Last updated on September 23rd, 2023.
When people think of yoga, they often envision flexible bodies twisting and bending in unimaginable ways. Especially, in the United States, yoga has become a powerful physical exercise intended to burn calories and increase flexibility. But this vision of yoga is only a glimpse of the many traditions and practices that enhance the whole human—body, mind, and spirit.
Many people who dedicate themselves to practicing yoga understand the benefits of meditation and restoration. Yoga Nidra is such a practice intended to rejuvenate and relax the body and mind by slowing down and releasing tension. Yoga Nidra means “yogic sleep” and is a guided practice that leads the practitioner to deep levels of rest, beyond that of a dream state. Through a consistent Yoga Nidra practice, individuals can realize the numerous benefits of yogic sleep.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation that leads the practitioner into “yogic sleep”. It can be as simple or as complex as the individual seeking its benefits. Individuals can learn at home from online guided Yoga Nidra sessions, or they can attend Yoga Nidra classes taught by certified teachers. To go deeper, individuals may also want to learn more about Yoga Nidra Teacher Training by taking an online yoga teacher training course. Many of these courses are open to teachers and non-teachers, and they can be an excellent way to support self-care and wellness.
Participating in Yoga Nidra is to tap into the subconscious mind. During Yoga Nidra, the practitioner experiences brain wave patterns akin to sleep and dream states, and even beyond. For many, a one-hour Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to four hours of normal sleep. Each session is unique and each person will experience Yoga Nidra differently.
7 Benefits of Yoga Nidra
The benefits of Yoga Nidra are immeasurable. Each person will find growth, healing, and discovery in unique ways. In supplying holistic healing and health, these key benefits of Yoga Nidra are a powerful way to rejuvenate and restore the body, giving it the rest and replenishment many individuals lack.
However, it is clear that Yoga Nidra provides basic value to its practitioners in seven profound ways:
1. Stress Reduction
One of the most common and easily recognizable benefits of Yoga Nidra is stress reduction. The physical and mental activities of Yoga Nidra naturally lead to calming states for the body and mind. The body and mind reach these states of ultimate relaxation through deep breathing and visualization. Practicing Yoga Nidra requires body scans and deep breathing, which lead to muscle relaxation, the release of emotional tension, and an opportunity for the nervous system to slow down.
Even on a superficial level, just lying in complete comfort and walking into states of deep relaxation, the practitioner will notice relief from headaches and muscle tension throughout the body. Just one session of Yoga Nidra can bring an individual a deep sense of peace and calm.
2. Restoring the Physical Body Systems
Going more deeply into the process of relieving stress, Yoga Nidra can have lasting effects that literally alter the negative consequences that hormones can create in the body. Elevated and chronic levels of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) that stress cause can lead to inflammation within the body. Inflammation is correlated with a host of physical symptoms that lead to dis-ease and illness (cardiovascular, respiratory, fatigue, sleep disorders, organ dysfunction, chronic pain/migraines, etc.).
Yoga Nidra sessions are designed in a way to enhance states of extreme relaxation, triggering the body’s nervous and endocrine systems to heal and regenerate. Oxygenation and glandular massage induced through breathwork and the use of props (bolsters and blankets) help to increase serotonin and other mood elevators, while diminishing the effects of cortisol, epinephrine, and estrogen during moments of a women’s menstrual cycle. Because of the effects Yoga Nidra has on tissues of the body, in can enhance organ function and negate the issues caused through inflammation’s restrictive effects on the body.
3. Management of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is often caused by a trigger in the nervous system, as well as inflammation and immune dysfunction. Immediately, Yoga Nidra can provide the body and mind a chance to rest and recover, which is a tremendous relief for anyone who experiences chronic pain. However, a continued practice can give the body an opportunity to heal from the harm of inflammation in the tissues and the programming of the nervous and endocrine systems, which often cause the pain to be continuous.
Chronic pain doesn’t live in the part of the body experiencing pain, it lives in the neural pathways of the brain. A reaction in the nervous system that repeats itself consistently can cause trauma and triggers that exacerbate the pain.
- Yoga Nidra is intended for the practitioner to achieve deep rest. It is an opportunity to walk with the Self in a guided meditation, to set intentions and to meet them through taking control of the subconscious.
- Yoga Nidra gives the nervous system an opportunity to create new neural pathways that lead the response away from the pain and toward a healthy habit or focus.
- Yoga Nidra can bring clarity and insight to a situation, in which the practitioner can realize a lifestyle change that directly addresses the roots of the chronic pain.
4. Refined Mental Clarity
Much of the effectiveness of Yoga Nidra relies upon the intentions of the practitioner. In Yoga Nidra, this intention is called a sankalpa. A sankalpa is a desire of the heart, similar to a mantra, but it is more of a goal that one sets for oneself. It is a commitment one makes toward oneself to be what one wants to be.
When the mind defines its intentions and meditates with that goal in mind, it can achieve great clarity. These intentions are set in a way one defines as already being true: I am creative, or I am in alignment with health and wellness. Further, a sankalpa is a touchstone to what the practitioner wishes to attract, and in walking into the subconscious, the mind will return to the base of this intention. In doing so, you are creating new neurologic pathways in the brain and planting a seed for the mind to germinate.
Goal-oriented guided meditations have been shown to enhance memory, cognitive processing, and creativity by removing mental fog and confusion. As will be discussed later in this article, Yoga Nidra consists of diving into sleep patterns while still conscious. It is while in different states of brain wave functioning that the brain is able to make new connections, revelations, and seize on opportunities to refine the Self.
5. Healing and Navigating Trauma
Trauma exists in the body as a reaction to an event or series of events that inflict deep pain, confusion, and fear. People who live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) live with the after-effects of managing chronic stress. If the body and mind maintain states of chronic stress, an individual may live with constant and debilitating anxiety, physical ailments, and reactivity to present situations that hurt everyone involved.
Trauma effects people differently and not everyone has to experience disturbing assault to feel its effect. What happens in a traumatized mind is a perceived threat as a means of protection. When something happens that seems dangerous or when a person experiences a trigger (a similar environment or memory), the person’s brain sends distress signals. Overtime, this constant barrage of messages turns into deep-seated neural pathways. Like an inverse sankalpa, the brain tells the individual they are unsafe, unworthy, or unable to accomplish their goals.
Yoga Nidra works to heal past trauma and emotional triggers by creating new “scripts” in the brain. For people living with the effects of trauma, this practice is a way to actively engage with new scripts but also to gain insight into the emotional triggers that deeply affect the person’s life. Instead of disengaging, avoiding, becoming belligerent, or feeling out of control, Yoga Nidra can help the practitioner experience these emotions safely, providing understanding and clarity about how to heal, exercising new pathways of the mind.
6. Diminished Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Yoga Nidra can be a useful tool for individuals who struggle with depression and anxiety. One of the ways Yoga Nidra is beneficial to the mind is by releasing suppressed emotions and providing the practitioner a way to react differently. The way that it does so is by focusing the mind and maintaining awareness. Although this is an activity in which the individual journeys into sleep and dream states, the intention of a guided meditation is to keep the individual aware and conscious.
Yoga Nidra is a practice to help control the mind. For people who experience depression and anxiety, it may seem impossible to control thoughts of regret, fear, or worry. By momentarily dethatching from these thoughts and emotions, the individual can begin to deprogram from the incessant chatter and the problems the mind creates. Just by participating in Yoga Nidra, a person gives themselves permission to take a step toward healing—to be in health and wellness—and that message is a supportive measure for the individual.
As stated before, Yoga Nidra can also enhance mood through the release of serotonin and in its ability to bring an immense sense of peace to the practitioner. Continued practice can help heal as the mind and body take actions that are not steeped in negative thought patterns.
7. Improved Sleep Quality and Patterns
Because of its naturally restful qualities, Yoga Nidra is an excellent way to help people achieve restorative sleep and fall asleep more readily. Stress, pain, and overthinking can make it difficult to fall asleep. Many people suffer from insomnia as a result of their inability to surrender to a deeply restful period of sleep. Yoga Nidra prepares the mind and body for sleep.
In itself, Yoga Nidra is a rejuvenating and restorative practice. As stated earlier, one hour of Yoga Nidra is said to have the healing properties of four hours of normal sleep. Yoga Nidra not only provides this vital opportunity for rest, but it helps to remove the mind chatter than prevents people from actualizing sleep in the first place.
Physically, Yoga Nidra calms the body and allows it to enter into sleep and dream states. Mentally, Yoga Nidra guides the brain into different stages of brain wave functioning. This activity is a preparation to sleep. The practice itself is one of self-care and can overall improve the quality of life, which can help the practitioner sleep easier.
(Find out more about Yoga Nidra for sleep in this article!)
What happens in Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down, typically in Corpse Pose (Savasana), often with the use of bolsters and pillows to provide maximum comfort and to open up the body. Whether in the studio with others or home alone, the script for Yoga Nidra will bring the practitioner through different stages of consciousness. During these stages, changes occur to the subtle body (koshas and chakras), the physical body (tissues, organs, glands), and the mental body (brain wave functioning).
While each yoga nidra script is unique, a typical session consists of the following steps:
Step 1: Set an intention or identify your sankalpa. This can be individual or one as a group.
Step 2: Rotate the consciousness throughout the physical body, or annamaya kosha. This step consists of breathwork and body sensing, which triggers relaxation responses in the body. Here, the body and mind are guided into meditative sleep. The beta brain waves that occur during wakefulness slow down, considerably.
Step 3: Focus on the breath, bringing attention to the pranic body, or pranamaya kosha. Deep belly breathing triggers the body to release more serotonin. Here, the brain wave patterns slow down to that experienced in sleep, traveling through alpha, theta, and delta.
Step 4: Maintain awareness of sensory input to tap into the mind body, or manomaya kosha. Mindfulness occurs during alpha brain wave activity, which supports memory assimilation and concentration. It is during this functioning that deep healing can occur.
Step 5: Use psychic symbols to direct focus on the chakras, connecting to the intellectual body, or vijnanamaya kosha. As the body and mind further relax, the brain experiences theta waves, approaching delta waves, which induces creativity and problem solving. (Learn more about yoga symbols in that amazing article!)
Step 6: Bring attention to and repeat the original intention or sankalpa to connect to the bliss body, or anandamaya kosha. As the brain goes into delta wave patterns, it experiences non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is sleep in which no dreams exist, yet the body and mind are aware.
It is during this stage, mostly consisting of delta brain wave patterns, that the deepest relaxation occurs.
Step 7: Slowly bring the consciousness back to its normal functioning, which concludes the Yoga Nidra session.
Can Yoga Nidra replace sleep?
Yoga Nidra is not intended to replace sleep, nor it is a form of napping. Yoga Nidra is a method of relaxation and taking control of the brain’s activities.
What should I bring to Yoga Nidra?
It is important to check with the teacher or studio regarding equipment you should bring to a Yoga Nidra session. However, it is common to bring a yoga mat and blanket for extra support. Within your own home, you will need a way to play an audio version of the selected Yoga Nidra script, along with whatever prop support your body may need.
How often can I do Yoga Nidra?
For optimal benefits, it is recommended to practice Yoga Nidra daily; however, a few times per week can create positive changes.
What is the best time to do Yoga Nidra?
The early morning hours, between 4 and 6, and the evening before bed are the best times to practice Yoga Nidra. The goal of Yoga Nidra is to achieve deep relaxation, and this goal can be met during quiet, calm hours.
How can I practice Yoga Nidra at home?
Yoga Nidra is an excellent activity to incorporate into your daily home routine. It is important to learn about Yoga Nidra and how to support an in-home practice. Here are a few aspects of at-home practice that will enhance the Yoga Nidra experience:
- Practice during the early morning or evening hours.
- Practice in a cooler atmosphere where the lights can be dimmed or off completely. Cool environments work best, as not to fall asleep during the session.
- Choose a Yoga Nidra audio script that makes you feel calm. The voice must be easy to follow and not irritating.
- Use essential oil from one of these organic essential oil brands that calm the senses to enhance the practice.
- Make sure to have props available, as needed.
A range of Yoga Nidra tools are available online. You do not need to be a Yoga Nidra teacher to learn about this therapeutic and enlightening practice. Above all, Yoga Nidra is a profound self-care tool, intended to help the practitioner take control of the mind’s activities by being conscious and mindful, even during unconscious activities, such as sleep. Yoga Nidra—yogic sleep—can lead to a wakeful life you may have never dreamed possible.