Most people who know something about yoga are only studying one branch of the practice—the physical branch that has you holding asanas and focusing on the breath. But what about the other yogic techniques? Have you ever experienced those? Apart from yogic breathing, or pranayama, there’s something called yoga nidra now coming to the attention of yogis and the general public. Yoga Nidra, or a deep state of conscious rest, is more than just sleep, it’s an ancient practice to rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul.
Here’s everything you need to know about yoga nidra, including the benefits and a how-to guide to get you started.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra, otherwise known as “yogic sleep,” is much like a blend of meditation and lucid dreaming, where you are asleep but also aware of everything happening around you. However, yoga nidra is not meditation. Meditation practice is usually seated, has you focusing on one thing, such as the breath or whispered mantra, and is not always guided. The state of consciousness in meditation is similar to being awake, where you are constantly processing external stimuli but choosing not to react to it.
In yoga nidra, you are lying down, not seated, and you assume a comfortable, resting position as if going to sleep. Yoga Nidra is almost always guided by an experienced and certified practitioner who lulls you into a deep sleep. The mind, however, remains awake, putting you into the place between being asleep and awake. In short, in yoga nidra, the mind is fully conscious, but the body is resting.
How Does Yoga Nidra Work?
Yoga Nidra is not always taught or practiced using the same techniques. Most practices will work through numerous stages to aid the body and mind. The stages of a yoga nidra practice may include:
- Intention of the practice
- Body awareness
- Breathing practice
- Emotional awareness
- Visualizing a safe place
- Waking up or coming back to one’s body
Again, the steps aren’t limited to what is listed above. Some guides might add steps or take some away, depending on the pace of the class and the experience level of those involved. Intention will also serve as a gauge, helping you focus on what is to be achieved.
Each stage is crafted with the pursing of luring you farther and farther into sleep. For instance, the conscious intention at the commencement of the practice might be calling for you to let go of the negative emotions holding you back, and so you would take a moment to process those emotions before settling into some deep breathing to exhale the negativity. The guide would ask you to open yourself up to new ways of thinking about those emotions, as well.
The stages are also carefully interwoven with transitions in brainwaves. When awake, the brain is mainly using beta waves. As you start to breathe and relax, you trigger a relaxation response that shifts your brain into another state. The left and right sides of the brain balance out and start to use alpha waves. In alpha, serotonin, a mood-regulating hormone, is released.
From alpha, you are guided into deep alpha and then into the theta-wave state. Theta waves are affiliated with REM sleep. In this place, the channel of thoughts slows down until you experience only 4-8 thoughts per second. At this point, your mind is open to possibilities, and you might start to see colors, random images, or even hear voices that others don’t hear.
After theta, you move into delta, where thoughts come much more slowly (1 to 3.9 thoughts per second). This is the most restorative state. Cortisol is removed from the system, and you fully relax.
Yoga Nidra Benefits
If laying in Savasana (corpse pose) for a time sounds like an advantage to you, then you’re all ready to go to a yoga nidra workshop.
Okay, maybe not entirely ready. You need to know how yoga nidra might affect your life. Don’t worry, there are no minuses to the practice unless you dislike napping!
Here are the benefits of practicing yoga nidra:
- Emotional & Physical Healing: When your body is in a deep sleep, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and starts to slow the body down, allowing the healing process to take over. In terms of biology, the body returns to homeostasis or balance; and in terms of the mind, yoga nidra can heal trauma. For this reason, yoga nidra has even been used with active military members to help them with PTSD. In the same vein, yoga nidra can aid in relieving chronic pain for a variety of medical conditions and ailments, such as PMS.
- Stress Reduction: The same system that helps regulate the body to accelerate the healing of mental and physical wounds can also lessen the burden of stress and anxiety. Scanning the body through the stages of a guided practice lead to a sense of calm, while the relaxed state enhances your sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, when the parasympathetic system is activated, thyroid function is enhanced, thereby reducing chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, and even muscular fatigue.
- Enhanced Sense of Relaxation: Because you are shutting off the “fight or flight” response that is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, you are imbuing yourself with a sense of relaxation that is immeasurable. You will feel calm, open, and inspired.
- Yoga Nidra Is For Everyone: You read that right. Yoga Nidra is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most zen person on the planet or if you got road rage this morning on the way to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re ill, physical fit, flexible, or inflexible. Yoga Nidra doesn’t require postures. All it requires is an open mind and a willingness to explore your inner world.
- Helps Set Conscious Intentions: As you develop this profound sense of relaxation through yoga nidra, you might even find that you are connecting with yourself in ways you never thought possible. The judgment-free and soothing atmosphere of a yoga nidra class will help you break down the walls within yourself and give you a chance to truly converse with the person you want to be.
Now, this won’t all happen the first time you find yourself in a yoga nidra class. It might not even occur during the second or third time. However, just like with anything that involves a practice, you shouldn’t give up or write it off as ineffective. Yoga nidra takes time to fully work on the body.
It is said in the yoga community that yoga nidra helps to erase or even rewrite a samskara, or mental groove or impression, within the mind. Samskara can be positive or negative, such as the habit to exercise frequently or a mental impression from trauma. Oftentimes, these samskara can be the intention of the practice, and every stage of the class will help you peel back the layers of the impression to better understand it. Eventually, those negative impressions will heal.
Yoga Nidra Technique
Techniques within yoga nidra are simple. You lay on your back in a position that is comfortable to you. If you are not comfortable in Savasana, the yoga instructor will be able to give you modifications.
It is important to remember that the arms and legs should be spread apart. You shouldn’t be compelled to move at all during the practice.
This is the most essential part—the mind should be allowed to move, but not the body.
You also do not want to fall asleep. To ensure you do not drift off during class, do yoga nidra only when you’re refreshed and awake, preferably in the morning after awaking or midday. If you need help with waking up before the class, do some more physical yoga asanas, such as Downward Dog, Triangle Pose, Chair/Fierce Pose, and Warrior variations to warm up the body.
Tips for Practicing Yoga Nidra
You can only understand so much about yoga nidra by reading. The best way to understand whether yoga nidra is going to work for you is to do a guided yoga nidra practice, at home or at a yoga studio.
As mentioned earlier, the guided meditation used with yoga nidra is not like other kinds of meditation. Typically, a yoga nidra session is no longer than 45 minutes, and that is considered an advanced practice. You need about 30 minutes to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to take control.
The guide will set the stage, so to speak, by offering up an intention. This intention should always be the focus, even as you start to drift off to sleep. From there, the flow of a guided practice will be something like this:
- Set the intention of the practice.
- Feel the desire within yourself and others. Feel the energy of the room.
- Drawing attention to the physical body will have your sense and perceive what is happening in the current moment. You will do a quick scan of yourself to find any pains or pent up emotions.
- From there, the focus moves from the physical body to the breath. The guide will ask you to count your breaths, elongate the exhalations and inhalations, and to constantly think about the sensations that arise from the breathing. You should become aware of the energy flowing in and around you. You may also notice that in the places of tightness, you experience blockages in the energy flow.
- Now, it’s time to focus on the emotions. You will be faced with opposites, such as hot and cold sensations, left and fear, happiness and sadness. Yoga nidra aims to teach you that all things must exist in balance and that polarity is normal. Where there is darkness, there is also light. Where there is fear, there is also courage.
- You will start to notice your own thoughts, ideas, and internalized imagery will rise up to help yours through the exploration of polarity. Through this, you can insight to your belief system, providing answers to why you are the way you are.
- Memories of joy will come to the forefront of the practice. These moments of happiness will develop the sense of relaxation further, giving you a baseline from which you can explore. You can come back to this place whenever you feel anxiety or nervousness.
- The guided meditation will sometimes continue with a discussion about the ego. You will become aware of the ego and how it plays a role in your decision making.
- Lastly, the guided practice comes to the point where the mind is given time to investigate emotions from all sides. The conscious mind has complete control, while the body is fully relaxed. You will move around the intention, but you are not bound to the intention.
- The guide will eventually call you back to a wakened state using sounds, words, and other stimuli.
You know that wonderful feeling of waking up 100% well rested? That is what you achieve from yoga nidra. A 2013 study found that a single practice of yoga nidra will reduce anxiety, depression, and relieve psychological issues. This means that you get much more from yogic sleep than what meets the eye. The journey you experience while practicing yoga nidra is going to be unique to you and your personalized intention.
If yoga nidra is something you feel would help you with stress or other problems, then there’s no reason not to try. You can find multiple yoga nidra practices online to stream, and yoga nidra workshops are becoming more popular than ever before.
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