One doesn't usually think of yoga as having anything to do with sleep. But, in the Himalayan Tradition of Yoga, an important practice is known as yoga nidra, yoga sleep. Let me tell you a story about yoga nidra.
Swami Rama’s Ashram, Sadhana Mandir, sits along the bank of the River Ganga, a mile or so downstream from the city of Rishikesh. I was there, assisting Dr. Usharbudh Arya (who later took sannyasa — renunciation— and then became known as Swami Veda Bharati) with his work. This was in the 1990s. At that time, the great Himalayan master Swami Rama was still roaming the world and lived in a two-story apartment building on the land, and Dr. Arya lived in a similar building further
into the ashram. I spent many of my days and evenings at Dr. Arya’s apartment. Downstairs was the kitchen and place where we ate. Most of the activity occurred upstairs where Dr. Arya had a couple of rooms, one in which he slept and the other where work occurred and where he would meet people who came to visit him.
At that time, I often assisted him on the computer, taking dictation, writing letters for him, organizing his files and other things like that. There was plenty of work and I loved being part of it.
Dr. Arya was a master of yoga nidra. In yoga nidra, the body is completely relaxed, and the brain produces deep delta waves (which can be measured by scientific equipment) — the same brain waves as produced when in deep, dreamless sleep, except the person is completely awake and aware. When the rest of us are in that state of sleep, we are unconscious. But not the one who is in yoga nidra.
Dr. Arya would stay awake very late into the night and into the wee morning hours writing, reading, and other work, while the world slept. Then he’d go into regular sleep for about two hours. He said that that two hours of deep dreamless sleep was required to maintain the body. After that, he’d practice two hours of yoga nidra— just two hours of regular sleep plus two hours of yoga nidra gave him all the rest he needed. He would then rise and do his regular morning meditation at 8:00 a.m., followed by breakfast.
Whenever he might feel tired, Dr. Arya would again practice yoga nidra. Often, I’d come to his apartment in the afternoon and find him “sleeping.” The quotation marks around the word “sleeping” are because he was usually in yoga nidra that time. I knew from experience not to say anything near him that I didn’t want him to hear when he was in that state because he would hear everything. Not that I was keeping any secrets, but I still kept this in mind. He also asked us to not whisper to try to keep him from hearing us because he’d hear the whisper and I imagined he’d wonder what we were whispering about.
Besides being restful, the state of yoga nidra opens the inner gates to creativity and memory and one can learn very quickly. Dr. Arya said that he taught himself English practicing yoga nidra during the nights while he was in Germany at one point in his life. I personally witnessed his amazing use of yoga nidra for learning when, one time, I accompanied him (actually, by then he was known as Swami Veda Bharati) to Italy. He was scheduled to give a talk there the following day. On the evening before his talk, he lay down and went into yoga nidra and one of his students, who spoke both fluent English and Italian, read him an hour long talk in Italian. Swami Veda had written the talk, the disciple had translated it into Italian, and then slowly read it to him. He read it to him only one time. The next morning, Swami Veda stood up and gave the entire talk in Italian from memory. I was astounded.
Swami Veda’s mastery of yoga nidra was profound. One time, when he was in California leading a retreat, we were at the campus of IONS (The International Organization of Noetic Sciences), where the faculty studied the spiritual sciences and wrote books. While there, one of the researchers hooked Swami Veda up to instruments to measure his brain waves. My spiritual brother Stephen Parker (aka Stoma) was there and later related what happened: Once Swami Veda was hooked up, the researcher had a shock. Although Swami Veda was sitting there, looking wide awake and carrying on a conversation, the electronic instruments showed he was having slow delta brain waves—the waves produced in deep dreamless sleep. Swami Veda was literally conversing while in yoga nidra.
Although Swami Veda was a Master of yoga nidra, the state is also available to the rest of us. Like any discipline, if we practice, we can learn and gain in ability. Recordings in Swami Veda’s voice are available that will lead one through the practices that take one to the threshold of the state of yoga nidra and perhaps beyond. If you are interested in learning, contact AHYMSIN for information on how to obtain copies of these recordings.