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 Yoga: The Principles and Practice of Yoga Nidra 

Usually our attention is oriented toward gross objects and movements in the world. We rarely stop to consider the deep energies that animate the movements of the universe. Yoga Nidra is the instrument that we use to explore these energies. The sage Patanjali explains this exploration in his treatise entitled The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. In the seventeenth sutra of the first chapter Patanjali asserts, 'Vitarka, Vichara, Ananda, Asmita'. He proposes a fourfold process of observation. Vitarka represents the grosser aspects of an object and how we conceptualize objects through names and images. Vichara represents the subtle energies that animate the grosser nature of objects. Ananda represents the subtle currents of joy and bliss that we experience when we enter into deep meditation with any object. And Asmita represents the refined experiences of identity, which arise as we probe into the deepest recesses of what an object, including ourselves, is made up of.

For instance, with respect to Vitarka, when we first observe our body we relate to it through the images we have about it, all the ways the body has or has not served us. These are mental concepts and are not the actual body just as the name 'rose' or the memories we may have about a particular flower are concepts but not the actual flower. We must be able to see and understand these mental images if we are to go beyond them to a deeper level of relating with ourselves or any object.

During Yoga Nidra, we allow these mental concepts and body images, which I call residues, to arise just as they are. We do not fight with them or try to go beyond them to something 'better.' When these concepts and images are allowed to arise naturally, they bubble up and dissolve in awareness just like bubbles rising to the surface of a lake. What is important is that we don't get involved with them. We neither express or repress them. As these images are observed they dissolve and we move naturally to subtler levels of attention. In Yoga Nidra we proceed through a natural progression moving from gross sensations (vitarka) to very refined levels of energy (vichara). For instance, we move from rotating consciousness through the Anamaya kosha, with its emphasis on gross body sensation, to being aware of the Pranamaya kosha, with its emphasis on the subtle movements of energy in the body.

The Energy Body
As we rotate consciousness through the Anamaya Kosha, the physical body expands multi-dimensionally. We become aware that this sensorial field is part of a subtler pranic or energy body that lies behind and animates the physical body. The breath is intimately linked to this deeper, pranic body. So as we begin to focus attention into the breath we move gracefully and naturally into the next stage of Yoga Nidra, the exploration of the Pranamaya Kosha or "energy body".

We explore the Pranamaya Kosha by first joining with and following the breath. We take note that the body is always breathing itself and we attentively observe the natural action and movement of the breath. We do not try to change or alter the breath in any way. We simply note the spontaneously arising breath. By attending to the breathing body we become conscious of the subtle energies that animate the breath and the physical body.

While attending to the Pranamaya Kosha we follow the breath back and forth. We also spend time counting each breath. Counting is an important exercise. It is a form of mindfulness training. When you methodically place your attention on counting the breaths, you will, at first, find yourself being distracted and you will have to start the count again. You will begin again and once more, you will lose your count. And this will occur over and over again. But you will discover that the counting is sharpening your ability to focus. With practice you will find yourself wide-awake and alert. And this alertness will allow you to appreciate the subtle movements of energy, which make up the Pranamaya Kosha energy body. I encourage you to persevere in this art of counting, as it is a helpful practice in developing the one-pointedness required to progress into the deeper practices of Yoga Nidra.

While working with the Pranamaya Kosha we also synchronize body sensing with the breath. For instance we perform Nadi Shodhana pranayama, alternate nostril breathing, but we don't use our fingers to control the flow of breath through the nose. Instead, we mentally feel the breath flowing through each nostril. We perform one exhalation and inhalation focusing on the sensations in one nostril and on one side of the body, and we perform the next exhalation and inhalation focusing on the opposite nostril and the sensation in the other side of the body. In this way we integrate the sensation of the body, the feeling-movement of the breath and the awareness of the energy that animates the breath.

The Bodies of Feeling and Emotion
As we experience the energetic movements uncovered by the breath, deeper components of feeling and emotion begin to surface into awareness. These signal that we have entered the domain governed by the Manomaya Kosha. Here we attend to the naturally arising pairs of opposites such as heaviness and lightness, comfort and discomfort, happiness and sadness, anger and equanimity, and pain and pleasure. And as we explore the Manomaya Kosha we intentionally invoke these plays of opposites.

The ego-mind moves linearly. It focuses in one direction or it focuses in another direction, but it cannot move simultaneously in two directions at once. For instance, in this moment be aware of the space out in front of your body. You probably take yourself as a 'someone' who is attending in this linear direction. But watch what happens to your sense of being a doer if I ask you to be simultaneously aware of the space out in front of and behind the back of your body. The mind becomes silent and the sense of being a doer drops away while you experience yourself expanding in a multidimensional spaciousness. The thinking mind has to stop when we invite it to be simultaneously open in different directions. And when the mind is quiet we taste our spacious, non-linear nature.

As we explore the Manomaya Kosha we play in the field of opposite movements where we first go in one direction, then in the opposite direction, and then we merge the two directions together as one movement. First we invite different feelings into awareness. We may, for instance, cultivate the positive feeling of comfort. Then we locate its opposite in the body, a feeling of discomfort. Then we swing back and forth between these two feelings going first to comfort, then to discomfort and back again until we are able to experience both simultaneously. We do this with feelings of warmth and coldness, lightness and heaviness, pleasure and pain, and many other naturally occurring feelings. Then we move on to play in the opposites of emotion. Here we deliberately explore the entire range of emotions over many practice periods of Yoga Nidra. We may take the emotion of equanimity and then explore its opposite of agitation or anger. Or we may choose the emotion of joy and then find its opposite in sadness or despair.

As you become familiar with the process of Yoga Nidra you will want to tailor the practice specifically to your individual needs. For instance, while preparing to work in the Manomaya Kosha you pick several emotions that you are having difficulty experiencing as well as several that you enjoy. You pair the opposites to each of these emotions and work with them during this stage of the practice. I invite you to eventually make the practice of Yoga Nidra your own so that you move beyond these tapes into a deeper exploration that is specific to your needs. You may wish to acquire The Principles and Practice of Yoga Nidra Workbook that provides the guidelines for adapting the process of Yoga Nidra to fit your requirements. Please refer to the address on the tape jacket for where to order this workbook.

While working with the Manomaya Kosha, we also explore where specific emotions are experienced in particular areas of the body. Here we utilize traditional symbols such as the chakras. For instance, the first chakra, which is located at the base or seat of the perineum, is associated with feelings of safety, security, groundedness and physical energy. The opposites are found in the feelings of insecurity, ungroundedness and fear. During our Yoga Nidra practice in the Manomaya Kosha, we move back and forth between the positive feelings of safety, security, groundedness and energy and their opposites of insecurity, fear, ungroundedness and lethargy while probing for sensations in the area of the perineum and lower sacrum.

Why do we want to work with the pairs of opposites? Repressed and unresolved feelings and emotions, stored in the unconscious, give rise to physical and mental unrest. There may be many feelings and emotions that we do not want to be with. We refuse them when they come uninvited into our environment. When they arise we move away, often with a great deal of reactivity, defensiveness and unconsciousness. The process of Yoga Nidra helps us reclaim these pockets of repression and aversion. Then, when these so-called 'negative' emotions rise up, we are able to welcome them. We are able to be with them rather than refuse them. We are open to perceiving and feeling them. We are not afraid of feeling afraid. We are not afraid of feeling insecure or unsafe. Then we see that when emotions and feelings arise just as they are they move naturally through the stages of birth, growth, decay, and death and always dissolve back into their homeground of awareness. We realize that these are only passing phenomena. They are natural movements in our body/mind. No longer afraid, we find a new ground of equanimity that is present whether strong emotions are present or absent. The natural ground of equanimity, which is our birthright, breaks through into our everyday waking and dreaming consciousness. Fearlessness pervades our psychological life. We are no longer afraid of fear and we are open to feeling whatever is present. Repression and aversion no longer control our lives and we live with a sense of ease and relaxation. Judgement looses its grip and our natural personality blossoms.

The Sheath of Intellect and Pure Mind
As we explore the pairs of opposites in the realms of feeling and emotion, images and scenes, even entire stories, spontaneously arise in our mind's eye. Now we have arrived at the Vijnanamaya Kosha, the sheath of intellect and pure mind. Here personal and archetypal images emerge that are associated with unconscious forces below the level of the conscious mind. The images that arise vary across a wide spectrum from very positive memories, thoughts and symbols to very dark and negative ones. We may see a moon, a sun, waves on an infinite ocean, or images that evoke fond and loving memories. Or we may envision images of chaos, destruction and death. As before, we intentionally move back and forth between these positive and negative images and play with the pairs of opposites

These images that unfold are based on themes that live in our unconscious. These may be personal themes, images that represent values from the family or culture we have grown up in, or they may be archetypal collective and cross-cultural images. And as before, we intentionally conjure up and pair the opposites--scenes and images that we detest with scenes that make us peaceful. As in all the koshas during the process of Yoga Nidra, we learn to welcome all the experiences that life brings.

While exploring the Vijnanamaya Kosha we also work with color and sound. Different colors evoke different feelings, emotions, sensations and memories and sound vibrates different parts of the body. Each memory, emotion or sensation, as well as each body part or organ, represents a particular energetic configuration. Each of these configurations may be viewed as made up of vibrating particles or waves along the spectrum of energy. Color and sound are also energetic patterns along such a spectrum. Each body organ, sensation, image, emotion, thought and memory may be thought of as being composed of sound and color. For instance, the liver is a mass of particles vibrating at a particular wavelength of color and sound pattern. Alter this pattern and the liver moves either into a state of disease, or into a more optimal pattern of health. This is why various approaches to healing place tremendous emphasis upon sound and color as means for healing the body/mind. In Yoga Nidra we take advantage of this understanding and work intentionally with the different wavelengths of color and sound during different phases of our practice.

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 About The Author
Richard C. Miller PhDRichard Miller's teachings come out of his direct experience of living truth as echoed in the timeless teachings of nondualism found in Advaita, Zen and Chan. He is recognized as a leader in the field of nondualism,......more
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