By Carrie Booth
The words yoga and nidra—they are in the language of Sanskrit. We can understand subjects, philosophies, ideas, in any number of ways. How I originally came to understand yoga nidra was through words. Using other words, English words, to describe what yoga and nidra mean. Yoga translating as union, yoking, interconnectedness, integration, etc. Nidra translating as sleep. Though, in Sanskrit, unlike English, it is not the words that have meaning. Each letter and each syllable in the word has meaning in Sanskrit. So, while this is right, yoga nidra is yogic sleep, it is not all encompassing. It points us in a direction of understanding yoga nidra, and invites us to stay open and curious and see for ourselves what it means.
So, yogic sleep. What is yogic sleep? This brings us to how we define consciousness and the different states of consciousness. Western psychology understands consciousness through conscious, subconscious, and unconscious states. Right? We are pretty familiar with these words. Eastern wisdom, though, understands consciousness through awake, sleep, deep dreamless sleep, and super consciousness states. Yoga nidra is the state of deep dreamless sleep.
The yogis believe there are many different kinds of sleep. There is the sleep that we get when we just fall asleep. There is the sleep that we get that is induced by herbs or supplements or drugs. There is the sleep that we have when we are dreaming. So, yoga nidra is the sleep that we have that is dreamless. And, while it is a deep relaxed state, there is still an element of consciousness, so we are able to pay attention to what is happening in this state.
One of the purposes of yoga nidra that we hear in the West is it can be very therapeutic. It can be considered a meditative inquiry. A type of meditation. In fact, some might even call it a type of mindfulness meditation. It can be used for relaxation. It can be used for inquiry or contemplation. Exploring, what am I feeling right now? How am I feeling right now? What am I thinking right now? Though, the original purpose of yoga nidra is for awakening. And when we talk about awakening, that means remembering, or finding our way back to, our essential wholeness, our essential being. Which is not something we have to do or check off to get, it is something that we already have, that is innate, within us. Our essential nature. Our essential wholeness. Our essential being. A part of us that doesn’t change throughout all of the changing experiences of life. A part of us that is an underlying presence that has always been with us and that will always be with us.
We forget though. That is part of the human experience. That we forget about our wholeness and our unchanging nature. And, there are many practices, such as yoga or any of the limbs of yoga, that point us back to and help us remember our essential nature. Though, the place we most likely have the capacity to do this, to remember, is in deep dreamless sleep—the practice of yoga nidra. So, yoga nidra can give us glimpses of our underlying wholeness. Our underlying presence of being.
I heard somebody once share that the purpose of yoga nidra is yoga nidra. Similarly, the purpose of yoga is yoga. We are not doing these things to get something, to get rid of something, to be something—it is part of the path towards remembering who we already are. And, it is an experiential practice. It is designed to experientially restore our knowing of our true nature. So, it doesn’t just give an intellectual understanding of the path. It helps us walk the path by giving us direct experience and first-hand knowing of who and what we actually are.
Come experience it for yourself this Sunday, February 26, at 6:00pm, and see what it means for you. You can sign up for the workshop (livestream or in studio) here.