Awareness | Yoga Nidra
Many of us have found the practice of Yoga through our bodies.
We live in our bodies and yet we forget our bodies. We don't take care of the body. We expect it to take care of itself even as we treat it poorly. We expect it to undo the harm that we have done. We're surprised upon learning that we are dealing with chronic physical conditions, even though it's often, but not always, our own doing, whether through harmful action or negligent inaction.
And then, one fateful day, we realize that we could take better care of the body. We find the physical Yoga practice and it seems to address that care through its methods. So, we turn to a Yoga mat and begin. We don't necessarily understand the mechanisms at work, but we know something about the practice is working.
Yoga, in the physical sense, brings us to the body and requires that we be aware of it. If we lose that awareness, we don't progress in the practice and it becomes mechanical. Without this presence, the motion is robotic. Practicing this way will also get us into trouble in the way of physical injury.
Both possible outcomes, robotic motion and injury, can easily result in our abandoning of the physical practice. It doesn't have to be such a bleak picture. They can also result in the exploration of other Yogic methods apart from the physical practice of postures. Whether Yoga postures are too much for the physical body or we sense there is more to it than the bodily focus, we may be inspired to go deeper.
Your physical practice may be flourishing right now, or it may not be. Either way, you have the ability to practice the mechanism that is at work: Awareness.
In your physical practice, for expample, your body is supported by the awareness of it.
So, what would happen if we focused on the practice of awareness itself?
Yoga Nidra is the practice of higher states of consciousness. Through this practice we become aware of awareness itself. The very thing that makes your physical practice so powerful, is now the center - not the body, not the breath, but the awareness itself.
What is a Yoga Nidra practice like?
There are different ways its taught. It can be guided by another person or self-guided. Just like any practice, it is most powerful when you can reach the point in which it is self-guided.
I believe the mechanisms are similar, despite the details involved. In my independent and ongoing studies, I've so far come to see the parallel between the Yoga Nidra practice and the scales and states of consciousness as described in Indian philosophy. Though he doesn't describe the Yoga Nidra practice, Pablo Sender, Theosophist and author of "Evolution of the Higher Consciousness," present the scales and states of consciousness in a way that helped me to see the clear parallel.
So what do we do in this practice in which we are comfortably lying down?
We begin by circling our minds around our external environment and the body, and our internal environment, emotions, feelings, thoughts through observation. We are paying very close attention to all of these aspects. Through pure observation we are not trying to change anything. There is no impetus to alter the outer world, the body, or the inner world of the emotions, feelings, or thoughts. A thought or a memory might surface, and we just watch it surface. We watch something else surface. We hear a sound. We notice we hear a sound. As we circle around, it happens that we become progressively more relaxed.
So deeply relaxed, we release any internal pressure to do something about anything. We separate from the physical world, the body, emotions and thoughts and realize that we can watch silently as a silent observer, a quiet witness.
We may start to drift into another space in which we aren't aware of anything and it's just quiet, silent, dark.
Here, we continue to open a door to a higher state of consciousness.
As we progress, we become aware that we are aware. We allow whatever enters our field of awareness to be observed within it, through it and by it. We become a silent watcher of the body; a silent watcher of the emotions and feelings; a silent watcher of the thoughts; a silent watcher of our reactions.
We dwell in a silence that feels more real than anything; more real than the body, the feelings, the thoughts and yet feel like a dream at the same time. We learn through pure experience that none of these aspects define our true nature and we get a glimpse of who we might actually be, or who we actually are, non-dual yet all-encompassing silence that is everything and nothing.
We drift in and out, maybe being aware of something in particular or aware of nothing at all. We sense we are bigger than we usually think we are.
What's Going on in Yoga Nidra?
We are practicing the state of Turiya, the Sanskrit term that designates a state that goes beyond the awareness of external objects, internal objects, and no objects or darkness and silence. (Pablo Sender explains the state of Turiya and those states leading up to it in his book, "Evolution of the Higher Consciousness.")
Yoga Nidra is often described as the state between waking and sleeping. I have understood it this way for a few years, but in looking more closely it seems we are dwelling in higher sub-states of the lower waking state and higher sub-states of the dreaming state. I believe this because we are invoking awareness. We can be awake and sleep without much awareness at all. But, in Yoga Nidra, we are focused on awareness and practicing to experience that non-dual nature of true Awareness.
Further, like the larger aim of Yoga, Yoga Nidra aims to help us reach the higher state of the Soul experience. Further still, it aims to lead us to the conscious trance, also coined "conscious non-consciousness" (Blavatsky as cited in Sender, 2018).
In his book, Sender looks to the writing of Blavatsky who describes the four states of consciousness.
Sanskrit | English Designated principle of the human
Jagrat | waking state Experience of the physical body
Svapna | dreaming state Experience of the psyche
Susupti | causal state Experience of the soul
Turiya | deepest trance Experience of the Spirit
The Practice or the Theory?
Do we have to know all of these details above to experience and practice Yoga Nidra?
No, not at all.
In my case, I allow myself to experience something, and then I strive to understand it. When I was first introduced to Yoga Nidra in 2011, I didn't know what to think of it, so I just continued to practice as opportunities presented themselves. Over the years I became more curious of what I was experiencing. And it wasn't until some time after I began guiding Yoga Nidra that I became interested in learning what was occurring underneath the method.
An Invitation to Practice
Yoga Nidra is a practice that I'm learning more and more about through practice and guiding. I don't know everything there is to know about it and I may never know it all, but because it's a vehicle for experiencing true depths, it has my attention.
It also has my attention because it's a peaceful way to getting to the heart of things. It doesn't take much to practice it, especially when guided, and yet it teaches us invaluable knowledge. It only takes a willingness to experience it.
The goal is to be able to take the knowledge gained in practice and let it guide us through the day, so that we are operating with a higher state of consciousness as we work and play in our everyday lives, moving through the world as we witness the motion within and without.
If you're interested in experiencing the world in deeper ways, you might consider giving Yoga Nidra a try.