Yama, the first stage in Ashtanga Yoga, represents the end of the old ways and the first positive stage in the practice of self discipline by the elimination of bad habits relating both to health and character. The practices are to clear the way and demand the application of physical methods for inner body hygiene as well as the eradication of any layers of emotional and mental stress that may inhibit one’s progress to health and happiness.
For eliminating stress we have the practice of relaxation which releases strain from the whole psyche. There are many and various methods used in teaching relaxation but in Yoga, traditional preparation for practising what is known as Yoga Nidra remains constant.
We first assume the body position or asana called Savasana by lying flat on the floor along the north/south polarity if possible, arms down by the sides with eyes closed. The asana translates as the ‘Corpse’ or ‘Dead man Posture’ in which we obviously assume an immobile pose. However, we remain aware and sensitive towards our surroundings, our body sensations and energies and also become more aware of our emotional and mental states of being.
To be comfortable and able to relax completely in stillness is regarded as the first stage in control of the body. It is a discipline of equal or greater importance and difficulty than skills in body exercise or movement. A passive peaceful body is required as a prelude to passive, peaceful states of mind known in the stillness of meditation.
Stillness of the body in Yoga Nidra is designed to help us become receptive, first to outward sounds and impressions and then free of the distractions of others, to become inwardly aware of our whole being.
Relaxation in classwork is generally limited to a specific period of time, such as fifteen or sometimes thirty minutes.
Relaxation rewards us by encouraging a state of freedom, even from our own thoughts, as we enter degrees of consciousness related to feeling awareness. We remain conscious of our surroundings, yet with a sense of acceptance, embracing the fact that although we are just a single life unit, we are able to sense life’s wholeness. It is a refreshing and pleasant experience. Various subtle states of consciousness are rediscovered, sometimes for the first time since our infancy, as we find refreshment in the magical realm between sleeping and waking.