Under the previous heading we discussed how yoga nidra can be used to enhance the absorption of external knowledge. The greatest storehouse of knowledge already exists within the realms of your own mind. It is merely waiting to be tapped. Yoga nidra is a powerful method of awakening this inner potential, the heritage of each and every human being.
The following description of a suggestopedia session is extracted from a book called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Sbeila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder.
“In a typical classroom at the Institute, twelve people – students, housewives, labourers, professional people, old and young – relax in reclining chairs that resemble aeroplane seats. The room looks more like a lounge than a classroom. The lighting is subdued to enhance the calming effect. The students are listening to music, gentle, soothing music. They look as if they were at a concert, completely wrapped up in the harmony of sounds.
We regard yoga nidra as a powerful method of enhancing the learning process. It could be the learning system of the future. It not only helps to awaken the fountainhead of knowledge that lies within each individual, but also increases one’s ability to absorb data from outside sources.
Children spend most of their schooldays being continuously bombarded with facts and figures, most of which have no relevance to their lives. Understandably, most children are inattentive and absorb little of what is taught by their teacher. Most readers will have their own experience of this situation. Yet children are naturally intelligent and receptive. This implies that the inability to be attentive and to absorb information does not lie with the children but with the system of education.
There are vast numbers of people in the world who are classified as being ‘mentally sick’. That is, they suffer from ailments that are called schizophrenia, melancholia, neurosis, etc. Actually, it is a matter of degree, for we are all mentally sick, some less than others. Mental sickness, indicating disharmony in the mind no matter how small, only disappears with the onset of self-realization.
The cause of mental sickness is disorder or derangement in the mind, perhaps in the form of fears, conflicts, etc. These can be systematically and gradually released during yoga nidra practice. During sufficiently deep states of relaxation one starts to confront visions, subconscious memories, childhood traumas and so forth. The process can be called conscious dreaming. You may see demons, dragons, ghosts, but mostly things stranger than fiction, and certainly too strange for words to describe. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes very unpleasant, they represent the conflicts of your mind. You have to be a witness. Feel that these visions are separate from yourself. In this way, they will not be re-suppressed.
Classical yogic texts such as the Yoga Chudamani Upanishad and Yajnavalkya Samhita explain that there are 72,000 nadis (bioplasmic pathways) in the human pranic framework. Other texts say that there are more; actually the exact number is unimportant. These nadis act as the controlling medium and base for the physical body. Pranic flows have recently been photographed with Kirlian photography and the profound functions of the pranic body are slowly becoming obvious to modern science.
We feel that yoga nidra is a method that should be adopted more widely in hospitals. It can be used to calm patients and aid recovery from various types of diseases by encouraging activation of the self-curative functions of the body. It can be used, for example; to treat the following ailments: asthma, diabetes, headache, migraine, stuttering, neuro-physical disturbances such as neurasthenia, peptic and duodenal ulcers, hypertension, rheumatism, cancer, hormonal imbalance and related ailments, sexual problems of all types.
Most of the beneficial effects of yoga nidra cannot be measured with scientific instruments. This is especially true of the profound changes that occur in the mind. However, various scientific tests have detected and measured the following physiological changes which occur in the body during yoga nidra.
Respiration. There is a dramatic reduction in the oxygen requirements of the body. This is a consequence of the reduced metabolic rate of the body The respiration rate also reduces – there is slow, deep breathing instead of fast, shallow breathing.
There are five stages. You should practise each one in turn in the following order.
Stage 1: breathing awareness
Close the eyes.
Hold the back straight.
Breathe deeply in and out without retention.
One round equals exhalation and inhalation.
Chaturtha pranayama is both a pranayama and a meditative practice. It combines breathing, mantra and chakra awareness. It is a very powerful technique that is not widely taught.
The Sanskrit word chaturtha means ‘the fourth’. There are two reasons for this name:
- The first three types of pranayama are widely regarded as pooraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation) and kumbhaka (retention). Chaturtha pranayama is said to be the fourth type that follows them. In this case the English translation can be ‘the fourth pranayama’.
- According to the Mandukya Upanishad there are four states of awareness. These are firstly, jagrat (waking state), which corresponds to the externalized perception of the world; secondly, swapna (the dream state), which corresponds to perception of the sub-conscious mind; thirdly, sushupti (dreamless state), which corresponds to intuitive perception of the collective unconscious; and finally, turiya (the fourth chaturtha), which is the transcendental state where words and definitions fail to reach.
Thus, chaturtha pranayama is one method, of many, which induces the fourth state of superconsciousness. In this case it can be translated as ‘the pranayama of the fourth state’.
Hanuman is the name of the monkey god of Hindu mythology who epitomizes bhakti. His whole being was completely devoted to Rama. He is one of the heroes in the great epic called the Ramayana, which is probably the most popular and widely read scripture in India. It tells of the adventures of Rama, his wife, Sita, and many other well-known characters, including Hanuman. Wandering in different parts of ancient India, Sita is abducted by a demon king called Ravana. Rama sends out search parties to look for her. Hanuman and his companions hear that she is in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) but they have no obvious method of crossing the sea. Eventually the dilemma is solved when Hanuman jumps over the sti aits separating Sri Lanka from mainland India. Hanumanasana symbolizes this mighty jump.
In English, hanumanasana can be called ‘the monkey god pose’ though a more widely known term is ‘the splits’.
Kneel on the left knee.
Place the right foot beside the left knee.
Put the palms of both hands on the floor on each side of the body.
Gently and gradually slide the left foot backwards and the right foot forwards; there should be no undue strain.
Simultaneously support the weight of the body with the two hands.
Move the feet as far backwards and forwards as they will go without strain.
For some people, and with plenty of practice, it may be possible to lower the buttocks to the floor to attain the final pose.
Relax the whole body.
Place the two hands together in front of the chest.
Breathe slowly and deeply.
After a comfortable length of time return to the starting position.
Repeat the same procedure with the right leg pointing backwards.
Use of blankets
Very few people will be able to lower the buttocks to the floor in the final pose. As a useful compromise for those who can nearly do the practice, we suggest that you should place a cushion or folded blanket under the buttocks. This will help to prevent strain.
In the final pose close your eyes and be aware of breathing.
Hanumanasana is the ultimate test of leg flexibility at the hips. Very few can do the final pose, but for those who can it has been found to be very beneficial in cases of sexual ailments and for preparing the organs of childbirth for trouble-free delivers’.
All three asanas that have been described are advanced practices; they are not for beginners. Therefore, don’t attempt them if your body is stiff. Practise other, simpler asanas instead.
People who suffer from ailments such as slipped disc, sciatica, hernia, etc. are strictly advised not to attempt these three asanas.
Matsyendrasana is named after the great yogi Matsyendranath. The word poorna means ‘hall’, ‘complete’; this asana is the complete form of Matsyendranath’s asana. In English, it is usually called ‘full spinal twist pose’.
Most people will be able to do ardha matsyendrasana, the half spinal twist pose4, but few will be able to do the full form.
Sit on the ground.
Stretch both legs in front of the body.
Place the left foot on the right hip joint, as near the side of the waist as possible.
The left thigh should remain flat on the floor.
Bend the right leg and raise the knee.
Place the right foot on the left side of the left knee, keeping the sole flat on the ground.
Carefully twist the spine to the right hand side.
Try to place the left armpit against the right side of the raised right knee.
If possible, grasp the right ankle with the left hand.
Please don’t strain – this final twist is not easy.
Straighten the left arm and line it up with the right calf.
Place the right arm behind the back.
This is the final pose.
Twist the head to the right.
Close the eyes.
Stay in the final pose for as long as it is comfortable.
Then return to the starting position.
Relax all the muscles.
Repeat the same process in the opposite direction, that is, twisting to the left.
The left twist will require the same leg positions as described for the right twist, but in reverse.
The entire practice is comprised of a right hand twist followed by a left hand twist.
Breathing, awareness and duration
Exhale while twisting the body into the final pose. Breathe slowly in the final pose. Inhale as you return to the forward facing position.
Be aware of breathing in the final pose. If you wish you can fix your awareness at the eyebrow centre and imagine that you are breathing in and out through this centre.
Remain in the final pose for as long as you feel comfortable. A reasonable duration to maximize the benefits is a two or three minute twist on both sides of the body.
On completing poorna matsyendrasana, just sit quietly with the legs stretched in front of the body, the trunk and head upright.
The benefits are the same as for ardha matsyendrasana, but accentuated.
Topic 3 | Asanas: Practice
For the final lesson of asanas we will describe three difficult asanas:
- Dwi pada kandharasana
- Poorna matsyendrasana
Very few people will be able to do these. In fact, we strongly suggest that you do not try them unless you have a very strong flexible body and have been practising asanas for a few years. This will prevent strained muscles and torn ligaments due to premature practice.
Dwi Pada Kandharasana (Two-Legged Shoulder Pose)
The Sanskrit word dwi means ‘two’; pada means foot’ and kandha means ‘shoulder’. Thus in English, this asana can be called the ‘two feet shoulder pose’ for both feet are folded over the two shoulders.
This asana is also widely called yoga nidrasana – ‘the yogic sleep pose’. Those people who feel sufficiently comfortable, and this will not be many, can sleep or rest in the final pose. Needless to say, we do not recommend that vou attempt to practise yoga nidra in this position.
Eka pada sirasana1 is an excellent preparatory asana for dwi pada kandharasana. In fact, dwi pada kandharasana should not be tried until eka pada sirasana is first of all mastered.
Place a blanket on the floor.
Lie flat on your back.
Stretch the legs and place the arms on the floor beside the body.
Relax all the muscles of the body.
Bend one leg upwards.
Place the foot behind the head and the leg under the armpit of the arm on the same side of the body.
Some careful manipulation will be required.
Then repeat the same process with the other leg so that both arms rest above the two legs.
Gently press the legs downwards with the arms.
Try to cross the feet behind the head.
Place the palms together.
This is the final pose.
Relax the whole body completely.
Close the eyes.
Breathe slowly and deeply.
Stay in the final pose for a comfortable period of time.
Then carefully unfold the legs and straighten them.
This is the end of the practice.
Be aware of deep and slow breathing in the final pose.
Immediately after doing dwi pada kandharasana you should practise any backward bending asana such as bhujangasana, matsyasana’, etc.
Dwi pada kandharasana is an advanced forward bending asana. It revitalizes the nerves of the whole body. It has a profound effect on all the abdominal organs, especially the kidneys, liver, spleen, intestines and pancreas. The pelvic organs are also massaged which brings about efficiency of the sexual and eliminative systems as well as removal of any associated ailments. The solar plexus and the adrenal glands are profoundly massaged; this helps to replace lethargy with abundant vitality. Dwi pada kandharasana brings many benefits to those who are able to do it.