What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra—known as yogic sleep—is a meditation and conscious relaxation practice that is intended to induce total physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. I’ve read that an hour of yoga nidra can be as restorative as four hours of regular sleep (although I could not find the research to back this up). Since I started practicing Yoga Nidra, my fitbit tells me that I average slightly under 6 hours of sleep daily, and I feel completely energized. (It also shows me that my heart rate goes significantly lower during this restful state - by about 12-15 bpm) This is all fascinating to me.
The first time I tried yoga nidra, I was curious, and had no idea what I was in for. To be completely honest, I don’t know exactly what happened at my first session of yoga nidra, as I was right out of it throughout the middle of the session. I must have slept right through it, but I do remember the beginning and end of it. Well, I was then completely intrigued at that point, wondering what I "missed". Yet, I was in a totally relaxed, blissful state after that, and downright curious as to what happened in between my awakened states, which lead to a full on exploration of this thing called Yoga Nidra. As I’ve practiced over the years, I’ve experienced some of the profound benefits, and would like to share these benefits with anyone else who is ready to change their life profoundly. Let’s take a look at the ways yoga nidra can benefit, heal, and transform you to new heights.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Aside from being relaxing, restorative and restful studies have shown that yoga nidra can also:
- Ease insomnia
- Decrease anxiety
- Alleviate stress
- 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
You might be asking now, “how is Yoga Nidra any different than meditation”? In many ways, yoga nidra is similar to meditation, however, there are some distinct differences; here are the biggest ones that I can identify:
- Physical Position: Meditation is typically a seated practice, where your body is comfortable, yet upright and alert.
- Attention: During meditation, you consciously place your attention on one anchor—usually the breath or a mantra, although there are many different types of meditation, some including various forms of guided meditation to help you focus.
- State of Consciousness: In meditation, people can experience multiple states of consciousness within a single meditation. Many 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 certain meditation techniques that take you into transcendental consciousness, and even beyond—into higher states of consciousness.
- Physical Position: Yoga nidra is generally practiced lying down so you can let go completely. Props, pillows and blankets are commonly used, as well as anything that will help you get into a totally comfortable, restful position.
- Attention: A typical yoga nidra practice is guided, and takes your attention to specific places through a series of steps (mentioned below). In many ways, the specific instructions make it easier to relax than in meditation.
- State of Consciousness: During yoga nidra, you move into the state of conscious deep sleep. You are no longer in the waking state of consciousness, but you also move past the dreaming state of consciousness and into the deep sleep state. However, your mind is actually awake, so it’s often discussed as the state between being asleep and awake. This is why it is said that yoga nidra is so restorative for the body. In both practices, the mind is conscious; in yoga nidra, the body is in a more restful state.
If you are interested in exploring a relaxation practice (and especially interested in reaping the rewards,) try both practices to find out which suits you better. You may find that different moods or situations call for different practices. If you’re new to meditation and find yourself getting frustrated or having difficulty meditating, yoga nidra may be a good place to start.
How Does Yoga Nidra Work?
Yoga Nidra practice includes several stages that relax the body, mind and emotions. These steps may include (but are not limited to):
- 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 asleep and awake—where you’re fully conscious but your body and mind are fully at rest and ease. When you set a conscious intention (sankalpa - *see definition below) at the beginning of your yoga nidra practice, and then let go and allow for deep relaxation of the body, mind and emotions, your unconscious opens up to new ways of thinking, healing, and fulfilling your conscious intentions. You will also (usually) visit your intention near the end of the session.
So whether you want to try yoga nidra to help you relax, release stress, sleep better, or you want to gain access to creating real positive changes in your life, the practice can help you reach your desired state of being.
But you can only learn so much about yoga nidra by reading about it. The real wisdom comes from experiencing the practice for yourself. Come out one Tuesday eve and relax, see what yoga nidra is about and how it feels for you!
*Sankalpa (Sanskrit: संकल्प) means conception. idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will. (Note: We will discuss ideas on setting this intention, and how it is presented, at class).