Yoga Nidra as practised around the world now was developed by Sri Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga, from an advanced Tantric technique called nyasa. During nyasa a yogi mentally touches various parts of his or her body with consciousness while repeating mantras. When this is done in the prescribed manner the yogi is able to awaken subtle energy within the physical matter of the body.
The practice connects you to your subconscious and unconscious minds. The main aim of yoga nidra practice is the exploration of consciousness, with the ultimate aim of increasing self-awareness; but it has the side-effects of deep relaxation, rejuvenation, healing and increased inner strength. The characteristic feature of Satyananda Yoga Nidra is the systematic rotation of consciousness in the body, and other stages that include settling, sankalpa (resolve), breath awareness, pairs of opposites, visualization and so on. A practice is led by the teacher speaking out loud, the students lying in shavasana or seated in a chair. It can take from 12 to 45 minutes depending on the level of experience of the students, the time available and the aims of the practice.
The technique of Yoga Nidra enables us to remain aware while we enter into the dream and sleeping states of consciousness. The state of Yoga Nidra occurs when we can remain conscious during the deep sleep state (called prajna in the Mandukya Upanishad).
The technique is a practical and easily accessible. It creates deep relaxation for health, mental peace and higher awareness.
Development of the technique of Yoga Nidra
In his book Yoga Nidra Swami Satyananda tells of his experience when as a young student he fell asleep while people nearby chanted mantras, many of which he had not heard before. Even though he was deeply asleep during the chanting, on awakening, when he heard these mantras again, he seemed to know them. A yogi explained to him that his subtle body had heard the mantras. Swami Satyananda states in his book “After this discovery, I began studying the tantric scriptures in a new light. I came across many important but little known practices, which interested me very much. After practicing them myself, I decided to construct a new system, called Yoga Nidra, which would incorporate the essence of these practices without any of the complicated ritualistic drawbacks.”
Swami Satyananda’s great contribution to us all is that he has made very complex and advanced techniques accessible to everyone. He recognized that these ancient tantric techniques had great potential but needed to be simplified and translated into forms that could be used in our modern lives. He saw the great need for simple methods that have the power to reduce stress and suffering. He recognized that by simply placing our awareness onto a part of the body that part would be relaxed and recharged. This would then open the doorway into other areas of the body-mind for further healing and rejuvenation.
The Sankalpa is a resolve that supports the effort you make in daily life, perhaps to overcome a habit. You can make a sankalpa either about something in your outer life or your inner life; if the former, it shouldn't be about something trivial as sankalpa is very powerful. It's best to phrase it as a positive desire or intention rather than a "I will not" idea. The sankalpa you make can be short term (next few weeks or months) or long term. You may need to exercise patience and be prepared to wait until a suitable sankalpa comes up that has meaning for you; but some people find that as soon as the concept is explained they know what their sankalpa is. Don't change the sankalpa until it is fulfilled. You don't just have to use it in yoga nidra; you can perhaps say it to yourself every morning or remember it when you need it in daily life.
Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, Yoga Nidra, Bihar School of Yoga, 1976
Saraswati, Swami Shankardev, from website www.bigshakti.com