also the best state for learning. If we examine the different stages of yoga nidra, it becomes clear how the practice fulfils the aim of education.
We learn best when we are creatively involved. There is a great deal of scope for children to be creatively involved in yoga nidra, in addition to the possibilities mentioned above in relation to the stages of yoga nidra. Moreover, yoga Nidra can be used to speed up the process of swotting and memorizing the basic rules and facts of languages, maths, science and so forth. This would leave time for more creative pursuits. The basic method is to practise yoga nidra for 10-15 minutes before the class begins. The students are then relaxed, attentive and receptive. Facts and figures given by the teacher bypass conscious blocks in the mind and directly penetrate the subconscious mind. Thus all the data is firmly impressed on the mind and retained permanently.
While teaching in a residential girls' school in Rajasthan, the writer used the technique of yoga nidra with her students to see if their academic performance could be improved. For a period of 7 years, from 1993 to 2000, a 15 minute yoga nidra was given on cassette to students in class X (aged 14-16 years) daily for 2-3 months before the examination period. The technique was based on practices given by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1982). From 1995-2000, a 20 minute yoga nidra was also given orally to students of class XII (aged 16-18 years) daily before class. Generally, these students had only just average results. However, after the yoga nidra practice was begun, exceptionally good results in the NCERT Board Examination were obtained each year. A positive change in general behaviour was also observed throughout the period.
Encouraged by the transformation observed in the students, the writer undertook a formal project to study the effects of yoga nidra on one of the important aspects of personality, viz. memory. The study was conducted from 1-15 June 2001 in Jaipur, Rajasthan (2002). The following report is a glimpse of this study.
Method: A random sample of 30 students aged 13-15 years was selected from the area of study and divided randomly into two groups, with 15 students in each of the experimental and control groups. At the beginning and end of a 15 day period, the P.G.I Memory Scale test (Pershad and Wig 1994) was administered to both groups. The test included verbal and non-verbal material and measured remote, recent, immediate, short term, very short term, intermediate term and long term memory.
During the 15 day period, the yoga nidra practice was given to the experimental group only, for 30-35 minutes daily. The technique used was based on Yoga Nidra (1982) by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. The sessions were held in a well-ventilated hall. The stages of practice included preparation and relaxation, sankalpa, rotation of consciousness, breath awareness, opposite sensations and visualization. In the visualization stage, positive statements were included such as: I have a retentive memory/I can remember things well/I have a strong memory/I am grateful to my brain for doing a wonderful job. Sometimes adventure stories and colourful images were also included in this stage. The practice began and ended with Om chanting and Shanti path.
Results: The pre and post scores on memory obtained for both the experimental and control groups were treated statistically to assess the effects of the practice. Table 1 shows the pre and post comparison of memory for the experimental and control groups. In the experimental group the mean pre value of 72.73 increased to 93.83 in the post condition, the mean difference being found to be highly significant (p<0.01). In the control group the pre mean value of 8.62 reduced to 7.80 in the post condition, the mean difference being statistically significant.
Discussion: The above result shows that there was a significant change in the memory score of the experimental group. The different stages of yoga nidra perhaps help in strengthening willpower, and the positive affirmations given in the visualization stage have a strong effect on the subconscious mind where memory lies. In yoga nidra the relaxation achieved at the physical, mental and emotional levels removes psychological blockages (Swami Niranjanananda, 2001), which may release energy to the dormant centres of the brain. As a result, the dark areas of the brain are illumined and the quality of perception and expression improves. Swami Satyananda (1982) has pointed out that by regular practice of yoga nidra new circuits are established, old circuits are cleared of blockages and dormant areas of the brain are awakened as the neurons are stimulated. This has a positive effect on the enhancement of long term as well as short term memory. The awareness expands during yoga nidra and the brain becomes alert and receptive. In this receptive state one is able to correct the negative patterns existing in the brain that pose hurdles in learning.
The present findings show that yoga nidra has a positive effect in enhancing the memory of children. If school authorities could introduce a period of 15-20 minutes of yoga nidra into the daily schedule, it would be very worthwhile. If 15 days practice can bring about such a remarkable improvement in memory as demonstrated in the above study, regular practice would not only enhance memory and improve academic performance, but would also transform the whole personality and help to unfold the inner potential. Yoga nidra can help to change the process of education from one that is focused mainly on academic performance to one that also allows the limitless creative potential within to unfold. As stated by Swami Satyananda (1981): "Yoga nidra will help transform factories, as schools and colleges are known, into centres of creativity."