Updated: Sep 7, 2022
This week we explore the visualisation stage of Yoga Nidra.
This stage is perhaps one of the most varied in terms of its delivery, whether or not it is included and if it is where and how.
Visualisation Stage in the Different Traditions
In the iRest form of Yoga Nidra there is no explicit visualisation stage but visualisation is used in other stages such as the Inner Resource stage, where you may be invited to recall memories for the purpose of building a resource of wellbeing to be used both in practice and in everyday life. In the Satyananda form of Yoga Nidra there might be a story guided by the facilitator or a series of archetypal images known as ‘spot’ images, delivered in a rapid stream to be seen in the mind’s eye. And there are no visualisations in the Himalayan tradition. This is such a personal part of the practice that I use it with caution and only if I have a specific intent and I know the group/individual.
East Meets West
Visualisation can be incredibly powerful, as we discussed in stage 3 it activates the reticular activating system and the brain fires and wires as though whatever is being visualised is already happening. Realisation + visualisation = manifestation. Visualisation is used in the sports world, for example, seeing yourself in a yoga pose in your mind’s eye has been shown to improve your capacity to do it and it’s even been shown that you can think about a muscle and build muscle mass, which has huge implications for those rehabilitating injuries. And I’ve even heard about it being used in the medical world now with cancer patients. Modern science has caught up with ancient practices in this respect and Yoga Nidra harnesses this capacity in many ways depending on the practice, the intention and the student.
Liberation from Past Patterns
Visualisation can be incredibly healing for anyone working to shed habitual patterns (samskaras) and tendencies and uncover their ‘authentic self' (the self without adaptive patterns). When working through challenges or distortions of identity it can be incredibly healing to see yourself living out your true nature in your mind’s eye, living in a liberated way, a little like future-self journaling. Just as a sports person might visualise the perfect golf swing, you might visualise yourself being more boundaried, fluid, loving, playful… whatever it is you are working on and in time this may start to become a reality.
Instinctively Resolving Issues
Outside of the visualisations during the sankalpa and inner resource stages, I like to harness this stage to offer space to observe the mind’s eye (chidakash in the yogic tradition) or listen inwardly to the heart space (hridayakash) with guidance and cues. Sometimes I do this in the form of what I like to call a ‘Narnia Nidra’ stepping through a threshold of some kind and observing without expectation or preference what lay beyond. Sometimes I might guide a journey but other times I like to simply welcome quiet space to witness the inner experience, this is not dissimilar to what might unfold during a shamanic journey. This stage also sometimes happens spontaneously as there is the capacity to experience wakeful REM during a practice of Yoga Nidra, this is often described as seeing a rapid succession of images or flashes or images in the later stages of the practice and can be incredibly insightful and interesting to explore. If you want to invite the potential for this into your practice then don't use an eye pillow as this can stop the rapid eye movements. You might instead use a light scarf or something similar. Humans are incredibly intuitive and instinctive and usually have all of the answers within, this stage simply invites space and time to explore what is already there.
It’s also important to mention that apparently around a third of people struggle to visualise, so if you don’t know if everyone in your group can visualise it’s always important to add a non-visual component (for example sensory) to a Yoga Nidra visualisation exploration.
Next week we explore the other stages that are often found throughout the various Yoga Nidra forms such as the inner resource stage, bliss/joy stage, witnessing stage and existential explorations stage before beginning to bring this series to a close.
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Uma and Nirlipta ~ https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/