How does one practice Yoga Nidra? By sleeping? Not exactly. The definition of sleep states that you cease to be awake and consciousness is for the most part suspended. Those who pursue Yoga Nidra explore a state of consciousness while in the deep sleep state. Like meditation, it takes a lot of practice. And while lying down in corpse pose, it’s easy to slip into the kind of sleep that we know of. Sleeping is not looked down upon; if it happens, it happens. But the goal is to stay aware, not just awake.
It helps to have a guide alongside for the journey. Although it contains all our thoughts and memories, the unconscious mind is often a rugged terrain. Having a guide helps with the navigation process of staying focused and aware of ourselves.
The lights will be dim as to take your sight away from your environment, but as you lie on the floor, you’ll be asked to make note of the outside world around you. Take note of the searing wail of the siren, the humming of the heating unit, the shuffling of someone’s feet along the sidewalk. Take note, but do not be distracted. Just be aware. Secondly, your guide will lead you through body awareness. At a slow pace, you’ll acknowledge each of your toes and fingers, both of your legs and arms, and all the other parts of your body that may be holding tension. The tension won’t necessarily release immediately, but it’s important to recognize its presence rather than brushing sensations aside.
All the while, you should be taking conscious deep breaths. Perhaps your guide will lead you into a breathing countdown to help you keep a steady flow of breath and energy through your system. And somewhere throughout this yogic sleep, your guide might bring you through a series of visualizations. Once, my guide told us to imagine that we were walking through a park. I found myself struggling to keep my mind focused on one park, and without control, envisioned over five parks. At first, this was frustrating. My dream-like mind had crept in, and nothing stayed consistent. Except for the theme of parks. At least this ounce of awareness stayed with me as I dabbled through my unconscious mind, and in result, I realized the beauty of how my mind took me through Malcom X Park, Central Park, and various other woods and meadows of my memories.
Like many other forms of yoga, Yoga Nidra is essentially about letting go while still staying present. You enter something close to sleep, but stay on some level awake. Your mind explores, but remains focus. And who knows where it will take you?