Part 9 - The Stages of Yoga Nidra: Existential Explorations, Kośas and Bringing It Into Our Everyday
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
Welcome to the FINAL blog in this 9-part series. Thank you SO much for reading and thank you to those of you that have been coming out to experience the techniques and approaches in classes and private sessions. I will soon be looking to release some new recordings exploring some of these techniques and approaches to accompany this blog series.
This is the stage that seems to keep people coming back for more week after week. At the beginning of class I often have a check-in and open up the space for the sharing of experiences and this is the stage that is most often alluded to. The feeling of being deeply asleep in body but aware in mind, the blurring of the physical boundaries of the body with the space around, the feeling of being beyond clock time, a deep knowing that there is something deeper than lay beyond ‘I’ and identity. I have even had a few people share that they come to Yoga Nidra to get ‘high’ or to ‘trip’. This stage really is the tits and without doubt, the reason I practice as close to daily as possible.
East and West
Western thought categorises the human experience into three states of being; mental, physical and emotional whereas yogic thought expands this to a theory of 7 bodies or layers of experience known as kośas. Yoga Nidra invites awareness to soak into and permeate all of these layers of experience, making it possible to infuse the body, mind and spirit with feeling and intention all the way to the deepest layers of awareness through the gateway of the subconscious, which becomes more permeable in the liminal states of awareness that can arise between stages. Along the way there is an invitation to release unnecessary stress whether mental, physical, emotional or all three, making it easier to reach the wild and natural human state of changeless being.
The Kośas and The Stages of Yoga Nidra
Annamaya Kośa - The Physical Body: Awareness of Sensation
During this stage, you are invited to explore and observe the sensations of the physical body through a variety of techniques culminating in a body scan. The itinerary of which depends on the intention of the practice and the style of Yoga Nidra. The overall purpose is generally to welcome sensation, clear neural pathways from the body to the brain and facilitate reconnection between body and mind.
Pranamaya Kośa – The Energy Body: Awareness of Breath & Energy
During this stage, awareness begins to move from the gross to the subtle through experiencing the breath as ripples and flows of energy and sensation move through the body. A variety of different breath awareness techniques can be employed during this stage depending on the intention and the practice style.
Manomaya Kośa – The Emotional Body – Awareness of Feelings and Emotions
Yoga Nidra can cause emotions to rise to the surface through the dissipation of physical, mental and emotional tension. These emotions can then be explored explicitly during the ‘exploring opposites of emotion’ stage or implicitly without this stage by welcoming everything to be just as it is, witnessing the experience of emotions arising, stabilising, dissipating and releasing without attachment, impression or repression. Witnessing emotions from the deeply restful states of Yoga Nidra can help to rewire the brain to be able to welcome and tolerate challenging emotions in everyday life.
Vijnanamaya Kośa – The Wisdom Body – Awareness of Witness Consciousness
This kośa can be explored by zooming out from the subjectivity of I to the objectivity of awareness and noticing how it is to be the witness of your experience rather than the one directly experiencing it. This kośa may also be explored through listening inwardly for any naturally arising intuitive guidance at the start and end of practice. Listening not in the language of cognition; that of words and reason but rather in the language of intuition; that of emotions, sensations, insights, images and symbols, training the capacity to hear and respond to intuition and instincts.
Anandamaya Kośa – The Bliss or Joy Body – Awareness of Pleasure & Joy
This stage appears as an explicit stage in the iRest Yoga Nidra form of delivery but often arises spontaneously as a result of the practice. It is the exploration of the natural state of being that is unveiled through the practice of Yoga Nidra. There is the invitation to dive into sensations of joy and pleasure if they emerge rather than delay or deny the experiences in favour of the duties and demands of everyday life. This stage explores the wild and natural state of joy available to us in every moment through conscious awareness.
Asmitamaya Kośa – I/Go – Awareness of The Ego / Existential Explorations
Zooming out from the perspective of the experiencer to that of the observer provides a new vantage point and an opportunity to explore the meaning of ‘I’ and ego. Existential explorations can arise here such as contemplating the nature of being and awareness or what remains beyond 'I' and identity.
Sahaj – Natural State – Awareness of the Wild and Natural State of Being
After exploring awareness and being it can become possible to truly embody our natural state of being, the unchanging and unchanged state that exists beneath the surface levels of experience and beyond all of the distractions, stories, tensions and thoughts. During this stage, it can be possible to explore and experience non-separate wholeness and feel a true sense of unity with all and everything.
The later stages of a Yoga Nidra can facilitate potent and permeable states similar to the moment just before waking, known as the hypnopompic state. Just as in hypnotherapy where the end of the session offers space for the hypnotist to implant therapeutic post-hypnotic suggestions, here at the end of a Yoga Nidra it can be useful to offer space for the practitioner to implant their own post-hypnotic suggestions into this receptive state, such as revisiting sankalpa or using an affirmation. It can be particularly powerful to explore sankalpa in a visceral way at this point by inviting in all of the emotions, sensations and images associated with the fulfilment of this sankalpa, inviting the nervous system to fully experience it as though it is already happening.
Merging with Everyday Life
The period of time immediately following the experience of these deep states of awareness can be a vulnerable and sensitive and as such the emergence from a practice of Yoga Nidra should be slow, sensitive and integrative. When teaching private sessions and group classes I try to allow at least 5 minutes for practitioners to bathe in the aftermath of the practice, integrate the practice into everyday states of awareness and begin to move again completely in their own time. Some people want to move immediately, particularly if their practice has been restless or distracted, whilst others can require around 5 minutes of stillness before even beginning to think about slowly returning back to full waking consciousness.
This liminal state between practice and everyday life can be a potent time to explore merging the state of Yoga Nidra with everyday states of awareness. One way of doing this is to explore opening and closing your eyes whilst still lying down at the end of practice and exploring bringing vision back whilst staying connected to the state of Yoga Nidra. With practice and commitment, it can become possible to use techniques like the body scan in everyday life situations to invoke the state of Yoga Nidra into everyday waking states and this merging towards the end of practice is a key aspect of this integration.
After class it is then important to allow another 5-10 minutes for practitioners to come fully back to a wakeful state, to offer conversation, brighter lighting, tea and time and space, especially if they have to drive. The after-effects of Yoga Nidra can be long-lasting, which is one of the real draws of this practice for me but it can mean that it can take a little while to feel fully ready to drive or be completely cognitive again. In a retreat setting, I offer smells such as essential oils and snacks such as dates and dark chocolate to facilitate a return using the senses.
Yoga Nidra is, without doubt, my all-time favourite style of yoga to teach, practice and talk about and I feel truly grateful for all of the responses I have had to this blog series both in person and online. THANK YOU for taking the time to read, share and experience this truly life-changing practice with me.