Yoga Nidra is a conscious sleep-based meditation technique that induces deep relaxation and offers a plentitude of benefits to the human mind and body. The Sanskrit world ‘Nidra’ means to sleep, and therefore, it is also known as the yogic sleep, or psychic sleep.
For many years, I had been unknowingly practicing Yoga Nidra without the knowledge of what it was. Doing Shavasana (the corpse pose) was a routine practice after performing strenuous yoga postures.
That is usually the last asana we practice in order to relax the body. In fact, most yoga teachers put great emphasis on ending a good yoga session with Shavasana.
While others use to practice Shavasana for about 2 to 5 minutes, I used to go deep. Sometimes, up to 40 to 50 minutes, because it was so relaxing for the mind. Later down the line, I came to know that this is the powerful yoga Nidra practice. So it came very naturally to me.
Yoga Nidra allows you to enter deep states of consciousness as the brainwaves begin to slow down and the mind progressively enters states of restfulness. This experience is quite similar to the experience of deep meditation. But the process is gradual and it takes time and practice.
It is comprised of body, breath, and awareness techniques that transform the thinking (high brainwave) state of the mind into the calm (low brainwave) state, which is usually experienced as the state of simply ‘being’. It is an effortless practice that helps in developing inner awareness.
Some of the benefits of Yoga Nidra are as follow:
- Helps in decreasing stress and anxiety.
- Improves the quality of sleep.
- Helps in reducing chronic stress and combats PTSD.
- Helps in chronic pain.
- Increases awareness.
- Improves focus and concentration.
- Helps in getting rid of bad habits, including addictions.
- Calms the mind.
- Improvement in learning ability.
- Develops clarity in thinking.
In a recent study, scientists explored the benefits of Yoga Nidra on sixty college professors. The duration of this study was of three months, and the psychological variables included stress, anxiety, and depression.
The college professors comprising of men and women were divided into three experimental groups: Yoga Nidra, seated meditation, and control group. The results showed that Yoga Nidra had a greater tendency towards reducing stress and anxiety.
Yoga Nidra provides us the restorative benefits of normal sleep in less amount of time. However, don’t attempt to replace your normal sleep with Yoga Nidra, otherwise, you will easily fall asleep during the practice.
Yoga Nidra helps in clearing the mental blockages in a very subtle manner. The practice helps in making changes at the level of the subconscious mind, and therefore, this ancient yogic sleep technique can prove to be a very powerful tool in clearing psychic scars and deep traumas.
What is the Difference Between Meditation, Restorative Sleep and Yoga Nidra?
Meditation practice requires us to sit still in traditional yoga asanas like the easy pose, sukhasana, or the lotus pose, however, most people lack the flexibility to sit in these complicated poses for long periods of time.
When the body is in discomfort, it’s hard to calm down the mind, and as a result, traditional meditation techniques are sometimes not apt for absolute beginners. That is where the Yoga Nidra technique comes into the picture.
Yoga Nidra is also a meditation practice, but since it requires you to lie down and sleep, it’s much easier compared to the traditional meditation practices. However, the sleep that is induced in Yoga Nidra is conscious, i.e., at all times you are in complete awareness.
During a normal restorative sleep we close our eyes, and as soon as the mind slows down, we slip into the unconscious without any awareness of what’s happening around us.
In Yoga Nidra however, we remain in a conscious or a semi-conscious state, fully aware, and allow the healing messages to seep into the subconscious without losing awareness.
It is a dream-like state, but at the same time, we’re fully aware of what’s happening around us. We can hear sounds and yet we’re not disturbed by them at any time. That’s why we call Yoga Nidra conscious sleep.
This comes easily to us as sleeping is a natural phenomenon. We don’t have to make an effort to sleep (unless we are suffering from insomnia). But that said, during the Yoga Nidra sessions it is very likely to drift into the unconscious sleep as the mind gets more and more relaxed.
Whenever that happens just bring your awareness back to the conscious part of the mind and continue with the Nidra. Just like you do in the traditional meditation.
In meditation, the practitioner has to start by focusing on the object of meditation, which can either be the breath, sound, a physical object (such as a candle), or a mantra that he or she recites mentally in order to facilitate the transition from the conscious to the subconscious.
In Yoga Nidra, one need not concentrate on the breath, or any other singular element in order to facilitate this transition. The state that is required for Yoga Nidra is somewhere between the conscious and subconscious mind where the senses are very lightly engaged.
This state is easily achieved after a few minutes have gone by into the practice, whereas, in traditional meditation, it requires some practice before one can get access to deep states of mind.
Practice Yoga Nidra In 4 Simple Steps
Get started by lying down on a matt in Shavasana (the corpse pose). Make sure that the surface is soft and that you’re lying down in a comfortable position. Feel free to place a soft cushioning below your knees or back if needed. Close your eyes and just relax.
- Setting the Intention – think about why you’re doing this. There may be a blocked feeling, emotion, or an unfulfilled desire that may be causing unhappiness in your life. Whatever it is, you need to accept it and set an intention to relax.
- Bring awareness to your breath – the breath, or prana, in yogic terminology is the life-force energy that sustains the mind-body complex. By bringing our awareness to the breath and increasing the flow of prana, we relax our nervous system. Slowly as time passes by, the mind slows down, and the restfulness starts increasing.
- Being aware of the bodily sensations – Notice the sensations arising within the body. We scan the entire body starting from the feet and finishing at the top of the head. We let go of any tension or stress in any part of the body. If there is an uncomfortable sensation, we first observe (by bringing awareness) the area of sensation in the body, allow the sensation to play out, and finally, release it.
- Be aware of your thoughts and feelings – once the body is sufficiently relaxed, there comes a stage when we start experiencing the presence of random thoughts accompanied by some afflicting emotions, like anxiety, anger, worry, and restlessness. Now watch these emotions play out and then let them go. By releasing these troublesome emotions we are clearing out our subconscious of the negative energy.
Once finished, slowly open your eyes, sit down, and reflect upon your experience. For beginners, ten to fifteen minutes is enough.
Initially, this might be a little hard for you as the mind is not conditioned, but over time, your mind will become calmer, and you will be able to experience the real bliss of ‘being,’ or the emptiness.
Sharing My Own Experience With Yoga Nidra
I thought it would be a good idea to share a little about my experience with Yoga Nidra and how it helps me to refresh my mind, which enables me to maintain focus for long hours without getting tired.
I meditate both in the morning and evening and perform one to two sessions of short Yoga Nidra practice (ranging between 10 to 15 minutes) in between.
So my concentration level, especially after my morning meditation, is quite high, and I use that to my advantage. But by afternoon I find it difficult to maintain the same level of focus, so that’s the time I practice Yoga Nidra.
I know many people like to take naps in the afternoon. Honestly, I’m not against that. Try Yoga Nidra exercise instead of the usual nap for a few days and you’ll notice a great deal of change in your energy and focus.
When you’re new into the practice it is natural to fall asleep many times. This is inevitable initially. But the important point to remember is that you should not try to fight the urge to sleep and allow things to happen effortlessly without force.
I have seen so many people pinching their thighs to prevent themselves from falling asleep. This is absolutely wrong.
Initially, the mind is not conditioned to experience the state of restful calm that is achieved while practicing Yoga Nidra, and hence, as the thoughts reduce, the mind will force you to go into sleep. It’s okay. Let it be.
Don’t think that you have wasted time, although initially, it will appear to be the same.
With time and practice your mind will become more conditioned to these states of restful calm, and your awareness will increase to a level where you’ll experience the unconditional bliss of nothingness, or just the ‘being’.