Thousands of years ago, the yoga tradition had already recognized the significance of relaxation. Several ancient texts detailed various approaches to systematic relaxation as an essential practice for maintaining health and vitality. These ancient practices were called Yoga Nidra. The word Nidra means "sleep." The term Yoga Nidra is best summed up as "yogic sleep," which in practical terms refers to the deepest state of rest possible (complete effortlessness), combined with awareness.
The sages developed Yoga Nidra through a profound understanding of the subtle systems that link the physical body, mind, energy body, and the unconscious. Yoga Nidra was their ingenious methodology for healing and transforming each of these "layers." In other words, Yoga Nidra is a complete and holistic approach to restore the body, the mind and the most subtle realms of being.
When I first began teaching it, few Westerners had heard of, let alone experienced, the practice of Yoga Nidra. Now, two decades later, it is being increasingly embraced and recognized as one of the most powerful yogic tools both for healing and for realizing your fullest potential -- that anyone, of any age, can do.
Recently, Yoga Nidra has been studied in an array of clinical settings. In practically every case, initial findings suggest that it is a remarkably effective method in the treatment of various afflictions ranging from sleep disorders, chronic pain, chemical dependency, anxiety and multiple sclerosis to low self-esteem. Some of the most promising results have come from research conducted at Walter Reed Medical Center and the Miami Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who have returned from the Iraq war. Thanks to the success of these early clinical trials, the U.S. government has done follow-up studies and is currently considering multi-million dollar studies on Yoga Nidra's effect on PTSD. Additional studies are also underway at Brooke Army Medical Center as well as at the Washington VA and North Chicago VA. The results of the studies on PTSD are particularly interesting as they appear to validate what the teachings of the yoga tradition have asserted for centuries: Yoga Nidra is more than a way to transform the body, it is a profound modality to transform the unconscious.
I was introduced to Yoga Nidra more than 30 years ago. I later studied and practiced additional approaches to it and eventually evolved the practice of Yoga Nidra into what I call "Relax Into Greatness." The miracle of Yoga Nidra and Relax Into Greatness is that the practice doesn't require you to do anything, which is why it can be done by anyone, even those who are infirmed. For 30 minutes or so, you simply rest on your back while you are guided through steps that lead to ever-deeper states of relaxation.
Neuroscientists describe the state that Yoga Nidra helps you access as delta, the brain rhythm that signals the deepest rest. However, unlike the delta state that occurs for a total of about 20 - 30 minutes intermittently during eight hours of sleep, Yoga Nidra provides a systematic approach to access delta directly. A complete practice onto itself, the practice offers, as previously stated, an array of physical and mental benefits. Among them is that it is an incredibly valuable tool to combine with resolution.
We are all familiar with the concept of resolution or intention. We create resolutions to lose weight, find a more rewarding career, get organized or attract the ideal relationship. We resolve to change our diet, be more disciplined, work harder, work less hard, spend more time in nature or with our families, do something about our stress levels, enrich our spiritual life, be a greater force for good in the world or any one of countless other things we aspire to achieve.
It's critical however, to note that research shows that 80 percent of us do not achieve our intentions. Despite all that you may have heard from motivational speakers or spiritual teachers or read in books in praise of the limitless power of intention, it turns out that only one out of five of us achieves the things we set out to achieve.
One very significant reason for this is that the longer we live, the more experiences we collect. Some are pleasant, some are relatively neutral and others are stressful. Left unresolved, all stressful experiences remain stored indefinitely in our body as well as our unconscious. This ever-increasing storehouse of stress affects your health and physical wellbeing while the various feelings, memories and sensations related to stress impact your mind and how it relates to the world as well as your intentions.
Moreover, the latest research shows that stress can rewire the brain in ways that perpetuate stress. The latest findings are showing that the accumulative effects of stress make it harder to escape the habits that prevent you from acting in your own best interests, and less likely that you will have the cognitive awareness necessary to achieve your goals.
The good news is that your brain is elastic. When it experiences enough of an interruption between stress cycles, brain function returns to a state that supports your total wellbeing.
When psychologists try to identify the single reason that so many of us fail to fulfill our resolutions, many point to the lack of alignment between the positive goals of our conscious mind and the negative patterns of our unconscious -- which is precisely why the technique of Yoga Nidra can be so helpful in helping us achieve more of the things we aspire to achieve.
Through the depth of relaxation it provides, the practice helps to calm, if not still, unconscious tension and patterning. This means that Relax into Greatness has the potential of reducing the unconscious resistance that often stands in the way of us fulfilling our intentions. In other words, by becoming established in complete effortlessness and ease, where your body and mind are absorbed in a rhythm of healing and well being, your unconscious becomes more open and more capable of leading you to the fulfillment of your conscious intentions.
It is in this context that I like to remind people that resolutions are like seeds. Like any seed, there is a right way and wrong way to plant it. In other words, how you "plant" your resolutions can make all the difference. One of the most vital considerations is the quality of the soil in which it is planted. No matter how perfect the seed of your intention, if the soil of your unconscious is packed with layers of tension and less-than-constructive associations, then no matter how many times you water the seed by recalling/repeating your resolution, the soil of your unconscious will remain too compacted to allow the seed to grow and bear fruit.
This is why clearing your unconscious and enlisting it to work on your behalf in supporting your goals or intentions can be so helpful. It may be hard to fathom that becoming more effortless can help you achieve more of what you truly want, but it can. Thus, whether you are seeking the benefits of deep rest and renewal or to increase your capacity to achieve more of what you truly want, few things are as accessible, as enjoyable to practice, and beneficial as Yoga Nidra or learning to "Relax Into Greatness."
Excerpt adapted from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker. Copyright © 2011 by Rod Stryker. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.