Many yoga styles are based on constant movements and standing poses, and often require the practitioner (also known as the yogi) to be active for the most part of the yoga class.
But how about working with a yoga style that requires quite the opposite? How about having a type of yoga that is inclined more towards a restful pose and using minimal movements?
Well, yoga Nidra is what we are talking about!
And here we will be having a deep look at the practice and explore key aspects of it including what it really is, its origins, how it works, the benefits, how to do it, and the frequently asked questions about it.
What is Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra, which is also referred to as effortless relaxation, psychic sleep, or yogic sleep, is a practice that aims to help us with getting into a state of deep conscious awareness that goes beyond sleep, with the intention of bringing unity to the mind, body, and spirit, and enjoy the benefits that come from the union.
The word “Nidra” is a Sanskrit word that means “sleep”.
When we do the practice, we turn our attention inwards, and learn to quiet the minds and bodies through a series of exercises and thus get to go through the different levels of consciousness until we get to the deepest level which is a place of quietness that holds numerous physical, emotional and mental health benefits.
The idea is to get to the deeply relaxed state that is between waking and sleeping.
Yoga Nidra is a practice that involves balancing emotional states, self-healing, setting positive intentions, meditation on the breath, and visualization.
Many people who engage in several minutes of yoga Nidra often report experiencing benefits similar to a 3-hour nap. That is how refreshing and rejuvenating the practice of yoga Nidra can be.
History of Yoga Nidra
It was further advanced by Richard Miller, a psychologist in the United States and its name was changed to iRest, which is a fancy name for practitioners in the West.
It continues to grow and be practiced in many countries all over the world as more and more research on it proves it to be a reliable tool and complementary therapy to enhance mental and physical well-being.
How Yoga Nidra Works
In the grand scheme of things, yoga Nidra provides a path to the deepest level of the self. There are 5 layers of self, the physical layer, the mental and emotional layer, the energetic layer, the bliss layer, and the higher self layer.
Now yoga Nidra provides an easy-to-follow series of steps that allow you to settle your mind and body down and get to journey through the layers until you get to a profound layer, the bliss layer, where you experience life deeply while in a state of consciousness awareness relaxation.
The conscious awareness relaxation state is a state that feels more like hypnosis but is not quite it. You feel very relaxed, at peace (without the distractions of your thoughts), and wakeful. Some people say it feels like sleep but it is not really sleep.
It is a state that goes beyond sleep, with more positive effects.
The instructor normally walks the student through a series of steps to get their minds and bodies relaxed and able to take the journey through the layers of the self.
The series of steps of the journey include connecting with the deepest heart’s desire and visualizing it, setting an intention, finding your inner “safe space”, scanning your body, becoming aware of your breathing process, allowing feelings to run wild, observing your thoughts, embracing the joy and bliss that comes, observing the self and reflection.
The practice has been designed in a way to help you move from one step to the other seamlessly and go deep slowly, safely, and steadily until you reach the blissful state, where all the good stuff lies.
Many beginners in yoga Nidra find that they fall asleep in their first few sessions. It is a common occurrence and they are allowed to sleep. Sometimes, you might have had a pretty rough day and may want to sleep.
As they keep practicing, they become more able to remain awake and focused throughout the class.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
The benefits that come with practicing yoga Nidra include:
1. Dealing with anxiety and stress – A study published in the National Library of Medicine showed that yoga Nidra combined with seated meditation can help bring down anxiety and stress. Moreover, yoga Nidra has a much more effect on anxiety and can make an effective tool for regulating the physiological and cognitive symptoms of anxiety (3).
2. Improves mental health – Yoga Nidra is a practice that has shown great abilities in increasing relaxation, handling symptoms of PTSD like anxiety and rage, and also bringing about a sense of peace. This makes it a suitable tool and therapy for improving mental health (4).
3. Improves overall well-being – Practicing yoga Nidra for about 10 minutes a day consistently can help improve your overall well-being and can also improve the quality of your sleep and reduce high levels of stress (5).
4. Improves self-esteem and body image – A study that was conducted to figure out how yoga Nidra influences body image and self-esteem of burn patients found that it has a positive effect on them and makes them feel good about themselves (6).
5. Regulates blood pressure – Yoga Nidra can positively influence diastolic and systolic blood pressure as well as respiration rate, pulse rate, fear, stress, and anger (7).
6. Improves immunity – The relaxation techniques in yoga Nidra have a positive effect on immunity and the practice is one of the best-known techniques to induce thorough mental, emotional and physical relaxation, making it good for strengthening immunity (8).
7. Brings balance to the nervous system – Heart rate variability is often used as a factor to measure the balance of the autonomic nervous system. Yoga Nidra provides favorable effects in measures of the heart rate variability and thus positively affects the autonomic nervous system balance (9).
8. Reduces menstrual irregularities – Yoga Nidra has been found useful in patients with menstrual problems including menorrhagia, dysmenorrhea, metrorrhagia, oligomenorrhea, and dysmenorrhea (10).
9. Encourages relaxation – The relaxation techniques in yoga Nidra are helpful to the practitioners even after the practice and can help bring inner peace, calmness, and composure in the long run.
How to Do Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra can be best done under the guidance of a yoga instructor. It is always recommended that as a beginner in yoga Nidra, you look for a yoga instructor to help you through your yoga sessions and help you get grounded in the practice well.
You can get a yoga Nidra instructor from your local yoga studio or fitness center. You can also search online to find instructors to help you through your practice online.
As you search for your instructor, ensure that they are well-trained in the practice, qualified and experienced. Do your due diligence by asking them questions about their expertise and any of your concerns, needs, and desires. Plus, read student reviews to have an idea of what your experience with the instructor will be like.
During your classes, remember to carry a mat and a headrest, if the studio or center you are doing your classes in doesn’t provide that.
Yoga Nidra classes vary in length and they range from 30 minutes to a little over an hour depending on the instructor. The classes mostly begin with the instructor explaining what you will be doing and how it will help you. From there you dive into the session.
Practicing yoga Nidra, as frequently as you can, helps you to begin enjoying its benefits sooner and have a better quality of life in the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Yoga Nidra
Question: How is Yoga Nidra different from meditation?
Answer: While guided meditation and yoga Nidra may appear to be similar and have some similarities in some aspects, there are also key differences between them especially when it comes to the goals of each practice. Yoga Nidra aims at deep rest while meditation focuses on quieting the mind.
Question: Which are the most common poses in Yoga Nidra?
Answer: Yoga Nidra usually works with the corpse pose, also known as savasana. Unlike other styles that combine many poses, yoga Nidra is mostly focused on inner experiences rather than the poses and movements.
Question: How do you keep from falling asleep as you do yoga Nidra?
Answer: While sleeping is not frowned upon in yoga Nidra, it is good to remain awake to fully enjoy the benefits of the practice. Some of the best tips to keep you awake throughout your sessions, in every session, are to do the practice when you are not exhausted or feeling sleepy, and also consider doing it when you are feeling most awake in your day.
Question: Who is Yoga Nidra for?
Answer: For everyone! Anyone including you can do the practice and benefit from it.
Question: Can yoga Nidra replace sleep?
Answer: No. Yoga Nidra may have similar benefits to sleep but it can’t be used in place of sleep. What it can do is help you require less sleep to feel relaxed and refreshed, and can also help you sleep better.
Question: Is yoga Nidra the same as hypnosis?
Answer: No! Yoga Nidra aims to get to the conscious awareness relaxation state while clinical hypnosis targets the subconscious mind to change negative habits and beliefs that have been held for a long time.