Perhaps you’ve heard of the savasana (resting pose) at the end of a yoga class that leaves you feeling blissful. What about yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep? This is a wonderful practice to relax the body, mind, and nervous system. It can be performed at any time and is a great practice before bed to help you relax and let go of any worries.
Yoga nidra is the yoga of sleep.
It is a long guided meditation performed in savasana.
It provides stress relief and better sleep among other benefits.
The philosophy behind yoga nidra is that regular sleep rests the body while yoga nidra rests the body and mind for more resilience in daily life. While you may fall asleep during yoga nidra may happen, the purpose of it is to stay awake, aware, and conscious.
Our mind collects debris from our day and worries, and yoga nidra helps sweep away this debris to keep the mind free and clear. We all have samskaras, the Sanskrit word for karmic impressions or bad habits we wish to let go of. In the end, it is a spiritual practice to guide you to a more enlightened way of living.
Origins of yoga nidra
Yoga nidra was developed in India over thousands of years through the yogic tradition. In more recent times, Swami Sivananda explored it. Such gurus later passed me on to Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga. He published a book called Yoga Nidra which contains a wealth of information and guided scripts. He explained that during yoga nidra, the concept of the Sanskrit word nyasa is important. This word means “to take the mind to that point.”
There is a Westernized form of yoga nidra called i-Rest, or Integrative Rest, which has been used to treat PTSD patients.
How yoga nidra is performed
Yoga nidra is like a long, guided meditation while you lie on your back in savasana (corpse pose). Several stages occur along the journey. Generally, the practice lasts for 20 to 45 minutes.
Here is the outline below:
- Lie down and find a comfortable position, with pillows or an eye pillow to keep your eyes closed and your body still throughout the entire practice.
- Become aware of your external surroundings and body.
- Find your intention or resolve, also called a Sankalpa in Sanskrit. Some teachers may have the student choose their own or give them one to work with.
- Rotation of consciousness comes next, with a scan of the body parts, like what is done in progressive relaxation.
- Awareness of the breath.
- Feelings and sensations.
- Guided visualization.
- Repeat the Sankalpa.
- Slowly awaken and end the practice.
The practice of yoga nidra also has immense benefits such as:
- Stress relief.
- Better sleep.
- Ability to cope with emotions.
- A sharper mind.
- Improved memory.
- Boosted immune system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga nidra and the brain
Our brain has certain frequencies depending on our level of energy, mood, focus, and concentration called brain waves. During the waking state, we may be in beta or alpha states where the brain waves go faster so we can remain alert and aware. During meditation, one may reach theta state of brain waves, which cause calm and relaxation.
Delta waves occur when we sleep. One of the primary goals of yoga nidra is to slow the brain waves down to the delta state yet not fall asleep. It is extremely difficult to do but possible with continued practice.
Yoga nidra’s relationship to yoga philosophy
Yoga nidra falls under the category of hatha yoga. The word hatha means “sun and moon,” which explains that by the joining of opposite forces, oneness can be achieved. Hatha yoga and yoga nidra are also both tantric practices. Tantra means to weave a loom to expand into a spiritual lifestyle.
Finally, yoga nidra fits in with Ashtanga or eight limbs of yoga as outlined by the sage Patanjali in his book the Yoga Sutras.
The eight limbs of yoga
- Yamas: moral code.
- Niyamas: universal treatments toward oneself.
- Asana: physical postures.
- Pranayama: breathing exercises.
- Pratyahara: sense withdrawal.
- Dharana: concentration.
- Dyana: meditation.
- Samadhi: enlightenment.
Yoga nidra uses the asana called savasana for the entire practice. Then, it uses deep breathing to access the limb of the pranayama. Next is pratyahara, in which yoga nidra plays a good role by withdrawing the consciousness away from the senses. Pratyahara is like the bridge between the first four limbs and the upper three that lead to enlightenment.
Then, yoga nidra works with dharana (concentration) by giving the practitioners something to focus their minds like breathing, the rotation of consciousness, the sankalpa, and guided visualization. If successful, then the practitioner can access dhyana (meditation) or samadhi (enlightenment).
Yoga nidra is the yoga of sleep. However, the practitioner should remain awake and aware throughout the entire process. It is a calming, guided meditation practiced in a specific order to create a sense of well-being. The benefits of yoga nidra go beyond the practice itself to calm the nervous system and create greater elasticity in the brain.