Yoga nidra and savasana

Savasana is the relaxation at the end of a yoga practice. It is the ultimate yoga pose. But not everyone has 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 and is essentially a guided hypnosis filled with visualisations.  It’s said to be four times more restful than sleep and, perhaps more importantly, helps to increase creativity.

Select your practice

You do need to listen to a teacher or pre-recorded meditation to practise yoga nidra.  One of the originals and a favourite of mine is the recording by Swami Janakananda Saraswati.  Some YouTubers have tried to reproduce this version but it doesn’t have quite the same effect as his nordic voice to the backdrop of bells, wind and other such sound effects.  Eventually you may find specific journeying techniques more effective so don’t be afraid to shop around – there are lots out there.

Make the space divine

And if you can’t make it divine, at least make it warm, quiet and safe. You can burn incense for a few minutes before and play soft music during the practice.  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 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.  Some ideal asanas include knees to the chest, seated forward bend or shoulder stand.  Make sure you haven’t eaten in the past hour or so and are well hydrated.

Create a space

A bolster 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-body 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 place something a little soft underneath.  Don’t be tempted to put a larger cushion or pillow under your head as it will give you a stiff neck and totally trap you throat chakra.

Set an intention

The whole point of setting an intention or sankalpa is to help 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 asleep every time you practise try taking a cold shower before you start.  If that doesn’t work you can also do yoga nidra whilst standing up, and if you do fall asleep it’s never a wasted effort as your unconscious will still be paying close attention.

Adopt the attitude of a witness

You’ll start the practice with some deep relaxation techniques including rotational consciousness (where you become aware of each part of the body), focused breathing or counting backwards, depending on the teacher.  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.  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 visualisations are by far the most entertaining part of yoga nidra on occasions they can get a bit weird.  Some people don’t love 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 cave can be difficult if you have a fear of submerging.  If your thoughts become negative try not to let them disturb you.  In fact – just watch them and notice the feelings that come up.  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.

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 extravagant.  If you’re visualising a symbol and it’s flashing like it belongs in a Tokyo art 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

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 will.

If you do this practise regularly enough you can’t help but make the most of your creative potential.  Most ideas arise in the unconscious as dreams – from moments where you’re not engaging your mind.  You just have to relax deeply enough for the images to manifest as solutions.  Those deep layers of the mind hold the solution to all of your problems, you just have to detach.  Practise yoga nidra regularly enough and the gifts will be yours.

By Gemma Rowbotham

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