Yoganidrasana - The Cosmic Sleep Pose :
Mythology and Subtle Aspects
I. Mythology behind yoga nidra
In the Patanjali Charitham, the legend of sage Patanjali, composed by Ramabhadra Dixit in the 17th century, the story starts with Lord Vishnu reposing in yoga nidra or cosmic sleep where he meditates on the universe. As it turns out, Lord Vishnu tends to get heavier during yoga nidra. This particular time, Lord Vishnu having entered such a deep state of yoga nidra, became extremely heavy, so heavy that Adisesha, the thousand headed serpent on whom Vishnu is sleeping, could no longer bear his weight and as a result was huffing and puffing. When a thousand headed serpent huffs and puffs, it results in venom being ejected. The toxic fumes caused by Adisesha's huffs and puffs freightened the devas (the divines) who prayed to Vishnu to wake up from his yoga nidra. Vishnu eventually did wake up and became lighter after he did. Adisesha could breathe normally again and as a result the world was saved.
Lord Vishnu in yoga nidra
Adisesha - the thousand headed serpent on whom Lord Vishnu sleeps
2) Yoga Nidrasana - The cosmic sleep pose
The yoganidrasana is a pose which comes in the intermediate series of Ashtanga Yoga. It is not a notably difficult pose. In fact it is easier to do than its previous pose, Dwipada Shirashasana, which is similar to yoga nidra except that one is upright. Many practitioners claim to feel a very relaxed sensation in yoganidrasana and like to stay in the pose for a while.
As seen in the picture below, two of Lord Vishnu's hands rest behind his head as a pillow and two on his stomach. Since we have only two hands, we use our feet as a pillow, shown again in the picture below.
Lord Vishnu with 2 hands behind his head and the other two on his stomach
The two feet in yoganidrasana are symbolic of Lord Vishnu's two hands.
3) A sense of heaviness in yoganidrasana
Many Asanas, if done correctly, will result in a sense of lightness due to the upward flow of prana. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika calls this Anga Laghavam (lightness of the various parts of the body). Asanas like Tittibasana (shown to the right) and Dwipada Shirashasana (below) especially induce a sense of lightness. Yoga Nidrasana on the other hand induces a sense of heaviness. What is the reason for this ?
The answer lies in the spine. In Dwipada Shirashasana, the prone version of the supine yoganidrasana, we sit on the upper part of the buttock and make an effort to keep the spine straight. This induces a sense of alertness. In yoganidrasana, there is no effort to elongate the spine. The only effort needed is to tilt the head back and rest it on the feet.
Yoganidrasana is a relaxing pose that is enjoyed by many. It symbolizes the cosmic sleep (yoga nidra) of Lord Vishnu. It is a supine version of the more difficult Dwipada Shirashasana.