Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice just like Yoga, and we love offering it at our retreats and intensives because of its tremendous healing powers. But what is Yoga Nidra exactly? Why is it a valuable addition to your yoga asana and/or meditation practice and how does it work? We tell you all about it in this blog!
Yoga Nidra is a form of deep meditation and relaxation where you're lying down and following the voice of the teacher that is guiding you through a structured meditation. The purpose of the practice? To reach an effortless state of being and a higher state of consciousness.
It is not an active practice or technique that you need to learn or practice, everyone can do it! Literally translated Yoga Nidra means "yoga sleep" or "sleep of the yogis. But it is not like the sleep you get at night. Through Yoga Nidra you reach a deep, dreamless sleep-state with a trace of consciousness and connection with your surroundings. The deep relaxation induces theta and delta brain waves, creating a trance state in which experiences and fragments of memories are processed, muscle tension and stress in the body decreases and the blood pressure and heart rate decreases. This has a very healing effect on body and mind.
Yoga Nidra, like yoga, has its roots in India many centuries ago. Texts like the Upanishads and Vedic texts (first texts: Mahabarate 300 BC - 300 NCHR) already refer to the practice and indicate that it played an important role in the life of the yogi and their pursuit of enlightenment. Even in the most famous yoga text: Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, you find references to Yoga Nidra such as reaching a "dream state" and the cultivation of opposites which both are part of Yoga Nidra.
So even though Yoga Nidra is less known in the West than the physical practice of yoga asana or seated meditation, it has long been a part of the practice of many yogis. One of the reasons it is less known, can be our focus on physical challenges and ‘hard work’ that has made some people consider Yoga Nidra to be a less advanced or less profound practice than seated meditation. Research and experiences however show that this is absolutely not the case. The effects of Yoga Nidra are as powerful and profound as daily meditation while it is often more accessible and a great practice to balance our busy, challenging, lives.
During a Yoga Nidra session the teacher first lets you relax and settle your body in a comfortable position making use of as many pillows and blankets as you like. Once you have settled, depending on the style of Yoga Nidra, you are invited to connect with your Sankalpa – which roughly translates to intention or heart's desire. The teacher will continue by guiding you through a rotation through the body, which makes you relax deeply and may induce a state of trance. The theme of the Nidra can be different and is selected based on your needs. Themes can vary from stimulating creativity, letting go of trauma, insomnia, to depression or simply deep relaxation. The theme runs like a red line through the Nidra and after the body rotation the visualisations and introduction of opposites such as hot and cold or light and heavy, tense and relax, will revolve around it. The rational brain is not capable of uniting opposites, like feeling warm and cold simultaneously, which deactivates the rational brain, allowing the the trance to deepen and neurological pathways to change.
Completing the Yoga Nidra the teacher will guide you back to your breath, allow you to return your attention to your sankalpa and slowly return to an awake state.
Yoga Nidra has many benefits some of which include feeling more rested, improvement of sleep, increased creativity and mental clarity, emotional healing, and lower stress levels in the body that can cause symptoms like high blood pressure.
The practice is very accessible and not dogmatic. You cannot do it wrong! It is an invitation to be a little more gentle and less demanding with yourself. Whether you can get 15 minutes a day in or one session a week, you will feel instant benefit. You can practice in the morning before getting out of bed, in the middle of the day, after your yoga asana practice or before you go to sleep. The options are endless!
We recommend you only practice Yoga Nidra’s with trained facilitators. If you like to listen to a practice online, we recommend you visit www.theyoganidranetwork.org, founded by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and Nirlipta Tula. They offer free guides that you can listen to.