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Part 8 - The Stages of Yoga Nidra: Joy, bliss and pure awareness

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Before I begin to wrap up this blog series I wanted to talk about some of the stages that are found towards the end of the iRest form of Yoga Nidra that aren’t always included in other forms. Such the experiencing joy stage and the witnessing and pure awareness stage.

Happiness as a Problem to Be Solved

Our human brains are primed to problem solve for our survival but for many of us our survival needs are no longer about life or death and this leaves our problem solving minds to run riot and continuously find problems to solve. In many cases we have found the ultimate problem to solve and that is the problem of happiness but what if joy or happiness were not a problem to solve but instead our innate state. A state that we do not need to find but simply reveal through simply being, whether in Yoga Nidra, in connection with ourselves or with nature.

‘Living in the realms of our minds in search of the ultimate answer to becoming happier may be where are continuing to set ourselves up for seeking something that we will never find’ ~ Claire Thompson

This was truly a break through moment for me, when I came to see that every time I stepped into the forests undistracted and present I felt at home, purposeful and connected without needing to do anything at all. We are a part of nature and to extract ourselves is to leave a part of us behind.

Have you ever wandered lonely through the woods? And everything there feels just as it should You're part of the life there You're part of something good

Have you ever wandered lonely through the woods?

~ Avett Brothers, Have You Ever

For me Yoga Nidra is another way of accessing the innate bliss/joy that I hold inside. All that is required is that I drop any agenda or seeking and simply rest back into the simplicity of just being.

The exploration of this stage can be tricky because that joy, bliss, pleasure, contentment, whatever it is you personally experience when you return to your innate state of being, can be really deeply buried during times of grief, heartache, depression or any other challenging period of life. Approached with care it may be possible to remember joy in times of challenge and this can be incredibly supportive for healing but sometimes it may shut a person down to the practice if they feel they are unable to access something that is being suggested. So I approach this stage tentatively if at all. There is, of course, great benefit to explicitly mentioning these experiences because it can facilitate noticing and welcoming them in but there is also something to be said for them being implicit.

One of the reasons I might use it as an explicit stage is that speaking from personal experience and I am aware of others who feel similarly, I am a bit of a delayed gratification person and can be quite military in my approach to my life and being invited to notice pleasure, bliss or joy and dive in can be a welcome reminder than life is for living and that I deserve to experience pleasure, bliss and joy. I don’t have to earn it, it is my birth rite and to experience true bliss and joy from within is to feel less need to seek out secondary pleasures such as caffeine, TV, social media etc.

This stage has proven to be highly effective in the treatment of PTSD. Often PTSD can lead to a life devoid of joy and to find a safe way to access this emotion and the associated sensations can be life changing.

Studies have even shown that regularly experiencing joy produces positive and health changes to the body, mind and nervous system such as strengthening the immune system, boosting energy, diminishing pain & protecting the body from the damaging effects of stress.

‘The practice of iRest will not create joy. Joy is already inside you, waiting to be released. Joy exists independently from any other state of your mind or body. Joy exists without a reason. Joy just is. Like your ability to learn a language or to love another human being, joy is a natural capacity that’s yours at birth. That joy is your birthrite explains why, even in the midst of pain and suffering, loss and grief, sadness and depression, you can still feel joy. Joy is always present, waiting to be experienced in the midst of what is, no matter what is.’ ~ Richard Miller​

Witnessing and Pure Awareness

This stage arrives during the opposites exploration in an iRest practice and is an opportunity to explore moving from the subjectivity of ‘I’ to the objectivity of awareness. It can be incredibly powerful, especially when working with very strong emotions, sensations and experiences, to be able to step in and out of being the experiencer and the witness of the experience. And whilst the latter can sound a little like dissociation the idea is not to detach from the experience permanently but rather to breathe a little space between you and your emotions, like a buffer, providing an opportunity to work on broadening and widening the window of tolerance. It can be incredibly useful to be able to step out of the direct experience of an emotion and observe how it is unfolding in terms of thoughts, sensations and experience from a more objective position as the witness. With some practice and over time it might begin to be possible to find the part of you that is always at ease even during times of challenge, an absolute godsend in these difficult times.

Next week we wrap up the blog series by covering the closing of a Yoga Nidra; including existential explorations, externalising, the hypnopompic state, post hypnotic suggestion, integrating Yoga Nidra into every day life and safely returning back to waking consciousness. If you've read all the way to week 8 then thank you so bloody much!

In the meantime, you can join me in class this week to dive into experiences of discovering our innate joy and stepping in and out of experience using witness consciousness. Classes listed on my schedule (link below).

Carly x

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Uma and Nirlipta ~


The iRest Program for Healing PTSD (book)

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