We all sleep every day, but we are not aware of it. We may be aware that some time was lost in a sort of void or reverie after waking up, but at the time it happens, we are not aware of it. That is what sets aside normal sleep from Yogic sleep. Authentic Yoga Nidra is about being in a state of ‘conscious deep sleep’
at other times, when one is not in Self Realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.” (Pathanjali Yoga Sutra,1.4)
According to Maharshi Pathanjali, our sleep is just another kind of interfering thought with which we get falsely identified, just like when we get identified with our imagination or gross thoughts and memories.
“Dreamless sleep is subtle thought pattern which has as its object an inertia” (Pathanjali Yoga Sutra, 1.10)
The sleep that we all are used to is of this kind. We are not aware that we are sleeping; our mind simply gets carried away with an objectless object called sleep. Although this is highly useful for the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems, and the dreaming cycle of sleep is therapeutically recognized both by psychologists and Yogis, higher forms of Yoga practices aim towards dis-identification even with that object of sleep. Thus in Yoga Nidra, we start by being aware of the waking state, then maintain the awareness through dreaming state and finally, if we fall asleep, we aim at being aware of that deep sleep state. In other words we witness the deep sleep state as if it is happening to someone else.
While Yoga Nidra is a state that is very relaxing, it is also used by Yogis to purify “Samskaras”, the deep impressions that are the driving force behind Karma (our actions). Mandukya Upanishad, which says about Yoga Nidra state and other states of consciousness, gives references that “the deeper aspects of the mind field can be purified by having access to the formless state of conscious deep sleep.” Basically we are either in the waking state, or dreaming state or in the sleep state.
When we are awake, our senses give a lot of inputs that creates impressions in our subconscious and is processed as images in the unconscious. This creates a continuous thought pattern that we hang on to.
In the dreaming state, we do not get any sensory inputs, but we have access to our unconscious which is still processing the impressions stored in the subconscious, and we hang on to those. The proof is that for most of us, the dream seems very real when it happens, and we do not feel that we are disconnected from them.
In the deep sleep state, we have access to the subconscious impressions, but since they are not in the form of images, we cannot make any sense of those impressions and hence we don’t hang on to them. In this way, when we are conscious of our deep sleep state and not get identified with it, the impressions gradually fade away. But this is surely a very advanced state!
Fortunately, many centers of Yoga have given us a way to get there. These techniques follow a certain sequence which involves internalization, rotation of consciousness through various body parts in a sequence, breath awareness, visualizations and resolves etc in order to create the necessary ambiance as the awareness flows through wakefulness, artificial dreaming and finally, may be, into a conscious deep sleep.
Apart from the highest form of advantage that is described in Mandukya Upanishad, modern forms of practice have, nonetheless, a lot of physical and psychological benefits. Some of them are:
- Very deep and profound relaxation of body and mind.
- Reduction of anxiety and ability to cope up with daily stresses.
- Improved sleep pattern and the need for less sleep hours.
- Ability to cope up with our diseases through enhancement of will power.
Hence, whether we get there or not, it is definitely worth practicing by everyone.
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Article By: ShreyasRetreat.com – One of finest yoga retreats around the world.
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