Hatha Yoga, Yoga Nidra, and the Yogic Path of Meditation
When discussing Yoga Nidra, it’s best to have an understanding of the broader spectrum of yoga techniques, or elements on the integral path of yoga. Hatha Yoga has evolved over the ages in relationship with other branches of yoga, such as Raja Yoga (the eight limbed yoga of self mastery), Jnana Yoga (the wisdom yoga of self-knowledge), and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of selfless devotion). Among these yogas, Hatha Yoga is unique because all Hatha practices involve using the body, mind and breath to liberate the energies and bring out the inherent health and well-being of the physical body. The fundamental goal of Hatha Yoga is harmonious interplay of bioelectric and physiological systems of the body.
The practices of Hatha Yoga are often called the practices of “physical yoga” or the yoga of the body. This is only partially true, as the purpose of Hatha Yoga is purification of the body and mind together. This is in fact the meaning of the two syllables, HA+THA, which refer to the Sun and the Moon. These symbolize the darkness with the light, the internal’s interplay with the external, or the body’s relationship with the mind. The function of Hatha Yoga is creating a balance in these energies, to bring them into harmony with one another. When mastered, Hatha Yoga practices lay foundations for the broader spiritual or meditative path by setting up authentic health in the body/energy system.
The five categories of practice commonly used in Hatha Yoga are: Asanas (postural techniques), Pranayamas (energetic and breath control techniques), Mudras (gestural techniques), Bandhas (energy locking techniques) and Shatkriyas (internal purification techniques). All of these involve physical actions, along with breathing and internal awareness.
On the dividing line between Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga — of which Kundalini Yoga is a part — lie certain practices which are of particular interest to anybody beginning on the path of meditation. These are special practices which at the outset, and in the end, use the body as a medium, but which, in the middle, leave the body behind, and enter into the realms of the deep mind, as well as the psychic and astral planes. The practice of Yoga Nidra lies on this border between the physical/energetic/mental practices of Hatha Yoga and the deeper meditative practices which transcend the limitations of body, space and time.
Yoga Nidra, as an introduction to meditation, is remarkable for its accessibility and universal appeal. It works on the individual by providing a particular kind of rest or deep relaxation, which begins with the physical body, continues by calming the negative emotions, phobias and conditioned responses, and ultimately, at its deepest and most powerful levels, helps resolve the subterranean conflicts between the conscious thoughts and the unconscious impulses, the deep instincts and the higher mind, the rational left hemisphere and creative right hemisphere of the brain.
The freedom of energies, true health, and sense of well-being afforded by the practices of Hatha Yoga provide a foundation, an edifice, from which the infiinte inner resources of the individual spirit can begin to be tasted, explored and realized. And that second half of the story is called “self-realization” by which you are able to be fully yourself and at peace with the universe. Only by meditating, practicing Yoga Nidra, prayers or worship, can we resolve the deep inner conflicts that we carry inside of ourselves, and can that true self be found.
Conflicts come in the form of emotions, thoughts, belief structures, and other conditioned connections and patterns which interpenetrate the myriad regions of the brain, hormonal systems, and energy body. Ideally, the deep relaxation afforded by Yoga Nidra serves to resolve even these tensions, whether they have been set up by the environment, family and nurturing, inherited from our ancestors, or newly engendered as a result of the soul’s own unique nature and destiny.
For anybody who does not have proactive experience with meditation, or is uncomfortable or uncertain about how to begin purifying the deeper mind, the progressive stages of release which accumulate during the practice Yoga Nidra allow for a real taste, a real experience, of the true self. They’ll call it the divine self, which is said in the scriptures to sleep in a state of bliss (yoganidra) atop an infinite ocean of milk.
OM Shanti Shanti Shanti
Peace Peace Peace