By Taryn Diamond

The following is an email dialogue with a student after they experienced yoga nidra for the first time at my workshop. After some editing and finessing, what you read below is a ‘prettied up’ version of our exchange. We agreed to share it in the hopes of demystifying the practice of yoga nidra. For clarities’ sake, my voice will be italicized. (Thank you so much to the kind student who got this ball rolling. I am grateful to have met you!) Here goes….

1) Nidra vs. meditation:

My understanding of meditation is that we take on the role of the witness, we simply observe what comes up. Is this the same with yoga nidra? Yoga nidra is a guided meditation, but what makes it different from a seated meditation practice?

The common thread is that in both meditation and yoga nidra the work of observing is detached, or radically non-interfering (observing without engaging in emotions or judgement.) The role is just to WITNESS and nothing more. Meditation is more active or we could say: the onus is on you to catch when the mind wanders and redirect it back to the task at hand. In nidra, the witnessing is passive, fluid and open-ended. There may be moments where you feel actively engaged as the witness, and moments were ‘you’ and the entire story falls away.

 

2) The nidra experience: The first time I practiced yoga nidra it was delightful! The second and third times have been a little less delightful and a little more challenging. Is there something I should be aware of about the practice, its nature and progression? I know I will have clearer sight of this the more I practice, but I am very, very intrigued by this right now.

What a great observation! My first responses:

The experience of nidra may be like the first time one practices yoga or meditation and has a REALLY GOOD experience. It’s something totally new; our brains love learning new things, so there is a wealth of satisfaction to it. You are not the first student to tell me the second and third times were ‘worse’ or perhaps even ‘harder.’ This is a perfect representation of our tendency toward attachment, or our longing for things that are pleasurable (in Sanskrit: raag) and our aversion from things that are uncomfortable (dvesh.)

I think the hardest instruction to follow in nidra is to come with no expectations. If it truly becomes a practice (sadhana), you are doing it because this is what you do, not for the fruits of the action. (WHAT A HARD LESSON TO EMBODY!) So… I sit daily in meditation not because it will make me feel great, but because that’s just what I do. I try to hold no expectation for the experience of meditation. And– 98% of the time, my meditation is just, well, mundane. Maybe 2% of the time there’s a glimmer of pure bliss, joy or whatever I’m seeking. If you can translate this idea around expectations and attachment to nidra, you may begin to notice the same things.

 

3) The nidra purpose: what is nidra’s purpose? What makes nidra, nidra?

Wowzers…it’s a real age old question. First, a little nidra history:

  • Interestingly, nidra is more of a newer practice in the scheme of yoga’s origins. It was created by Swami Satyananda Saraswati with the specific intention of sharing it with the West.
  • However, there are many parts of the nidra practice that are firmly nested in the ancient yoga practices:

– the body scan section is based on the Tantric tradition

– the witnessing aspect is 100% based on the yogic practice of meditation

– the format for the practice that speaks to the layers of the self is based on the kosha model, first introduced in the Taittiriya Upanishad (The Upanishads represent some of the oldest literature on yoga, the foundational texts for how yoga became a practice and lifestyle. They are beautiful stories presented as dialogues between teacher and student.)

– the first uttering of the word ‘nidra’ and a discussion of the stages of sleep (and consciousness) are introduced in another Upanishad called the Mandukya Upanishad

– and I would argue the whole practice is an act of non-dualism. During nidra, when we dance between opposite sensations like hot and cold, we are undoing the pattern of opposites, of seeing ourselves as separate from others. This is non-dualism! (And is a topic very deserving of another blog.)

Nidra is a practice that wraps up all of the above goodies and packages it in a lovely, restful experience for the practitioner.

I think the purpose of yoga nidra is in the heart of those who practice it. I’ll speak from my experience: sometimes its purpose is to just let my body rest, let my parasympathetic nervous system activate, maybe even catch a few zzzzzzs. Sometimes, it’s to help me heal from past trauma and work through emotions. Sometimes, it’s to help me make a big decision or find answers buried deep within myself. And I could go on and on.

If we are looking for a more objective answer: offering nidra in workshops and classes is certainly a means for: introducing meditation, providing nervous system respite, allowing the body to rest, and the beginnings of training one to listen better to their body. The uniqueness of nidra is in the ability to interact with deeper layers of our consciousness in a way that’s inaccessible in the waking state. It’s not sleeping…it’s not dreaming…but it kind of is both. I haven’t come across anything else quite like it!

 

If you have made it this far through this annoyingly scrutinizing e-mail (and blog), then this is the time to extend my (our) final words of gratitude.

May you bring goodness wherever you go.

May goodness find you wherever you are.

 

Taryn Diamond is an energetic and inclusive instructor, drawing from experience in facilitation, gender analysis, and a commitment to social justice. Having practiced yoga for nearly a decade, Taryn began sharing her love of yoga upon completing over 500 hours of Yoga Education at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre in 2012.

Taryn believes yoga allows one to express their true nature, first through movement and then through cultivating a deeper connection with oneself and with each other. She loves the creativity yoga has sparked in her life and utilizes this “spark” to ensure that yoga is, first and foremost, fun! Taryn aims to empower students to practice on their own by providing a safe foundation from which to explore. With light and love, she embodies compassionate and holistic approaches to individual and community learning.

Taryn teaches weekly drop-in classes at Union Yoga, and you can sign up here.

She is also faculty on Union Yoga’s 225-HR Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Program.

Click here to register for upcoming Yoga Nidra classes at Union.