Yoga Nidra offers relaxation, restoration and health benefits while simply lying down and following a meditation. A great practice for anyone, including experienced yoga practitioners, it’s also a wonderful introduction to the practice of yoga for those who may be intimidated by the traditional asana practice.
What Is Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation which includes deep breathing and body scans. You begin the practice by lying down and getting as comfortable as you can. It’s ok to use bolsters, pillows, and blankets to ensure you are able to lie down while being still for the duration of the practice.
Next, simple breath techniques are used to begin calming the body and mind, as you take time to sense your body and physical experience. Then, during the meditation, you are guided through a full scan of your body, placing your awareness on one part at a time, as you slip deeper into relaxation.
Andrea Martinez, a yoga teacher and adjunct dance faculty member who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, says it’s a great way to turn inward: “Yoga Nidra is a meditative and contemplative practice. So much of yoga can be about how the poses look and the focus on the outside. I like for students to learn how to be still in their body and aware of their body,” she explains.
Lying down comfortably, Yoga Nidra helps create a deeper state of relaxation while maintaining awareness. You’re seeking to go past the conscious mind and into to the unconscious. This practice can take you into deep levels of rest beyond that of a dream state.
The relaxation response created by Yoga Nidra balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. According to the Cleveland Clinic, instead of going into the theta state, like in meditation, Yoga Nidra helps take you into the delta state, where deep healing can occur. It’s all about allowing your body and mind to rest while your consciousness is still awake.
History of Yoga Nidra
Swami Satyananda Saraswati is said to have originated Yoga Nidra during his studies with Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh, India in the 1940’s and 50’s. One day he fell asleep while people nearby were chanting mantras. When he woke up, he knew the mantras he had heard while sleeping. He was told that his subtle body had heard the mantras and helped him learn.
Nyasa, meaning “to place” or “to take the mind to a point” is the guiding aspect of Yoga Nidra. It’s a rotation of consciousness in the body, which originated from the tantric process called Nyasa. During Nyasa, a yogi consciously touches (mentally or physically) various parts of the body while repeating mantras in order to awaken subtle energy within the physical matter of the body.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati took this ancient tantric practice and made it more accessible for all people. The practice became more centered around focusing attention on specific parts of the body for relaxation and rejuvenation to support the opportunity for deeper healing.
5 Health Benefits of Yoga Nidra
- Stress Reduction
- Mental Clarity
- Improved Sleep
- Depression & Anxiety Support
A 2018 study in the International Journal of Yoga tested how Yoga Nidra could affect anxiety and depression levels of college professors.
It was shown to be an effective therapeutic approach to reducing anxiety and stress levels. Yoga Nidra also had a greater effectiveness than meditation in reducing both cognitive and physiological levels of anxiety.
Practitioners say that a 30 to 45-minute session can feel like 3 hours of REM sleep. It’s not a substitute for sleep and there is debate over the science of this experience, but the change in brainwaves is most likely the cause.
Clarity & Manifestation
The practice of Yoga Nidra often includes a personal desire or mantra that the practitioner sets for themselves and repeats in their mind at the beginning and end of the practice. A heartfelt desire, or sankalpa, supports a single-minded focus. When the mind is relaxed, this desire is said to be written on the subconscious. Returning to this intention can help create new neurological pathways in the brain, supporting mental clarity, focus, and manifestation.
Helping the body learn to relax is the first step to better sleep. Once the body learns to let go and more fully relax, the practitioner can learn to take better control of the brain’s activities, allowing for a more restful experience in the Yoga Nidra practice and while sleeping.
Depression & Anxiety Support
Yoga Nidra helps control our thoughts and mind, so that we can better navigate our emotions and busy mental chatter. In some Yoga Nidra sessions, suppressed emotions are able to be released and the practitioner has support in finding new, healthy ways to handle them as they come up.
Yoga Nidra & Meditation
Sanskrit for “yogic sleep,” Yoga Nidra has been compared to meditation but has some basic differences. Unlike meditation where you sit up and are awake, Yoga Nidra is a state between sleeping and waking, also referred to as “dynamic sleep”.
The practice guides you into what’s called a “hypnagogic state”, allowing the body to “sleep” while the mind is lucid. This is the place between alpha and theta waves. In the alpha state, the mood-regulating hormone serotonin, gets released which calms down the body and mind.
“Yoga Nidra is a great gateway to meditation practices,” shares Martinez, “because you’re guided by a teacher and not doing it by yourself, and it helps you focus on what’s happening in your body in that moment. Whatever we can do to help people in our busy culture learn how to be still, do restorative, restful practices without distraction, and turn inward instead of externally focused, is of benefit and where we need to be guiding folks right now.”
Yoga Nidra is for Everyone
If you can lie down, you can experience Yoga Nidra. As you listen to a guided meditation online or in person with a trained Yoga teacher, the experience is different each time. Even if you fall asleep, your subconscious mind is absorbing the practice so that you still receive benefits.
In a world where being busy and stressed has become the norm, resting our way to health could hold the key. Yoga Nidra offers a simple yet effective way to calm the body and mind, restore the systems of the body and learn to quiet the mind.
Bloom Post is a freelance writer, ceremonialist, teacher, and author of the books Shaman’s Toolbox: Practical Tools for Powerful Transformation and Plant Spirit Totems. For more information: www.BloomPost.com