Yoga nidra (yoga of sleep) is a type of guided meditation where the practitioners lay down, close their eyes as if they are about to fall asleep and follow the facilitator as they are guided into the deep layers of awareness. This practice facilitates a state between waking and sleeping, building a bridge for other concepts such as “consciousness and unconsciousness, spirit and form, and the ego-self and the true self”.
Yoga nidra is an ancient practice with its roots dating back to 1,000 BCE, India. You may wonder how this thousands of years old practice still resonates with today’s generation. It is very practical and relevant today because yoga nidra focuses on a problem we have not solved yet; feeling detached from the source (the divine, the self, the universe). In yoga philosophy, the grand source is awareness and through yoga nidra, you aim to become the “awareness” itself. By embodying awareness, you experience wholeness which means feeling unified, unfragmented and experiencing the infinite self. In the bigger picture, the self is unified with the infinite itself. Everything is one and whole. Thus the aim of yoga nidra is to achieve wholeness through awareness and reach the true self.
Some yoga approaches can be hard to follow with their physically challenging nature; however everyone can do yoga nigra including children and seniors. All you have to do is lay down and follow the voice of the guide. The practice ranges from five minutes to an hour or more, it is up to you to decide. To make yoga nidra a daily routine for yourself, try practicing it every night before bed.
Yoga nidra is a fascinating practice with many benefits evident by both anecdotal and scientific support. An hour of this practice can be worth 3-4 hours of deep REM sleep as the brain and body repairs and renews during the nidra state. Some of the benefits of regular practice of yoga nidra include: Better sleep and rest, calmness, increased confidence, emotional regulation and coping, elimination of addictions, abandoning dysfunctional and
limiting beliefs, lowering blood pressure, improving mood, healing trauma and grief, healing depression and anxiety, spiritual growth, better physical health, gaining clarity about one’s goals and problems, increase in creativity, efficiency and productivity.
According to Parker et al., (2013), who tried to define yoga nidra for scientific purposes, four levels of brain waves are experienced in yoga nidra practice which coincides with different stages of the nidra state.
– The first stage is a deep relaxation state where alpha waves (8–13 hz, produced during deep physical relaxation) are observed and it can transform into theta waves (4–8 hz, produced during concentration, meditation, dreams, hypnosis) in deeper practice. These deep states can be tools for self-healing, such as reducing blood pressure or coping with migraines. This stage is similar to clinical hypnosis.
– The second stage is the level of creativity and invention. Theta waves which are on the verge of delta waves (frequency of ≤ 4 hz, produced during deep non-REM sleep) are evident in this stage.
– In the third stage, theta waves are produced initially and delta waves follow. The practitioner is in a deep non-REM sleep state but is conscious.
– After the practitioner masters the first three stages, they move to the fourth stage where awareness of kundalini, the power of consciousness, is experienced.
By going through the layers of awareness, yoga nidra journeys us to experience the infinite self, passing the illusion of the separated image. The body, emotions, mind and all of the counterparts of self become united. Yoga nidra gives us the tools to experience them as one. This practice prioritises awareness through presence. It aims to unify what was perceived as separated and experience interconnected wholeness. “Samādhi is a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the observing object.” In yoga nidra you experience samadhi through the in-between state of dreaming and waking and with samadhi, you experience yourself as a whole with the universe.
Here is a sample of a yoga nidra journey and the stages practitioners go through.
- Relaxation: This is the first stage of yoga nidra which studies relaxation of the body. Different methods for relaxing, focusing on each part of the body one by one can be used.
- Affirmations: In this fundamental part, a positive affirmation is set and it sinks in the deep waters of the mind where it cultivates changes in behaviour, cognition and awareness.
- Rotation of consciousness: In this stage, special focus is given to the hands, face and mouth and each part of the body is listened to and visualised.
- Awareness of perception: This stage is about perception mechanisms. The focus is on observing opposite sensations in the body, such as hot and cold, pain and pleasure.
- Breath: This part of the practice includes breathing techniques.
- Chakras: The focus is on the energy centers of the body in this stage.
- Working with mind and emotions: Practitioners are guided to feel positive and negative opposing emotions in this part. These feelings come and go easily with breathing in and out, reminding us that they are mere visitors and they can’t define us.
- Images from the unconscious: In this stage, images related to the unconscious (archetypal images, the four elements, ancient symbols) are presented to visualize the common roots of humanity.
- Guided journey: It is also called visualization and imagery. Practitioners are guided into a sacred place of self-discovery. According to yoga philosophy this place serves as “the seat of wholeness”.
- The return: In this last stage the practitioners integrate their journey, repeat their initial affirmations and are guided into a state of complete relaxation as feelings of renewment follow.
Overall, yoga nidra is one of the easiest and most powerful meditation techniques. It takes you on a journey of the self as you move towards wholeness. The stages of yoga nidra calms the mind and nervous system, which leads to decreased stress. Yoga nidra helps us realise the connection with ourselves, with others and with the universe and experience interconnected wholeness. It can promote spiritual growth and serve as a tool for healing.
We incorrporate principles of yoga and meditation into our retreats’ programs, so you can try different techniques and holistic approaches to better your health, mood and well-being in general.
Eastman-Mueller, H., Wilson, T., Jung, A. K., Kimura, A., & Tarrant, J. (2013). iRest yoga-nidra on the college campus: Changes in stress, depression, worry, and mindfulness. International journal of yoga therapy, 23(2), 15-24.
Jeraci, A. R. (2017, January 8). 5 benefits of yoga nidra. yogainternational.com. https://yogainternational.com/article/view/5-benefits-of-yoga-nidra.
Lanae Hall / 2019, February 10/E.A.P.C. (n.d.). Wholeness Healing Center. https://wholenesshealing.com/wholeness-healing-today/nidra-yoga-is-now-being-offered-at-wholeness-healing-center/.
Moore, S. (2019). Practical yoga nidra: A 10-step method to reduce stress, improve sleep, and restore your spirit. Rockridge Press.
Moore, S. (2020, November 18). Yoga Nidra: What and Why, training and scripts. Scott Moore Yoga. https://www.scottmooreyoga.com/blog/2020/11/4/yn9p9h5vsu9n6lnu340h3hky1yia30
Parker, S., Bharati, S. V., & Fernandez, M. (2013). Defining yoga-nidra: traditional accounts, physiological research, and future directions. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 23(1), 11-16.
Rani, K., Tiwari, S. C., Singh, U., Singh, I., & Srivastava, N. (2012). Yoga Nidra as a complementary treatment of anxiety and depressive symptoms in patients with menstrual disorder. International Journal of Yoga, 5(1), 52.
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