Early Teachings of Sri Swamiji

Yoga Nidra

My name, Satyananda, is composed of two words, satya, or the unchanging, and ananda or the ecstatic mood, ecstatic life or unchanging bliss. And swami means one who is master of himself. Therefore, my name, Swami Satyananda, is a universal name, it is everyone’s name.

In spiritual life, when you visualize your own consciousness, you become aware of a whole stock of difficulties: mental, psychic, real, illusory, and so on. Even the subconscious mind is disturbed, so if we try to concentrate on one particular point in meditation, the mind finds itself incapable and fails.

The yoga shastras, yoga scriptures, say that the mind has threefold mental errors or defects. Broadly speaking, the first error is impurity, the second is misunderstanding or illusion, and the third is distraction or dissipation. These threefold errors in the mind are the cause of all tensions and anxieties, and they prevent us from enjoying a state of mental equilibrium. Even highly spiritual people who have renounced everything and have no contact with the world at large, suffer form unquiet minds and cannot concentrate in meditation. These psychic disturbances, this psychic and physical imbalance, must be corrected. This is where yoga nidra or psychic sleep plays an important part in the scheme of yoga. This psychosomatic relaxation is known by westerners only as a method of relaxation, but in fact it aims at physical and mental balance.

Nidra in its corrupt form means sleep, but in Sanskrit it means complete relaxation; and yoga means union or one-pointedness. Thus, yoga nidra means relaxation by creating one-pointedness of mind. It also means relaxation of the personality by going inwards from outer experiences. Yoga nidra is particularly recommended for spiritual aspirants who suffer from tensions, anger, greed and other imbalances.

Sometimes when you sit for meditation, concentration comes spontaneously, but at other times despite your best efforts you cannot concentrate. You come back from work, sit for meditation and just go to sleep. This is plainly not what is desired, but what can one do? You have gone to bed at 11.00 pm and you get up at 4 or 5 o’clock the following morning to meditate, because this is the best time for meditation. Between 11.00 pm and 4.00 am you have insufficient time for sleep, so the whole of the following day you are depressed and your mind is disturbed. This is where yoga nidra comes in. Yoga nidra is a method by which the mind can receive maximum possible relaxation in minimum time. One hour of yoga nidra is equal to four hours of sleep. It is also a very systematic method for the development of inner awareness and it is especially designed for beginners.

In yoga nidra one lies down on a bed, or on a blanket, or on a carpet with a blanket laid over it on the floor. A little pillow can be used if one likes. Thereafter, one relaxes the limbs. The legs should be apart and the hands a little away from the sides of the body, palms up. The eyes are closed. The practice should be followed for one full hour. During this full hour, you play a double role: you instruct yourself and simultaneously you follow what is being instructed.

What exactly do we try to do in yoga nidra? We try to discipline and tranquillize the physical body. We relax the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the bones, muscles, ligaments, the brain, the eyes – the entire physical body. We develop a state of mind where all our emotions are brought to the surface. We can do this voluntarily. Even if we don’t suffer from anger or jealousy, love everyone and hate nobody, we should still try to bring our emotions to the surface and whatever type they are, throw them out.

In yoga nidra, we discipline our imagination, our fantasies, feelings and sentiments to such a degree that we can induce the feeling of heat by simply producing the word ‘heat’ inside, and when we produce the word ‘cold’ inside, the whole body begins to shiver with chill. In this way we discipline and control the sensations of the mind. Although there may be heat in the room, if we want to feel cold, the body experiences it. The power of the will is demonstrated in that, despite the fact that the room is hot and we are fully aware of the heat, we can feel cold because we will ourselves to feel cold.

Using auto-suggestion, or with another person acting as instructor, or using a tape-recording, you should practice yoga nidra for one full hour. It is best if the entire system and sequence of instructions of yoga nidra is properly recorded. The words, the emphasis, the tone, the timing, the accent, should never change from the first to the last day.

The system of yoga nidra is very vast; much has been spoken and written about it. It includes hundreds of methods by which complete relaxation can be brought to every part of the body: the muscles of the forehead, the abdomen, the kidneys and intestines, or the muscles of the thighs. In this lies the secret of self-healing; it comes with deep relaxation brought about through the willpower.

Yoga nidra is not only meant for a person who is absolutely worn out with physical and mental exertion. It is also for one who is tired of taking rest. There are people who sit in an easy chair the entire day and ultimately develop what might be called psychological blood pressure. When they rise from their chair they experience palpitations and think that they suffer from a heart disease. They suffer from under-work. For these people the methods of yoga nidra that rejuvenate and revive the physical, mental and emotional personality should be emphasized. Those who are unable to exercise, eat a lot and rest for several hours with nothing to do, need excitement or stimulation. Certain practices of yoga nidra can help them by inducing an extra influx of blood and energy. Other practices in yoga nidra are especially designed for people who suffer from physical and mental fatigue due to strain and overwork. In yoga nidra we deal with the underlying causes due to which the physical, mental and emotional systems have reached the state of depression, followed with a whole process of re-toning, reviving and repairing, which brings about a calm and quiet condition of the body, mind and emotions. Yoga nidra can also be used for higher meditation.

Yoga nidra is a part of pratyahara, the fifth step of raja yoga. Pratyahara means withdrawal of consciousness from physical objects. In yoga nidra sight is withdrawn from its objects of perception, hearing is withdrawn from sound and so on, until all links with the physical senses are withdrawn. Therefore, yoga nidra is very useful for those who want to avoid fighting with the mind in their practice of meditation, and for tranquillizing the physical and psychosomatic conditions.

—Japan, 1969, first published in Yoga from Shore to Shore