What is yoga nidra?
If you’re new to meditation or yoga (or even if you’re not), you probably want to start at the beginning. Yoga nidra, also known as dynamic sleep, prompts the body to relax deeply while the mind remains inwardly alert. Yoga Nidra pioneer, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, refers to it as “reaching the border between waking and sleeping states.” We in the west might call yoga nidra the crossroads between alpha and delta brainwave states.
To practice yoga nidra, you begin by lying on the floor (face up) in yoga corpse pose or Shavasana. Then, based upon the guided meditation you’re following, you’re prompted to begin sensing the body and breathing in specific ways to incite a relaxation response in you. This relaxation response is the secret sauce to yoga nidra because it balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – the left and right brain –allowing you to unwind into various, beneficial brain wave states.
10 Steps of Yoga Nidra
Set up your Yoga Nidra practice space by placing a bolster lengthwise on your mat and slipping a block under the top end, so that the bolster slants gently. Lie down with your sitting bones on the mat and with the bolster supporting you from the low back to the head. Place a folded blanket under your head for a pillow. Notice and welcome sounds, smells, and taste as well as color and light. Release excess tension throughout your body and feel a sense of relaxation spreading throughout your entire body and mind.
1. Connect to Your Heartfelt Desire. Bring to mind your heart’s deepest desire—something that you want more than anything else in life. Perhaps it is a desire for health, well-being, or awakening. Feel this heartfelt desire with your entire body while imagining and experiencing it in this moment as if it were true.
2. Set an Intention. Reflect on your intention for your practice today. It might be to relax and rest, or to inquire into a particular sensation, emotion, or belief. Whatever your intention, welcome and affirm it with your entire body and mind.ADVERTISEMENT
3. Find Your Inner Resource. Bring attention to your Inner Resource, a safe haven within your body where you experience feelings of security, well-being, and calm. You may imagine a place, person, or experience that helps you feel secure and at ease and that helps you feel within your body the sense of well-being. Re-experience your Inner Resource at any time during your practice or in daily life when you feel overwhelmed by an emotion, thought, or life circumstance and wish to feel secure and at ease.
4. Scan Your Body. Gradually move your awareness through your body. Sense your jaw, mouth, ears, nose, and eyes. Sense your forehead, scalp, neck, and the inside of your throat. Scan your attention through your left arm and left palm, your right arm and right palm, and then both arms and hands simultaneously. Sense your torso, pelvis, and sacrum. Experience sensation in your left hip, leg, and foot, and then in your right hip, leg, and foot. Sense your entire body as a field of radiant sensation.
5. Become Aware of Your Breath. Sense the body breathing by itself. Observe the natural flow of air in the nostrils, throat, and rib cage as well as the rise and fall of the abdomen with each breath. Feel each breath as flowing energy coursing throughout your entire body.
6. Welcome Your Feelings. Without judging or trying to change anything, welcome the sensations (such as heaviness, tension, or warmth) and emotions (such as sadness, anger, or worry) that are present in your body and mind. Also notice opposite sensations and emotions: If you feel worry, call up feelings of serenity; if you feel tense, experience ease. Sense each feeling and its opposite within your body.
7. Witness Your Thoughts. Notice and welcome the thoughts, memories, and images that are present in your mind. Observe your thoughts without judging them or trying to change them. As you come upon beliefs that you hold about yourself, also bring to mind and experience their opposites, welcoming your experience just as it is.
8. Experience Joy. Welcome sensations of joy, well-being, or bliss emanating from your heart or belly and spreading throughout your body and into the space around you. With every exhalation, experience sensations of warmth, joy, and well-being radiating throughout your body.
9. Observe Your Self. Be aware of your sense of “I-ness,” or personality. Notice this sense of identity when you say “I’m hungry,” “I’m angry,” or “I’m happy.” Then, experience yourself as an observing witness or Awareness that is cognizant of these feelings. Set aside thinking and dissolve into Awareness, awake and conscious of the self.
10. Reflect on Your Practice. As you complete your practice, reflect on the journey you’ve just taken. Affirm how the feeling of pure Being, or pure Awareness, is always present as a deep, unchanging peace that underlies every changing circumstance. Imagine integrating that feeling into your everyday life, in both pleasant and difficult moments, and always reconnecting to that sense of equanimity.
Yoga nidra, or yogic sleep as it is commonly known, is an immensely powerful meditation technique, and one of the easiest yoga practices to develop and maintain. While the practitioner rests comfortably in savasana (corpse pose), this systematic meditation takes you through the pancha maya kosha (five layers of self), leaving you with a sense of wholeness. No longer do you have to dread spending hours sitting on the floor waiting for liberation. Here are five benefits of developing a yoga nidra practice.
1. Anyone Can Do Yoga Nidra
Intense vinyasa flows and long asana holds are not for everyone. Yoga nidra, however, is a practice that everyone, from children to seniors, can do. It’s easy to follow at any age. All that your body needs to do is lie down on the floor. And even if you can’t lie down on the floor, you can still do this practice seated.
2. You Cannot Practice Yoga Nidra Incorrectly
As you lie down, supported in savasana, all you have to do is follow the voice that is guiding you. It’s likely that you will remember certain parts of the meditation and not others. Every time you come to the practice you encounter a new experience—none of which is wrong. Falling asleep is okay too, as you will still receive benefits while the unconscious mind is absorbing the practice.
3. Yoga Nidra Is Easy to Incorporate into Your Daily Life
Seated meditation can be frustrating—trying to clear the mind, bring awareness back to the breath, or find inspiration for focusing. Yoga nidra is always guided, so there is no intense thinking or wondering why you are staring at a blank wall. A yoga nidra practice can be as short as five minutes and as long as an hour. You choose the length. You may find that the easiest way to accommodate a yoga nidra practice is to make it part of your daily bedtime routine. Put the headphones on, practice right in your bed, and then drift off to sleep. Although this is not the most conventional way to practice yoga nidra, you have no excuse not to do it if you’re going to be lying down anyway.
4. It’s a Simple Way to Reduce Stress
Yoga nidra promotes deep rest and relaxation that isn’t found in your average meditation practice. The stages of body scan and breath awareness alone can be practiced to calm the nervous system, leading to less stress and better health.
5. Yoga Nidra Offers the Opportunity to Learn About Yourself Intimately
Some people crave the profound relaxation that this practice instills, while other practitioners use the non-judgmental and secure atmosphere that yoga nidra provides as a window into themselves. Yoga nidra offers a space to explore what you need in the moment, as well as an opportunity to work on releasing long-held emotions. During yoga nidra you are able to experience an emotion and come “face to face” with what you want to overcome, without “diving into it” completely—meaning without feeling the emotion so completely that you become overwhelmed. Over time you continue to experience the emotion and associated feelings, moving deeper into the practice.