Yoga Nidra is derived from the ancient Tantric Shastras, and forms a complete program of deep relaxation, intensive Self-inquiry and profound meditation. During Yoga Nidra we carefully and systematically investigate the nature of the structures and beliefs that define our personal identity. These structures include the physical body, the energy body, the sensation, feeling and emotional bodies, the bodies of thought and imagery, and the bodies of bliss and personal ego identity. We have come to believe that these bodies are solid and real structures. During Yoga Nidra we investigate the reality of these beliefs in order that we may go beyond what we have learned as second-hand information. Our objective is to develop an in-depth first-hand experience as to the structure and reality of our actual identity.
During the process of Yoga Nidra we also investigate the ground of awareness in which these bodies and beliefs are arising. Yoga Nidra is an inquiry into the actual substance and nature that everything is made of. Its aim is to answer the ultimate question as to the nature of our intrinsic, spiritual identity. Yoga Nidra asks: “Are we separate, finite entities, or are we something which is infinite and eternal? And if we are, can we know ourselves as That, not intellectually, but as a fully embodied and every moment actual experience?”
The investigation that occurs during Yoga Nidra inevitably leads to the deconstruction of and dis-identification with our basic core beliefs about who we take ourselves to be. As our beliefs and assumptions dissolve, we glimpse our essential Nature as Presence and come to the first-hand conviction that we are not the limited, finite creatures that we mistakenly take ourselves to be. We find, instead, that we are a Vastness unfathomable to the mind; a joyous “Beingness” that is always present, even in the midst of the greatest difficulty. This is the supreme understanding that Yoga Nidra invites us to realize.
Yoga Nidra Defined
The word Yoga, from which we derive our English terms yoke and union, may be translated as “the joining together of two things that have never been separate.” The aim of Yoga is for us to realize that we are inseparably unified with the Vastness that everything in the Universe is made up of. And Yoga Nidra is a process that helps us understand that it is the mind, through its learned misperception, that keeps the belief of separation alive and prevents us from realizing our Divine nature.
The term “Nidra,” from the Sanskrit, means ‘sleep.’ From the perspective of Yoga Nidra, we are asleep when we perceive the world to be made up of solid and separate objects. When we dream, we take the dream images to be real. When we wake-up, these dream objects are recognized to be empty of substance and we realize that all along they were only fabrications of the mind. During waking consciousness, we take our thought images and the ‘so-called’ solid objects of the world to be as real as the dream images are when we are asleep. We are convinced that waking thoughts and objects are real and we never question the validity of this belief. In fact, the thoughts and objects that appear to us in the waking state are as empty as dream images. And Yoga Nidra is a process whereby we explore and discover the truth of this fact.
In the context of Yoga Nidra then, the yogi is one who, whether asleep or awake, understands the fundamental nature of Reality. He and she embody the understanding that all things are inherently One, that there is only Consciousness, there is only God. There is no separation anywhere, under any circumstance, except as a mental conceptualization. Everything is made of the same substance. So Yoga Nidra is a play on words. It means the “sleep of the yogi” but implies that the yogi is one who is wide-awake to the real Truth or Reality of life.
Yoga Nidra may also be described as the practice of pratyahara. Pratyahara is classically defined as the process of withdrawing the mind from distracting sensory impressions such as sounds, smells, sights and thoughts so that the mind abides in a calm and undisturbed state of silent witnessing. The image of a turtle with its head drawn inside its shell represents this classical process of blocking out the sensory impressions of the world. But I think of pratyahara somewhat differently from this classical perspective. I view pratyahara as the transcending of, rather than the withdrawing from, sensory impressions.
When we are in a room with a loudly ticking clock, there is really no necessity of withdrawing away from, or trying to block out, the ticking sound. If we are open to hearing the sound without resistance, if we don’t fight the sound, or try to get rid of it, the body/mind accommodates to the sound, transcends it, and goes beyond the sensation. The sound no longer disturbs.
We find in this illustration the powerful law of awareness. Whatever we are willing to be with, we go beyond. Any sensory impression that is allowed to be in awareness without either the movement of repression or expression, dissolves back into the ever-present background of awareness and disappears. Whatever is allowed to simply be, as it is, in awareness, dissolves. It is no longer troublesome. And this truth pertains to any sensory experience be it the movement of a sound, an image, a taste, a sensation, a smell or a thought.
Why is this so? We mistakenly assume a sensory impression is a phenomenon separate from ourselves as the perceiver of the impression. We hear the sound of the ticking clock as if it were outside ourselves. But the fact is sensory impressions are not separate from the mind that perceives them. Perceiving is a unified field of awareness. The perceiver is not separate from what is being perceived. At the moment of perception, there is only perceiving. The idea of being a perceiver who is separate from the sound perceived arises as a mental formulation after the fact. You can experience this for yourself. Stop reading for a moment and hear the sounds that are around you.
Now listen again and inspect the moment that sound is perceived. In this timeless moment of perceiving you are not present as the listener. There is only listening. Now go ahead and listen to the sounds again.
In the actual moment of perceiving, there is only perceiving. We cannot perceive and think simultaneously. The mind can attend to one or the other. At the moment of perceiving there is only perceiving. At the moment of thinking there is only thinking. The thinker arises only after the fact of thinking. When we are not, perceiving is, thinking is. When perceiving is, when thinking is, we are not.
When we refuse or resist a sensory impression, such as the sound of the ticking clock, we are, in a manner of speaking, refusing ourselves because, ultimately we are made of the same substance as the impression that is being perceived. Trying to block out a sound is a movement born in conflict. We are trying to get rid of something that is ultimately ourself. We may be able to repress the sound, but we cannot, ultimately, get rid of it. We may be able to suppress various aspects of ourself such as emotions, thoughts or negative attitudes and beliefs we hold to be true about ourselves, but we cannot get rid of them. Better that we consciously allow them to be as they are. Our true Nature begins to shine as radiant and unperturbable joyfulness only when we accept and welcome all that is.
Like our body/mind, every impression, every sound and every thought is born, grows, decays and dies. And these movements all takes place within and against a background of awareness. This process of growth, decay and death is very quick for a perception. It is a longer process for the body and longer still for a mountain or a universe. When we do not refuse this natural process of life, whatever arises eventually dissolves back into its home ground of awareness. Any refusing only strengthens that which is being resisted. Trying to withdraw from anything ultimately fails. It is only in our being with things as they are that we are able to go beyond them and find our Ultimate Nature as the ground of Silence, Being, or Awareness, in which all things have their birth, their growth, their decay and their death.
During Yoga Nidra, we intentionally locate and investigate sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts and images. We go into them. We explore them. We bring them into consciousness. As these impressions are allowed to float freely in awareness, without our trying to repress or express them, they arise and fade away into the background, no longer bothersome to the mind because the mind has no intention to refuse or deny their existence. This approach to pratyahara is a process of elimination whereby unconscious material is allowed to surface into awareness, into consciousness. When repressed material arises without personal reaction, it dissolves into its home ground and is no longer problematic. Impressions, experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions are problematic only because we refuse them. We judge our experience and try to control what we perceive. In Yoga Nidra we realize that everything is made of the same substance. Refusing anything is refusing who we are. Refusing only creates chaos, conflict, war and suffering in the world and within ourselves. Whatever we refuse we repress into the unconscious and whatever lives in the unconscious gets projected out into the world. If we reject our anger and violence then we project anger and violence into the world. When we are angry that we are being judged it is only because we are already judging ourselves. You see, no one ever hurt us. We are only always hurting ourselves.
Embodying this understanding is powerfully transformative. When we shift from trying to change ourselves to being non-judgmentally aware, magic happens, for anything that is placed in awareness, transforms. Awareness is like fire. Fire purifies, and awareness purifies. Fire doesn’t judge. It simply burns away the impurities of what is placed within its presence. And awareness is simple presence, presence to what is. During Yoga Nidra we continually rest in and abide as the fire of awareness. This is an act of being open that comes from the tremendous insight that every way we have tried to change ourselves up to this point has totally failed. In this moment of resting in the fire of awareness the mind gives up and we are open to the unknown, listening without goal or intention.
But don’t misperceive that ‘being with’ or witnessing is a passive process. It is dynamically active. Being with an emotion may mean the resurgence of long forgotten memories, or the upheaval of strong cathartic feelings. But all the while these foreground activities are in process we find ourselves as a multidimensional listening. In this there is accepting rather than our usual and customary process of rejecting what we deem ‘bad’ while emphasizing and expressing what we prefer as ‘good’.
We are often engaged in acts of self-hatred. In these moments we do not like ourselves as we are or life as it is. This is a form of self-loathing. Whenever we wish our experience to be other than it is we fight with reality. And when we fight with reality we always lose. What we need is to be with things as they are. Life is just as it is and we are just as we are. When we relinquish all attempts to change the world and ourselves, when we cease trying to re-make the world and ourselves according to our mental images and beliefs about how we think things ‘should be, transformation occurs. This transformation brings forward our native disposition as spontaneous accepting and we live in harmony with ourselves and with what life brings. In this there is self-love and love for life just the way it is.
When we live in accepting at first we emphasize the objects that we are accepting. These objects include other people and situations, our emotions, our memories and our thoughts and images. But as we live in accepting the state of accepting is emphasized. We live in accepting for its own sake because of the joy and freedom we feel. Then we are seized by the intuition to turn and investigate the ‘who’ that is living this accepting. In this the who-we-are-as-the-acceptor is emphasized. And in a spontaneous moment of relaxation, ourself as the acceptor dissolves into Being accepting where there is only accepting. In this timeless moment we realize that our very nature is accepting which is Consciousness, God or Divine Presence. We are now being who we really are. Then, when we look upon the world through these eyes of accepting, we realize that everything is made of the same substance as Accepting. In this there is no self and there is no other. There is only non-conceptual Oneness. There is only Consciousness. There is only God. And this is the ultimate realization of Yoga Nidra.
About Richard Miller, PhD:
Richard Miller, PhD, author of Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing, is a psychologist and contemporary teacher of nondualism whose teachings emphasize spiritual awakening and psychological integration. Richard is co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapy and the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology, founding president of the Integrative Restoration Institute, and senior advisor to the Baumann Institute, dedicated to understanding the impact of pure Awareness on well being. Richard serves as a consultant researching the Yoga Nidra protocol that he’s developed (Integrative Restoration – iRest) with soldiers, veterans, students, children, the homeless, and people experiencing issues such as PTSD, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and chronic pain. Profoundly influenced by his many mentors including Jean Klein, (nondualism and yoga), TKV Desikachar (yoga philosophy), Stephen Chang, MD (Taoism), and Laura Cummings (Buddhism), Richard leads retreats worldwide with a focus on enlightened living in daily life.
Learn more about Richard: www.irest.org