Did you know?
The officers of Napoleon, the 17th century general and emperor of France, have reported that he possessed an unfathomable and tireless source of energy and inspiration. At the very height of battle, just when the outcome was in balance, he would hand over his command to a subordinate, leaving instructions that he was not to be disturbed for twenty minutes under any circumstances. Then, retiring to his tent and stretching out upon an enormous bearskin, he would enter yoga nidra. Within seconds his loud, regular snores would be emerging to mix with all the desperate sounds of battle. Precisely twenty minutes later he would emerge, fresh, invigorated and inspired, remount his horse and inevitably lead the French army to a decisive victory.
In his book, Yoga Nidra, Swami Satyanananda Saraswati tells of his experience with hardened criminals at a detention camp in 1968…
He was invited to the camp to teach the criminals yoga. However, when he arrived the six hundred odd prisoners converged on him, hooting, laughing, pulling his dhoti, one even gave him a packet of cigarettes – total dishonour and disrespect rained down on him. He decided there was no way that he would be able to teach them yoga in this state. So he asked them to lie down quietly on their backs and get ready for the practice. They could not lie still – they kicked and pulled each other, shouted and spat. For half an hour all he persisted with just these words ‘Please close your eyes. Don’t move your body.’ He waited for them to become quiet, but they never did.
He resolved not to return the following day, assuming it was a lost cause. However, the man in charge begged him to reconsider. ‘You have cast a spell over them. They have been quiet ever since you left.’ And so he returned. The prisoners attitudes towards him were completely transformed. They didn’t want to practice the physical asanas of yoga, they wanted the yoga nidra they had experienced the day before. For the six days that followed, he taught them yoga nidra, how to relax from top to bottom, outside to inside, every part of their being. Daily reports came to him about their improved dispositions and the dramatic reduction in quarrels.
What is the secret of this transformation? Sermons? No. Admonitions? No. Release of tension, relaxation and peace of mind are the secret of transformation. When a man is under tension, his behaviour is influenced, and when he relaxes, he becomes natural. He knows the reality, the truth. Then he also knows how to behave, because the knowledge of truth is necessary for right behaviour. And knowledge of truth only comes when you are free of tension.
Saraswati says that ‘During the last hundred years or so, the way of life has changed throughout the world.’ He believes this has left us in a dramatic state of imbalance, which has led to a spate of stress-related illnesses caused by ‘our inability to adapt to the highly competitive pace of modern life
Psychosomatic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, migraine, asthma, ulcers, digestive disorders and skin diseases arise from tensions in the body and the mind. The leading causes of death in developed countries, cancer and heart disease, also stem from tension.’
Modern medical science is struggling to care for those people as ‘the real problem does not lie in the body; it originates in man’s changing ideals, in his way of thinking and feeling.
The international problem today is not hunger, poverty, drugs or fear of war. It is tension, hypertension, total tension. If you know how to free yourself of tension, you know how to solve your problems in life. If you are able to balance your tensions, you can control your emotions, anger and passions. You can control heart disease, high blood pressure, leukaemia and angina pectoris.’
The three basic types of tension that yogic philosophy claims are responsible for all the agonies of modern life are:
1. muscular tension – caused by physical exertion
2. emotional tension – caused by not being able to express our emotional selves freely and openly
3. mental tension – caused by excessive mental activity
Unless you are free from these three tensions, no amount of sleep will leave you feeling revived, refreshed and relaxed. Think about a time when you’ve seen people who seem to be happy and calm, but they have a habit of biting their nails, scratching their head, can’t sit still, can’t stand still. Most of the time they don’t realise they are doing these things until someone else points them out – they are unaware of their inner tension, and believe that they are relaxed. Even while sleeping, unless these tensions are dissolved, you will continue to wake up exhausted. In order to relax completely, the inner tensions of the body, emotions and mind must be released.
However, Saraswati states that if we adopt the yoga nidra technique, a single hour of practice is as restful as four hours of conventional sleep.
So if you find yourself hopping from one foot to the other when you’re having to talk to a group of people, or perhaps you’re like me and have issues with insomnia and waking up still tired, give it a go. Notice how you feel before, during and after. And then try again the next day, and the next, and see how it not only changes within each session, but also from session to session, week to week, and so on.
Go on…it’s for your own good. So be good to you.
Basic Outline of a Yoga Nidra sitting
Prepare yourself for practice
– find a comfortable position (either lying down or sitting) and close your eyes
Set an intention/resolution or mantra
Rotate your conscious attention around the detail of your physical body
– left and right sides
– front and back
Become aware of the body in contact with the floor
Awareness of sensations
– awaken the idea of heaviness in the body, gradually becoming heavier as you travel through the different body parts
– awaken the idea of lightness in the body, gradually becoming lighter as you travel through the different body parts
– alternate between heaviness and lightness
– awaken the experience of heat as vividly as possible
– awaken the experience of cold
– you may choose to take yourself on a journey somewhere or to focus on a colour, a chakra, your initial intention or mantra