Yoga Nidra is a deliciously relaxing practice that’s becoming known and popular worldwide. A growing body of research continues to prove its effectiveness as a tool for reducing stress and supporting well-being.
Yoga Nidra means "yogic sleep", which is a little misleading. It's a form of guided meditation, usually practiced lying down to achieve effortless relaxation. You don’t go to sleep in the practice, but as your attention is drawn inwards, you easily achieve an enjoyable state of floating somewhere between sleeping and waking.
As the body finds its natural state of freedom and balance, the breath becomes quiet and thoughts calm. As you follow the guide's instructions, you’ll drift into deep, blissful awareness.
Or you’ll fall asleep, which is sometimes just what you need!
Why is Yoga Nidra Such a Great Way to Meditate?
1. It’s easy to practice
Yoga asana (posture) classes aren’t for everyone. Some people find gruelling vinyasa sessions intimidating, exhausting, or downright inaccessible. Others find the classes too slow, and prefer a traditional cardio session.
With Yoga Nidra, there's no need to spend uncomfortable hours sitting cross-legged on the floor trying to meditate. Everyone can enjoy practicing Yoga Nidra, regardless of age or level of physical fitness.
2. You can’t do it wrong!
Novice meditators often struggle with the idea that they're not doing it right or can't do it at all.
And in regular yoga classes, despite all reassurances that it’s non-competitive, the temptation to compare ourselves to others is always there. It can be hard to escape that awful feeling that everyone else is doing it right, that we’re being judged. Even though in reality, we're often our own harshest judges.
With Yoga Nidra, no one can see you to judge you - so you're finally free to be in the moment and relish the experience! There is simply no right way or wrong way to do it!
All you have to do is lie down, and follow the voice of your guide. Then, as your body and mind sink into a blissful state of deep relaxation, it’s normal to drift in and out of awareness. And even if you sleep through most of it, you'll still enjoy all the restorative benefits of your Yoga Nidra practice.
3. It's simple to integrate into your daily routine
When your mind is racing with all your daily concerns, trying to 'clear the mind' with a seated meditation can be frustrating. It's not easy to switch off your thoughts and focus on your breath.
Yoga Nidra is a gentle way to solve this dilemma. It’s always guided, so all you have to do is follow the simple instructions. It can last anything from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, but as you gain experience, you’ll find it easier to access a state of profound relaxation in even a short session.
If you have trouble sleeping, practicing Yoga Nidra at bedtime can help you achieve a deep, refreshing night's rest. Or, if you experience an afternoon energy dip, a short practice can clear your mind and restore your energy for the rest of the day.
4. It’s an easy way to lower stress levels
Yoga Nidra supports a deep level of rest and relaxation that isn't easy to access in a seated meditation practice.
The initial stages of body scanning and breath awareness can form a short practice to calm the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response which is activated during much of our busy, tech-obsessed lives).
However, even this type of short session allows the body to switch on our parasympathetic nervous system – our 'rest and digest state. This enjoyable, relaxed state helps us to face daily stresses with more resilience and, overall, leads us to a greater sense of well-being.
5. Yoga Nidra is a profound act of self-care
While many people enjoy Yoga Nidra purely for the deep levels of relaxation it brings, others value it for the safe, non-judgmental approach as they explore their deeper selves.
With experience, and for those who want to go deeper, yoga Nidra can provide a space for examining and releasing long-held emotions, beliefs, and past experiences.
Whichever approach you choose, and however much time you devote to it, each yoga Nidra session helps to melt stress from the body, mind, and emotions.
The Effect of Yoga Nidra on the Brain
Parasympathetic nervous system
Studies have shown that when we shift from our sympathetic (fight or flight) to our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, there are significant benefits for the immune and digestive systems as well as the ability to manage anxiety.
The benefits of yoga Nidra last far beyond the practice itself.
Even a brief yoga Nidra practice can achieve deep relaxation that activates the pineal gland and stimulates it to release the potent antioxidant hormone melatonin.
Melatonin has been extensively studied and offers an incredible range of health benefits, including supporting immune function, reducing blood pressure, lowering cortisol, and inducing restful sleep.
As Yoga Nidra begins, the brain is typically in an active beta wave state. Beta waves are associated with conscious, logical thinking.
As the practice moves through the different stages, it helps the brain to transition into an alpha state of calm relaxation by supporting the production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
From this point, the random and racing thoughts we experience throughout the day slow down and are replaced with a profound feeling of tranquility and ease.
As we move even deeper into the practice, the brain shifts into a delta wave state – which typically only happens when we enter a deep, restful sleep state.
With our hectic lifestyles, very few of us get adequate delta-quality rest, which means our bodies, brains, and vital organs aren't able to repair and restore so they can function at an optimum level.
This state has powerful, health-giving properties. For example, the organs regenerate, and the body removes the stress hormone cortisol.
In Yoga Nidra, you’re awake during this delta-wave state so you can access it at will. That's one of the many reasons why adding it to your range of self-care strategies is so important.
Sounds Awesome! What do I need to get started?
Another benefit of yoga Nidra is that no special equipment is needed.
It's best to start practicing somewhere that's free of distractions.
Dim the lights or use a sleep mask.
If you’re comfortable lying on the floor, that’s fine, but if not, then climb into bed!
Your body will tend to cool down as you lie still for a while. So even if the ambient temperature is quite warm, it’s a good idea to cover yourself with a blanket.
If you're using a guided Yoga Nidra session on an app, there's no need to use headphones. Instead, place the device at a comfortable distance so you can hear the instructions easily.
How long does Yoga Nidra take?
Another great thing about yoga Nidra is that you'll feel the benefits from the first time you practice. It’s not something that takes months or years of practice.
Start with 15 or 20-minute sessions, and when you have time and want to go deeper, opt for longer practices.
When is the best time of day to practice?
A night-time practice can help you drift off into a deep restorative sleep, while daytime sessions can reset your frazzled energy so you'll face the rest of the day feeling calmer and more focused.
What is a Sankalpa?
The word ‘Sankalpa’ translates as 'intention'. Near the beginning of many Yoga Nidra sessions, the guide will invite you to set a ‘Sankalpa’ for the practice and repeat it silently to yourself.
It consists of a short phrase that expresses a chosen goal. This can be as straightforward as 'I am aware and awake throughout this session, but it may also reflect a deeply held belief or desire you want to reconnect with.
By making your Sankalpa explicit in your conscious mind and then moving into the relaxed state of Yoga Nidra, the intention embeds itself in your subconscious mind and integrates with who you already are at a profound level.
How to practice
Yoga Nidra starts as you settle into a comfortable position, lying on your back. Ideally, you’ll remain completely still throughout the practice, so it pays to take a few moments to ensure you're entirely at ease.
Typically, the session will start with a focus on your breathing to ease you into a more relaxed state. After this, you'll be invited to set your Sankalpa and repeat it silently to yourself a few times.
From there, the guide will lead you. Your job is to listen to their words, and remain aware.
What happens next will depend on how long your session is, and how experienced you are. For example, you may simply be guided through a detailed body scan, which invites you to focus your awareness on each body part separately before integrating them into an awareness of your entire physical being.
However, suppose you want to go deeper into the practice with a more extended session. In that case, you'll probably expand your awareness of what in yoga philosophy are known as the Pancha Maya Kosha (five layers of being).
You'll be guided from the outer layer of self (your body) to the energetic layer (your breath), to the mental and emotional layer, the layer of profound wisdom, and finally, accessing the innermost layer – your soul and a state of inner joy.
But no worries if you only want an easy way to switch off from the day’s events, and that sounds a little too intense.
With Yoga Nidra, there's no need to force yourself to go anywhere. In fact, for most people, the only challenge is not drifting off into a pleasant sleepy state.
Coming out of the practice
When it's time to end the practice, take it slowly and be safe. Your body will have been still for 10 -90 minutes, so avoid sudden jerks or twists.
Just enjoy the delicious sensation of feeling so relaxed.
Bring yourself back into the space – hear the sounds, feel the surface beneath you, and get accustomed to the light.
Move your fingers and toes. Then your wrists and ankles. Do a couple of slow, deep stretches to
wake up your body before you move.
When you're ready, roll onto your side, and take a final few seconds to enjoy the sense of ease. Then smile, and get up slowly.
Yoga Nidra is a relaxing guided meditative practice accessible and enjoyable for everyone. It has various stress-reducing and wellness benefits, which can be a valuable addition to any self-care routine.
Why not give it a try and drift into bliss?