An Introduction to Yoga Nidra, Pranayama & Meditation
A workshop with Aiden Condron
In association with
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga is comprised of eight ‘limbs’ as set down by the great sage and father of yoga Patanjali in the 10th century. These are:
Yama : Universal morality (The five “abstentions”): Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truth, non-lying), Asteya (non-covetousness), Brahmacharya (non-sensuality, celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
Niyama : Personal observances. (The five “observances”): Shaucha(purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of the Vedic scriptures to know about God and the soul), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God).
- Asanas : Body postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
- Pratyahara : Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana : Single-pointed focus
- Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The ultimate aim of Yoga is self-realisation and liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death. (Samadhi)
Breath forms the bridge between body and mind and gives a very clear indication of our mental state. If we are stressed or distracted our breath will be stifled and not smooth.
Pranayama, which literally translates as breath/life force channelling or extension denotes the ancient art of working with our vital energy or prana.
The formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has the power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channelled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.
The Nadis are nerve channels or tubes in the astral body through which the Prana flows. Asanas and Pranayamas are designed to purify the Nadis for the Prana to flow freely. If the Nadis are blocked, the Prana cannot flow easily and freely and results in poor health. According to Ancient Yogis, there are about two thousand Nadis. Of all these Nadis, the most important is the Sushumna. The function of the Sushumna can be compared to the functions of the Spinal Cord in the physical body. On either side of the Sushumna are two other Nadis called the Ida and the Pingala which correspond to the sympathetic ganglia of the Spinal Cord as shown in the cross-section of the spinal vertebra.
Courtesy of http://lespasseurs.com/chroniques_arcturius/?p=9497
Some Benefits of Pranayama
- With yoga breathing, we increase the capacity of our lungs, bringing more oxygen supply to the body to function well. We learn how to breathe slowly and deeply – the right way.
- Pranayama reduces the toxins and body wastes from within our body.
- Pranayama helps in one’s digestion. With the proper way of breathing, one’s metabolism and health condition will start to improve.
- Pranayama develops our concentration and focus. It fights away stress and relaxes the body.
Common forms and techniques of Pranayama
Yogic Breath. Breathing in and out by drawing air from the abdomen to the collar bone.
Kapalbhati: Strong short exhalations aided by a sharp contractions of the diaphragm.
Nadi Shodana or Alternate nostril breathing.
Bhramari or Humming Bird breath. Sounding the breath inside the scull.
Ujaii or victorious breath. Common in Vinyasa yogas. Heats and cleanses.
Yoga Nidra The wholistic relaxation technique
All the three kinds of muscular, emotional, and mental tensions are released in yoga nidra and thus it is highly beneficial for people suffering from psychosomatic diseases such as hypertension, stress, diabetes, migraine, asthama, ulcers, digestive disorders, and skin diseases that are caused by the tensions in the body and mind. Yoga nidra is a systematic way of relaxing your body, mind and intellect.
Most people think that relaxation is very simple; just recline and close your eyes. You are tired so you go to bed and think that is relaxation. But unless you have released your muscular, mental and emotional tensions, you are never relaxed. Some symptoms of the people having these tensions are that they habitually bite their nails, scratch their head, stroke their chin, tap their feet, talk compulsively, display constant irritability, or chain smoke. They do these things because they lack awareness of their own inner tension. Even while sleeping the worries and thoughts revolve continuously in the mind and the tense person wakes up feeling exhausted. And that’s exactly where yoga nidra helps. Yoga nidra is the scientific method to remove all these tensions.
Yoga nidra is a more efficient and effective form of psychic and physiological rest and relaxation than the routine sleep.
A single hour of yoga nidra is as restful and refreshing as four hours of conventional sleep.
In the deep relaxation state of yoga nidra, the mind is in a state between sleep and wakefulness and its receptivity is many times more than its receptivity in wakeful state. The secret is that the subconscious mind is at front in this state while the conscious mind takes the back seat. The subconscious mind is a very obedient disciple and immediately carries out the orders that you put to it. By practicing yoga nidra you can completely train your subconscious mind. Then the ordinary conscious mind and intellect will follow the suit. The subconscious and the unconscious mind are the most powerful forces in the human being. In yoga nidra you learn how to access these powerful forces to gain knowledge, cure diseases, increase creativity, and to realize your true self.
Normally, when we sleep, we loose track of our self and cannot utilize this capacity of mind. Yoga Nidra enables the person to be conscious in this state and nurture the seed of great will power, inspire the higher self, and enjoy the vitality of life. So the nature of mind can be changed as required, because when you withdraw your mind from outer world and you are neither in deep sleep nor completely awake, whatever impressions you plant at that time grow and enrich your life.
- Yoga nidra induces deep relaxation at all the levels – physical, mental and emotional.
- Yoga nidra can be used to change the nature of mind along the positive lines.
- The quality of sleep improves dramatically by practicing yoga nidra.
- Yoga nidra is highly effective in removing stress.
- The diseases like insomnia, hypertension, depression, asthma, digestive disorders, migraine and ulcers can be cured by yoga nidra.
- The practice of yoga nidra shifts pressures from the coronary system.
- It exerts positive influence on the physical matter in the brain.
- Yoga nidra awakens the psychic body and gives the practitioner, experiences of the astral plane.
- The process of learning anything becomes very quick by yoga nidra.
Courtesy of http://www.yogawonders.com/yoga-nidra.php
Meditation, in its many forms, involves the withdrawal of the senses from external stimuli that stress the body and mind (See Fight or Flight Response below) and aims to direct our focus inward on a singular point, drawing us toward profound stillness and peace and oneness with the cosmic.
Stress & The Fight or Flight Response
This is the body’s response to perceived threat or danger. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength. Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, it’s now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work. When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response, but in our times of chronic stress, this often doesn’t happen enough, causing damage to the body.
Courtesy of http://stress.about.com/od/stressmanagementglossary/g/FightorFlight.htm
The stages of meditation also constitute the last four of the eight ‘limbs’ of yoga mentioned above. They are:
5 Pratyahara : Withdrawal of the senses
6 Dharana : Single-pointed focus on an object
7 Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8 Samadhi : Union with the Divine (Enlightenment)
Preparation for Meditation
Time. Set aside a regular time. Morning and/or evening are best
Place. Choose a special space free of irritations and distractions. Use cushions, ornaments, candles, incense etc to personalise and create a peaceful environment.
Position. Sit in any comfortable seated position that supports a long straight spine with hands resting lightly on you knees. Check to ensure that you can maintain this position comfortably for the duration of your meditation
Personal Hygiene. Have a bath or shower and empty your bowels before you start. This greatly increases your concentration
Food. Do not eat or drink (except a little water) before you begin.
Pranayama. Always start with the breath. Practice some form of pranayama as a lead in to your meditation.