Savasana (the relaxation at the end of a yoga practice) is the ultimate yoga pose, but not many have heard of yoga nidra, a psychedelic meditation which taps deep into the unconscious to draw up the goods from below.
Yoga nidra is a very simple practice. A guided hypnosis full of visualisations which enhances creativity and can quite literally help you figure out exactly what you want from life. It’s said to be four times more restful than sleep and after a long session, as soon as you open your eyes, the whole world seems a lot brighter.
Select your practice
You do need to listen to a teacher or pre-recorded meditation to practise yoga nidra, especially the first few hundred times. Either record your own from a script (as a warning, even after many years of transcribing interviews I still weep at my own voice) or find one online. My favourite is by Swami Janakananda Saraswati. Some YouTubers have tried to reproduce this version but it doesn’t have the same effect as his nordic voice to the backdrop of bells, wind and other hippy sound effects. Eventually you may find specific journeying techniques more effective so don’t be afraid to shop around – there are loads out there.
Make the space divine
And if you can’t make it divine, at least make it warm, quiet and safe. I burn incense for a few minutes before. You can play gentle music, but if you do, make sure it won’t clash with the recording. Speaking of which, drunk flatmates who barge in and jump on you are not helpful here (speaking from experience) so gently tell them to refrain until you’ve finished. Semi darkness is key – not too bright but not too black or you have zero chance of staying awake. If you practise outside place a blanket over your whole body, head included, to avoid disturbance or insects taking refuge in your hair.
Prepare your body
Ahhh, your beautifully flawed body. That fleshy vessel which carries your soul to and from work. In yoga nidra we’re going to detach from this casing but it helps to prepare so it’s comfortable and happy to be hosting you. Go for comfy, loose clothing. You can do a few rounds of sun salutations to warm up. My favourite time for yoga nidra is straight after a home yoga practice where I extend my savasana. Some ideal asanas include knees to the chest (pawanmuktasana), seated forward bend (paschimottanasana) or shoulder stand (sarvangasana). Make sure you haven’t eaten in the past hour or so and are well watered.
Create a cloud
A bolster placed strategically under the knees and a small folded towel under the head puts you in a place where you forget you have a body. This is key for the outer visualisations where you gaze down and try hard not to judge your outfit/alignment. After a longer session of an hour or so, the point where your head touches the mat will likely get sore, so just place something a little soft underneath. Don’t be tempted to put a cushion or pillow under your head, it will give you a stiff neck and totally trap you throat chakra.
Set an awesome intention
I am a pirate. Whatever floats your boat? My sankalpa (intention) when I first started practising yoga nidra was… I am an amazing journalist. Yes, I might still suck, but at least I’m (finally) getting paid. The whole point of a sankalpa is to help you figure out your priorities and plant them into the unconscious. It’s an intention that cannot fail. The key is to make your sankalpa short, clear and positive, and repeat it three times in your finest and most commanding internal yoga voice.
Stay awake, but don’t worry if you don’t
If you find yourself snoozing every time you practise try a cold shower before you start. If that doesn’t work you can practise whilst standing. And if you do fall asleep, it’s not a wasted effort, your unconscious will still be listening.
Adopt the attitude of a witness
You’ll start the practice with some deep relaxation techniques – rotational consciousness where you become aware of each part of the body, focused breathing, or counting backwards, depending on the practice you choose. Then you get to the interesting part – the visualisations. The most important thing is to view the symbols and images in a detached way, as though watching a movie on the dark space at the back of the eyelids, referred to as the chidakasha in yogic terminology. Just remain aware. Try not to analyse or become too involved or you’ll start engaging the ego which can actually repress certain archetypes. Archetypes are your friends. They’re part of the collective unconscious which is basically what makes us human.
Don’t freak out!
Although the visualisation are by far the most entertaining part of yoga nidra on occasions they can get a bit weird. Some people don’t like wells in the bottom of the garden where it’s cold, dark and wet, even if a spark of light is flickering in the distance. Likewise, plunging into the waters of a crystal coated cave, as glamorous as this might sound, can be a bit of a bummer if you have a fear of submerging. If your mind becomes negative try not to let the thoughts disturb you. In fact – embrace them. If a symbol takes a turn for the worse you have just given birth to a samskara, a sort of neuroses of the past which helps condition your thoughts and compels you to act in a certain way. Well done!
Make your visualisations BIG
Visualisations should be effortless. Don’t project them – just relax and let them arise. They should appear naturally and spontaneously, but don’t be afraid to get ridiculous. If you’re visualising a symbol and it’s flashing like it belongs in a trippy Tokyo arthouse film then extra yoga points for you. You have complete freedom within your mind so use it. (I guaranteed everything you visualise now is going to be a neon sign – sorry.)
Come out of the practice gently
Especially for those who go deep into an extended practice, you’ll likely reach a heavy state of meditation. The teacher will bring your mind out of this state gradually. If something wakes you too quickly, remain in savasana, practise breath awareness and gradually bring yourself back into the body. The visualisations will usually end with an image that evokes great calm. This makes the unconscious mind receptive to positive thoughts so repeat your sankalpa another three times. State it clearly and positively. Smile! Have faith that this is going to manifest, because it totes will.
I guarantee if you do this practise regularly you’ll be making the most of your creative potential. Most creative ideas pop up from the unconscious from dreams – from moments where you’re not engaging your mind. You just have to relax deeply enough for the images to manifest as solutions. Yoga nidra speeds this up. These deeper layers of the mind hold the solution to all of our problems, we just have to practise complete detachment. Practise yoga nidra regularly enough and this genius will be all yours.