While working at the level of the Vijnanamaya Kosha, we also work with mental concepts that represent various qualities such as authenticity, essence, peace, joy or value. Each of these qualities engenders different sensations in our body/mind. For instance, we may non-verbally repeat the word 'kindness' and embody the sensations that the word 'kindness' evokes. Or we invoke the concept of personal will and engender the sensations of intention and willfulness. Or we call forth and embody the concept of transpersonal will by surrendering to the feelings engendered by the phrase, "Not my will, but Thy will be done". As we explore the various images, colors, sounds and concepts that arise in the Vijnanamaya Kosha deep residues hidden in the unconscious are liberated and rise into awareness. As these residues move out of the unconscious and dissolve in the fire of awareness feelings of peace, stillness and joy manifest in the body/mind.
The Sheath of Joy and Bliss
The spontaneous arising of joy signals that we are moving into the territory of the Anandamaya Kosha, the sheath of joy and bliss. As we travel through the Anandamaya Kosha, we intentionally summon up images and memories that support these sensations of joy, peace and bliss. Memories help invoke these sensations into the body/mind. But then we detach the memory from the experience of joy and remain only with the embodied sensations.
Joy is native to the body. It is the inherent disposition of the body/mind. Joy is not dependent upon a situation or an object for its existence. However, our cultural conditioning informs us otherwise. We have been taught that happiness is dependent upon our having some experience. But joy is our birthright and is always present. It is not dependent upon the presence of an experience or an object. We miss experiencing joy and peace because we are distracted by the thinking mind. We are looking for some experience to bring us happiness and we miss seeing that joy and happiness are already always present. During Yoga Nidra we take time to live fully and consciously in joy devoid of any object. Then joy permeates the body as our moment-to-moment waking and dreaming experience.
The Sheath of Pure I-Ness
As we live for long periods in the experience of joy we understand that joy is not dependent upon an experience. It is the underlying condition of the body/mind. But this joy is still an experience, something that is in the body/mind and in our awareness. Just like body sensations, the movement of the breath, feelings and emotions, images, colors, sounds and thoughts, joy is an object that we are aware of. At this critical juncture of Yoga Nidra we stand at the threshold of the Asmitamaya Kosha, the sheath of pure 'I-ness', where the many-pointed mind no longer veils the pure light of awakened mind. At this stage of Yoga Nidra we ponder the nature and identity of the "I" that witnesses and experiences all the varied sensations, energies, feelings, emotions, thoughts and images.
In this moment our attention makes the 'Great Turn'. Attention turns back upon itself and inquires into the very nature of this witnessing-I. When awareness turns upon itself, when the one who is welcoming turns and welcomes itself, a tremendous collapse occurs. We move from being a witness, from being a welcomer, to being witnessing, and being welcoming. We collapse from being a 'someone' who is aware into being awareness. Up to this moment we have been a beer and a doer. But now these collapse and we find ourselves simply abiding as Being and Doing, here and now with things just as they are. In this timeless moment there is only being. Only doing. Only hearing. Only seeing. There is no beer, no doer, no hearer, no seer.
The Sanskrit word, 'asmita' symbolizes the ego-I, our sense of personal identity. Personal identity is your belief that you are a separate individual. That you are separate from me and all of the other 'so-called' objects of the world. As we investigate the Asmitamaya Kosha we explore this belief and inquire, "Is it true? Are we actually a 'someone' separate from all the other 'someone's?"
Ultimately Yoga Nidra raises the questions, "Who am I? What am I? Who is another? And, What is another?" We explore the physical body through the Anamaya Kosha and we realize that it is not solid. It is infinitely spacious and open, without center or periphery. We explore the energy body through the Pranamaya Kosha and find that the body is an expanded energetic presence. We explore our emotions, feelings and thoughts through the Manomaya and Vijnanamaya Koshas and realize that they are only passing phenomena upon a background of awareness. And we open into a vastness of joy in the Anandamaya Kosha and realize that joy is not dependent upon any experience. And now, at the level of the Asmitamaya Kosha, we investigate the vital question of who is the one who is experiencing all these movements? Who is aware of the body sensations, of the flow of energy? And who is aware of the emotions, thoughts and images? Now, in the domain of the Asmitamaya Kosha we begin a deep, non-conceptual Self-inquiry into the question of who is this 'I' who is aware.
We investigate by feeling into the body location of this sense of 'I-ness'. We sub-vocally repeat the word "I-I" and attempt to feel where this word resonates as a body sensation. The verbal statement, "I-I", has a physical location. This location may at first be experienced behind the eyes in the head. But as the sensations evoked by the non-verbal sound of "I-I" continue to be experienced, we find that the sensation revealed by the vibration of "I-I" drops into the heart region. Not the physical heart, but a location in the chest to the right of the heart.
If you look at a traditional map of the chakras the symbol for the heart is made up of two triangles in the shape of a six-pointed star. When you inspect closely you find a smaller six-pointed star beneath this larger star. This small star is referred to as the seat of personal identity, the seat of thought or the seat of 'I-am-ness'. The energy that gives rise to thinking rises out of this body location.
Thinking does not originate in the brain. It originates in and slightly below the heart. Energy pulses upward out of the heart and strikes the brain to become thoughts and images in the mind. As we explore the Asmitamaya Kosha we trace the feeling of 'I-am-ness', back into its origin in the heart. Then we locate the very essence that is present before the concept of being an "I" arises, before the mind is struck and divides the world into separate objects. And before thought arises, before energy moves out of the heart, we investigate the essence of who is observing all of this.
At this juncture we are involved in an infinite regression. We are an observer who is observing ourself. We have split into both an observer and an observed. We have positioned ourselves as an observer who is observing itself as an object. This is an infinite regression of awareness witnessing itself. And this position is a logical absurdity. When we fully investigate this situation the entire structure collapses and we find ourselves no longer in the position of being a witness observing itself. Instead, we are transformed into being witnessing where there is no longer a witness or an object that is being witnessed. There is just witnessing. Subject and object collapse into each other. In this there is timelessness and only seeing, but no one who is seeing. There is only hearing, but no hearer. The mind may attempt to re-establish its domain by trying to re-evoke the feeling of being a 'somebody' that is witnessing or hearing. But if we keep exploring the fabric of this mental movement, the mind continues to collapse into its deeper ground of simple beingness, simple Presence. Here we reach the culmination of Yoga Nidra. It has brought us to the very foundation of who we are as non-dual awareness or Pure Presence
Beyond the Asmitamaya Kosha
Non-conceptual Presence is undifferentiated. It is the Is-ness or Suchness of this moment. It is our ground of being. When we live in and as Presence we feel no sense of separation. At the end of Yoga Nidra we open our eyes with this understanding and now look back upon a world that we had thought was composed of separate objects. We see that there is no division anywhere. Separation is only the product of a split-mind. We understand that everything is made of the same substance. We may call this substance God, Spirit, Awareness, Consciousness or Presence. But we realize that the objects we are looking at are made of the same substance as that which is looking at them. There is no separation between the one who is looking and that which is being looked at. In this moment we are the Unity of all that exists. We live a co-merged reality where we simultaneously experience that the things of the world, while appearing separate, are actually extensions of the Unified field of Consciousness, God, Presence or Awareness.
Everything is made of the same substance, the so-called external objects of the world as well as the subtle inner objects like thoughts, images, sensations and emotions. From this perspective there is no need to repress anything. Why would we want to get away from anything when we are only refusing what we are? We see that the very substance of our emotion, our thoughts, our body sensations, our desires, our fears, everything, is made of the same substance. It is all non-conceptual Divine Consciousness or God. The split-mind that has divided the world into two is healed through this tremendous insight. Now everything is understood to be the undivided One. Now everything is welcomed. Even our reactions and judgments are welcomed because they are understood to be expressions of the very substance of what-we-are as Consciousness.
We understand that the personal 'I' that we thought was an independent entity is made of the same substance as Consciousness. We realize that there is no personal self, separate from anything else. Our sense of separate identity collapses we know ourselves as the essence of what everything is as pure Presence or Beingness. Understanding and embodying the realization that we are non-conceptual Presence is the culmination of Yoga Nidra.
The Many Faces of Yoga Nidra
There are many ways that we can practice Yoga Nidra. It can be done quickly in a matter of a few minutes, or we may proceed slowly and diligently, spending an hour to two hours thoroughly exploring each of the koshas or domains of existence. I recommend finding a practice and stabilizing in it for a period of time. Practice with these tapes until you stabilize in your understanding of the different components of Yoga Nidra. Then begin experimenting with your own practice, utilizing the different formats of Yoga Nidra that are laid out in the workbook. In your practice choose one approach to bodily rotation of consciousness and one breathing exercise. Pick one or two pairs of opposites of sensation, emotion, thought, image and concept, one or two memories that evoke the presence of joy, and one approach to the exploration of personal identity. Proceed slowly and dig one well deeply. The practice of Yoga Nidra takes us beyond the practice of Yoga Nidra so that in every moment we are feeling, sensing, intuiting and knowing our true nature as Undivided Presence.
I also recommend the use of Yoga Nidra whenever you go into sleep and whenever you are waking up. Waking and dreaming are a continuum of consciousness. The mind only pretends that they are separate states. When we are awake the mind assumes the waking state is real. When we dream the mind assumes the dream state is real. Both waking and dreaming involve the presence of objects that are beheld in awareness. And our mind is conditioned to divert its attention into these foreground objects and away from the background awareness that is always awake as witnessing Presence. Awareness or Presence is the background behind all movements of waking and sleeping. And Yoga Nidra teaches us to be who-we-are as Awareness during waking and sleeping without being distracted by the presence or absence of any object. For Awareness needs no intermediary to know Itself. It knows Itself. And the culmination of Yoga Nidra is Awareness knowingly knowing Itself.