If I told you there was a yoga that could give you more restful sleep, relax your busy mind, relieve stress and tension in your body, and offer you a door toward enlightenment, all without having to do a single pose, would you sign up?
There is a practice that promises all these benefits—and it is one of the most accessible styles of yoga to reach the Western world. It is called yoga nidra.
Lightness in Spirit
Yoga nidra is an ancient yogic practice that teaches you to consciously relax the mind, body and emotions and enter a state of deep conscious awareness. It is offered as a guided meditation by a skilled teacher who uses a specific roadmap to guide you into a deep, restful state between wakefulness and sleep. A class can range from 15 minutes to an hour. The longer the practice the deeper you can go into the meditative experience. The benefits are vast and quite profound.
“You’ll feel exceedingly relaxed, have a sense of clarity and perspective on life’s problems, have a lightness in spirit, gain a sense of optimism—‘I can take the world by storm’—and most people feel very creative,” said Scott Moore, yoga teacher and author of “Practical Yoga Nidra: A 10-Step Method to Reduce Stress, Improve Sleep, and Restore Your Spirit.” “Yoga nidra is also a catalyst for a great night’s sleep,” Moore said.
It is often called the yoga of sleep because when practicing it you can appear to be sleeping. Although you may fall asleep in yoga nidra, adept practitioners enter a state of deep awareness where they are between full wakefulness and dreaming. In this state of awareness, the attention is simultaneously focused inward on the experience of the body and outward in the experience of the unconscious mind in relation to the world or Universe.
“It illuminates that wise inner teacher within you,” said Moore. “It is sort of like realizing that the car you’ve been driving your whole life actually has turbo on it and you never knew it. You realize the power that is in you.”
Falling asleep in a yoga nidra class doesn’t mean you miss out on the benefits, either. This is because the guided meditation reaches the subconscious mind and the positive effects of those intentions are still noticeable. Teachers of this practice also say when a student falls asleep it is what their body needs at that time and more often than not they will wake up feeling more rested and rejuvenated from it.
Although most people find their way to a yoga nidra class for improved sleep and stress relief, they are often surprised the practice can lead them on an inner journey of self-discovery.
“To me the true benefit of yoga nidra is enlightenment. Most people want to just sleep better or to relieve stress, and that all will happen too,” said yoga teacher Michele Loew, director of Vajra Yoga School of Comparative Buddhist & Indic Yogic Studies.
Yoga Nidra as Self-Care
Self-care is the act of prioritizing your health, happiness and well-being. Considering the many styles of yoga available to be part of that equation can be confusing. However, yoga nidra teachers agree this form of yoga is an excellent form of self-care because it is accessible to almost anyone and can be practiced daily in as little as 15 minutes or for as long as an hour. It works well as a stand-alone yoga practice or combined with a physical yoga practice.
Unlike other, more popular styles of yoga that use asana, or a sequence of poses, to connect the mind, body and spirit, yoga nidra only requires you to show up, unroll your mat, close your eyes, and listen to the guided meditation.
“Yoga nidra is very approachable. For one, you get to lie down and that is very relaxing, you get to close your eyes, and you don’t have to do or know anything,” said Moore.
Another reason yoga nidra serves as a self-care tool are the more tangible benefits you experience with a regular practice that have been well-documented in studies throughout the Western medical world. These benefits include yoga nidra as an effective tool and intervention for stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia. It is able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and positively influence the emotional components of well-being like reducing cortisol levels, improving outlook on life, improving quality of sleep and promoting mindfulness, according to an article published in Current Psychology.
The aspect of yoga nidra that improves outlook on life comes from the spiritual depth the practice provides. Yogis describe this as the intuition, self-awareness and connection with their life purpose that awakens within them after practicing yoga nidra over a period of time.
Loew describes it as an immeasurable loving experience. “Yoga nidra helps you access immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy and equanimity. It is taking you into a balanced state which allows you to be loving toward yourself and others, compassionate and have this joy for the experience of life. To me, that is the experience of practicing yoga nidra,” said Loew.
She added that yoga nidra serves as an extension or complement to a physical yoga practice, as the movement aspect of a vinyasa yoga class creates space for the stillness yoga nidra provides.
“The yoga asana prepares your body and now you’re going to go into a deep meditative experience to connect with your inner being, and that connection allows you to have profound insight and clarity into reality,” Loew added. “You get past the likes and dislikes, the push and the pull, the attachments, and the clinging and the aversion and you come into that part of you that is balanced and in a state of equanimity and tapped into heart.”
That connection to yourself can appear as simply as awareness. “ Being aware and identifying the awareness itself is one of the hallmarks of yoga nidra,” explained Moore. “The objective is to simply invite into your field of attention whatever you have to be aware of. Whether by the teacher’s suggestion or by some spontaneous experience, invite that in, acknowledge it for what it is, and observe. And that is really what our job is in yoga nidra.”
List of Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra has a positive impact on both mind and body. The benefits of a regular practice include:
- Restful sleep
- Tension and stress relief
- Improved concentration and focus
- Reduction in anxiety and depression
- Improved outlook on life
- Promotion of mindfulness
- Spiritual realization or awakening
- Positive influence on the parasympathetic nervous system
- Forging of deep connection with yourself and your purpose
How to Practice Yoga Nidra at Home
You can practice yoga nidra in person with a teacher or if wanting to create a daily yoga nidra experience for yourself at home you can follow these steps and use these free resources provided by our experts.
- Create a sacred space where you will practice. This space should be calming and inviting to you. Suggestions include: dim lighting, free of distractions, interruptions and noise, light a candle or burn incense.
- You’ll need a yoga mat, blanket, eye pillow, pillow or bolster. Moore recommends folding a blanket and placing it under your head, placing a pillow or bolster under your knees, and an eye pillow over your eyes.
- Listen to the recorded yoga nidra meditations from our experts listed below, or for a basic self-practice, Moore suggests:
- Invite into your field of attention what shows up
- Acknowledge it for what it is without judgement of good or bad
- Learn to be the witness of it by witnessing. “I think of it as someone sitting in a movie theater watching their mind rather than trying to control the experience,” said Moore.
Yoga nidra should be practiced daily for optimum results. Moore suggests immersing yourself in the experience by practicing it every day for seven to 14 days. Loew recommends practicing it at different times of day to explore the variety of experiences it can provide. For relaxation, practice it for 15 to 20 minutes, and for a deep sleep state set aside 30 to 45 minutes or more.
The Simplest Meditation
There are many benefits to practicing yoga nidra; be open to them all and you may be surprised at what it does for you, said Loew.
“Yoga nidra for self-care is the simplest form of meditation that allows one to experience a profound connection to their clearest state of being and experience love and compassion. It is a powerful healing practice and an easy way to take yourself into a meditative experience.”
About the Author:
Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 18 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Will Touch in Long-Term Care Facilities be Changed Forever by COVID-19?” and “The Massage Therapist’s Guide to Assisted Stretching Techniques.”