What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation that is also known as “yogic sleep.”
Yoga Nidra is usually practiced lying down with an experienced teacher guiding the class. No movement or activity is needed. Rather, Yoga Nidra is an internal practice designed to draw attention inwards as we learn to surf between the states of wakefulness and sleep. Here, the body finds a natural state of equilibrium; the breath balances and we fall into a state of deep, blissful surrender.
In Yoga Nidra we have the opportunity to experience the deeper elements of yoga that we don’t often have access to in a more asana-focused yoga class. Yoga Nidra takes us effortlessly into a state of harmonious, restful being. From here, it is possible to experience healing and deep restoration. It is also possible to dive deeper below the surface and become more aware and connected to our true nature.
While being an easy practice suitable for everyone, Yoga Nidra has tremendous benefits and is undoubtedly gaining popularity the world over as ongoing research continues to prove its effectiveness.
Why is it called Yogic Sleep?
Yoga Nidra – also known as Psychic Sleep, Yogic Sleep, and Dynamic Sleep – is an ancient technique of attaining a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. It is a systematic practice of moving awareness from our external world to the inner world, inducing deep relaxation and at the same time, being aware of the inner consciousness.
It brings us to a state of waking sleep where our senses, intellect and mind relax. We become free from the concepts of time, space and reason. When this happens, brain activity reduces and the body goes into a healing state. Therefore, it is said that one hour of Yoga Nidra can give the same benefit of a four-hour sleep!
To understand Yoga Nidra, it is helpful to know about the three states of consciousness that influence human existence. These are:
- Wakeful State of Mind – When the mind is connected to the external environment. It relies on the sensory organs to receive and interpret signals from the surroundings.
- Dream State – The mind drifts into the world of dreams. It’s the state between the external world and the inner world.
- Deep Sleep – The mind slips into an unconscious state wherein you have no connection with the outer world. You are not even aware of the flow of time.
In Yoga Nidra, your body moves into a state of rest, but your mind is awake. Yoga Nidra is an art of inducing a state of deep rest without falling asleep. The mind attains a state wherein it is connected to the conscious state as well as the unconscious state.
“It is a state in which you are neither asleep nor awake. If you fall asleep, it is not Yoga Nidra. If you remain awake, then it is also not Yoga Nidra. If dreams overtake you, it is not Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a state in which there is awareness of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious fields of your mind all at one time. It is a perfect therapy. It removes all psychological abnormalities and sanskaras, and helps you to become your normal, natural self.”
What are the stages of Yoga Nidra?
There are variations when it comes to teaching and practicing yoga nidra, however most practices include several stages to relax the body, mind and emotions. These steps may include:
- Body awareness
- Breath awareness
- Emotional awareness
- “Waking up” or re-integration
Each step is intended to take you deeper into an altered state of consciousness—the state between sleeping and waking—where you’re fully conscious but your body and mind are completely at rest and ease.
How does Yoga Nidra differ from Yoga or Meditation?
In many ways, yoga nidra is similar to meditation. The benefits are similar and the reasons why people practice are similar. However, there are some distinct differences that make Yoga Nidra so unique.
Let’s look at meditation first. Meditation is typically a seated practice where your body is comfortable, yet upright and alert. While there are many different styles of meditation, often in a meditation practice you consciously place your attention on one anchor – like the breath or a mantra – to help you focus. In meditation, you can experience multiple states of consciousness within a single meditation. Primarily in meditation, we stay in what’s known as the waking state of consciousness, which is the state of consciousness where the majority of us humans spend most of our waking hours. There are also certain meditation techniques that take you into transcendental consciousness, and even beyond, into higher states of consciousness.
Of course, when it comes to the practice of yoga, in the west at least, a yoga class typically refers to a yoga asana class – a class where we are moving through different postures (both standing and seated). While there are a myriad of yoga styles and all classes are different, we are generally in a conscious, awake and focused state as we move through a physical practice. Many yoga classes do include periods of meditation and often breathwork or ‘pranayama’ either at the beginning or the end of class, yet the majority of the session is usually focused on the physical asana postures.
When it comes to Yoga Nidra, it is generally practiced lying down (in the yoga posture of ‘savasana’) so you can let go completely. Props, pillows and blankets are commonly used and welcome, as well as anything that will help you find a comfortable and restful position. You maintain complete stillness throughout the practice so that focus is on your inner experience.
A typical yoga nidra practice is highly guided. The teacher speaks gently throughout the majority of the practice, helping you to maintain connection to the outer world while exploring the depths of your inner layers of Self. In many ways, the specific instructions make it easier to relax than in meditation where it is up to you to bring your attention back to your breath or mantra when the mind wanders.
As mentioned above, traditional meditation is most often experienced in the ‘waking state’, associated with the Beta and Alpha wave brain states. Yoga Nidra explores the deeper layers, moving beyond the waking states into the more subtle layers of self without falling into a dream state.
What are the benefits of Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra appears to be a gentle, simple and ‘easy’ practice. Yet it offers tremendous physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.
Rejuvenates the body
During Yoga Nidra, the body enters a state of deep relaxation. Regular practice helps the body to go into even deeper states of healing and rejuvenation. During this practice the body functions become minimal; metabolism slows down and the hormonal function increases. The body has an opportunity to repair, rejuvenate and detoxify.
Unfortunately, stress has become part of our daily life. Some stress is healthy for us, yet chronic stress can result in a host of physical and mental health issues. Yoga Nidra shifts the body back into the parasympathetic nervous system which is where we can begin to regulate the body and move into ‘rest and digest.’ In this state the body can relax and release stress and combat the harmful effects that stress has on the body.
You’ve likely heard the term ‘monkey mind.’ With our fast-paced lifestyle it can be hard for us to remain focused and concentrated at the best of times. Lack of concentration has become a major issue, especially in a population now used to having short attention spans. During Yoga Nidra, we practice staying focused on the guided cues from the teacher and while the mind may still try to wander, over time, it becomes easier and easier to surrender to the journey that Yoga Nidra takes us on. This helps to gain control over the mind and improve focus and concentration in daily life.
Through the practice of Yoga Nidra, we improve our ability to be attentive and to concentrate. We also improve our ability to retain information which helps to improve our memory. As our subconscious releases unnecessary baggage and information overload, we free up mental space so that our subconscious mind can become clear. Normally, we use only the left hemisphere of our brains for learning. The regular practice of Yoga Nidra however, stimulates the functioning of the right hemisphere. This in turn helps in better retention of information.
Improves ANS response
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for various automatic bodily functions like metabolism, healing and growth. There are two subsystems of ANS: The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. We need both systems active when they are required. As mentioned earlier though, in modern life many of us remain in the sympathetic nervous system far more than we are required to. During the practice of Yoga Nidra, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system and train our subconscious to stay in a peaceful and observant state. With the regular practice of Yoga Nidra, you are able to improve the overall ANS regulation and response so you don’t remain trapped in a place of stress.
Improve Your Sleep and Reduce Insomnia
Getting adequate sleep is absolutely essential for good health (and most of us aren’t getting enough!) Yoga Nidra slows the wavelengths in the mind as you enter a sleep-like state. Similar to driving, parking, and turning off a car, there’s a process to go through before completely powering down your brain and body to sleep at night. Yoga Nidra trains your mind and body for this relaxation process so you can reach a deeper state of sleep. It also stimulates the hormones in the pineal gland, which releases melatonin – a hormone that reduces stress and regulates sleep cycles. If you have trouble sleeping at night, enjoying a Yoga Nidra practice during the day can help your body recuperate some of those lost Zzzz’s.
Detach From Your Thoughts
As your mind begins to quiet in a Yoga Nidra practice, you’ll slowly start to recognize that your thoughts are simply thoughts that come and go. As you develop a deeper awareness of yourself in this resting state, you’ll also learn to integrate this sense of mindfulness into your everyday life. There’s power in being still and being able to quiet your mind, and Yoga Nidra can help you reach this state. Many people who maintain a regular yoga nidra practice report feeling rested after a mere minute practice and this extends into their day. Similar to a mini vacation or retreat for your mind, Yoga Nidra is the perfect way to find those pockets of rest any time you need a break.
Connect with Yourself
Over time, yoga nidra creates more space in your mind and opens a window into your soul. In this unique way, it provides an opportunity to learn about yourself through a reflective and restful experience. Yoga Nidra can also serve as a pathway to gaining greater clarity or direction in your life. You might come into the practice with an intention you want to work on whether it be living in the present moment or letting go of past negative thoughts or events. The intention, often prompted by the instructor, is set at the beginning of the practice. As you move through the practice and begin to understand yourself on a deeper level, you’ll begin to release unwanted emotions, connect with your consciousness, and liberate yourself from what no longer serves you.
Other promising benefits of Yoga Nidra include:
- Decrease anxiety
- Reduce PTSD, chronic pain and chemical dependency
- Heighten awareness and focus
- Transform negative habits, behaviors and ways of thinking
- Foster feelings of peace, calm, and clarity
- Relaxes and rejuvenates the body
- Soothes the nervous system
- Reduces fatigue
- Lowers high cholesterol and blood pressure levels
- Strengthens immunity
- Treats depression
- Reduces pain
- Supports brain function
- Boosts creativity
Can anyone practice Yoga Nidra?
Yes, Yoga Nidra can be practiced by anyone. It holds immense benefits, especially for those who struggle to let go or who suffer from insomnia, trauma, burn-out, and anxiety. It also holds great healing power for anyone who wants to experience a deeper sense of peace and re-connect more profoundly with themselves.
How do you practice Yoga Nidra?
In classic yoga nidra practice, you lie on your back with your arms away from your body, palms turned upwards. Your feet should be hip width apart, with your toes falling outwards. Your eyes remain closed throughout the practice. Yoga Nidra puts a strong emphasis on the way your body is lying. Practitioners believe your relaxation posture influences your consciousness, and that this supine position prepares you for letting go and helps to balance the flow of life force in your body.
A Yoga Nidra class will usually start by setting an intention (why are we doing this?) and enquiring into our deeper intentions for life (where are we going and are we on track?)
Now the teacher will ask you to turn your attention inward and to bring your awareness to your breath. While every Yoga Nidra is different, a common way of rotating awareness through your body is through the practice of tensing and releasing different body parts. During this process, the teacher will ask you to tense certain muscles while you breathe in deeply, then soften them again as you breathe out.
At this point, you may begin to feel softness and lightness in your body, or feel as if you are melting into the floor or floating.
To help you to further calm your mind you may be guided to bring your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath, or other techniques may include visualising energy or light flowing through your body or being guided into an imaginary place of beauty and serenity.
A Yoga Nidra practice often includes a technique for realizing a resolve in your life, something you want to achieve. Your resolution could be as simple as wanting to be more loving to someone in your life, or kinder to yourself. Or it could be something very specific, like resolving to give up smoking on a certain date.
Practitioners say that by repeating your resolution to yourself when you are in this state helps it take root in your unconscious mind, almost like a post-hypnotic suggestion.
This gives rise to the final phase of the practice: exploring consciousness. Yoga Nidra enables us to dive in and recognize our self as open, expansive, unbounded, unlimited awareness. This is the ultimate liberation and the highest realization we can come to.
Of course, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to practice, and each experience and class will be unique and different. All you need to do is have an open mind and allow yourself to let go and relax (sometimes this alone is the hardest part!)
Where can I practice Yoga Nidra
You can practice Yoga Nidra in any quiet, tranquil space you have at home or outdoors in nature. You can attend a yoga nidra class, or you can listen to a yoga nidra audio recording.
You can find a selection of our Yoga Nidra classes on offer for you here: