When we come to the end of our posture practice in a yoga class it is customary to lie in Shavasana – the corpse pose. In some traditions this is a short practice, in some long, in some it is with music and in some it is in silence. In my classes, following the Bihar tradition, we move towards a state of deep relaxation or yoga Nidra – which means yogic sleep. This is usually practiced for 15 – 20 minutes and in the longer classes follows a meditation or breath control exercise.
To the uninitiated and those who feel very tired, this practice of Shavasana seems like a great opportunity to nod off and have a 15 minute snooze. However this is not the idea, and, although it is usual to drift in and out of consciousness the idea is to remain awake, to be aware and in doing so witnessing a state of pure relaxation of body, mind and soul.
In simple terms, when we are wakeful, going about our day to day business, the waves in our brain move quite fast – bouncing thoughts around our brains at around 20 per second. When we are asleep – in deep sleep – our brain slows down to only a few per second. During this time we are unconscious. When we dream the brainwaves increase up to about 7 per second and the subconscious mind is active. During a state of deep relaxation, yoga nidra or hypnosis, the brainwaves are in a borderline state. In this state, the body is floppy and limp but the brain is active, albeit at a slowed down pace. If you fall to slumber then the brain does not notice the physical state of relaxation. This is why when you awake in the morning from sleep you can have a stiff back or aching shoulder. But when you ‘awake’ from deep relaxation you feel refreshed and fantastic.
The state of deep relaxation is so profound that scientists feel that 15 minutes of deep relaxation is of the same value as 1 hour of sleep. There have been various characters throughout history notable for their ‘power napping’ – famous leaders, inventors and artists. By learning the techniques involved students will be able to practice alone, at any time when they feel the need to.
Besides coming to class and receiving the benefits of deep relaxation, there are many CDs available to practice at home – the best I have found have been the series recorded by Swami Pragyamurti – why not try one?