Also known as yogic sleep or sleep with awareness, Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that is rapidly gaining popularity in the West. It is intended to induce full-body relaxation and a deep meditative state of consciousness, addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs. Whilst some people find mediation challenging Yoga Nidra guides you into a deep meditative state almost effortlessly. Your body and mind become calm and relaxed, yet you keep a state of awareness throughout.
It is said that one session of yoga nidra is the equivalent of 2-4 hours of deep sleep. Yoga nidra has been known to reduce insomnia, pain, PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease, heart disease and all other stress conditions. When the body is too sick for asana and the mind is too exhausted or agitated for meditation, yoga nidra can provide the deep, nurturing, relaxation needed for one’s healing.
Yoga Nidra is a carefully sequenced practice that includes setting an intention (sankalpa), systematically relaxing every part of the body and following guided visualizations. The body is in a state of deep relaxation but the mind stays alert, following the teacher’s instructions. Within this state of consciousness when we plant our intentions and affirmations we are reprogramming our minds and mental belief habits and patterns at a deep transformational level, where real change can occur.
Yoga nidra can also be used as a spiritual practice. In relation to the 8 limbs of yoga (Ashtanga) the practice of the niyamas speaks of svadyaya or self-study. When we travel to the deepest workings of our own minds in a relaxed and restful state, realizations and insights are often the result. Yoga nidra is a form of pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses) that can lead to the states of dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
The knowledge of yoga nidra was hidden for thousands of years in the ancient tantric texts. Swami Satyananda Saraswati brought it to the mainstream in the 1960’s. Swami was to stand guard over a boy’s vedic school in Rishikesh. He was to stay awake all night and guard the school while the teacher was away. At 3 am he would fall asleep, and at 6 am return to the ashram. The boys got up at 4 am to chant Sanskrit prayers. But because he was asleep, he never heard them. To his surprise, Swami Satyanda Saraswati found that he could recall all of the chants. Although he was certain that he had never heard, read, or written them before. So he asked the boys’ guru if he could explain the meaning of this. The guru said that his subtle body had heard the boys chanting the same mantras many times while he was sleeping in the school. This was a great revelation for Swami Satyanda Sarahswati, as he knew then that knowledge is not only transmitted directly through the senses, but that one can gain direct knowledge without any sensory medium as well. This led him to begin research on ancient tantric text, which lead to the birth of yoga nidra.
An important and personal aspects of the yoga nidra practice is the repetition of your own sankalpa, your intention. A sankalpa is a short statement in which you declare your deepest desire or a specific goal. You’re asked once at the beginning of the practice and again at the end to repeat your sankalpa silently to yourself. Your sankalpa serves as a communication from your conscious mind to your unconscious mind. It’s also a personal vow from you to the universe. Sankalpa is a powerful tool for yoga nidra and for everyday life.
Last year I ran my first yoga retreat. We had a strong morning practice, daily activities, a restorative yin evening practice and a yoga nidra before bed. But what surprised me, is how much everyone loved the yoga nidra and got excited about it every evening! They all got cozy in the bed sheets and pillows, and it was like reading them all a bed time story. A few of them would be snoring half way through! It was a pleasure to lead the yoga nidra class on my yoga retreat.
While our yoga asana practice is important, we can still be caught up in the mind whilst practicing. We could be thinking about how we are looking in our poses, how our bodies are feeling, or how our posture compares to someone else’s. We often lead very busy fast paced lives. Yoga Nidra offers an invitation of deep restoration where there is no goal to reach and no comparisons to be made. Next time you feel drained or over-stressed, instead of going out for a drink or turning on the TV why not try attending a Yoga Nidra class or listen to a recorded and immerse yourself in the transformational power of Yoga Nidra.
I have just recorded a new Yoga Nidra on my Youtube channel. Please feel free to try it out: