If you attend yoga classes regularly, you might have experienced a form of guided meditation that encourages you to sense each part of your body whilst lying down in Savasana. This is, in fact, a Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep.
Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation that leads you into the healing and deeply restful state between waking and sleeping. Yoga Nidra is practised lying down, you can even practise Yoga Nidra from the comfort of your bed or the sofa. This form of guided meditation is completely passive and effortless; you aren't trying to achieve anything or move the body into a specific pose or the mind into a specific state. It can be a different experience each time you practise and factors such as the length of the Yoga Nidra (it can range from 5 minutes to a full hour) and the cues that your teacher uses will impact your experience. Yoga Nidra creates space for you to explore different states of consciousness and comprises of body and breath awareness techniques.
Yoga Nidra has powerful potential for rest and relaxation as well as profound transformation. I thought it would be useful and interesting to write about some of the benefits that Yoga Nidra can offer you.
1. Yoga Nidra is accessible, requires no specialist equipment and takes minimal effort
Yoga Nidra is extremely accessible. You can practise at any age and regardless of your experience of yoga. All you need to do is lie down on the floor, on a sofa or on your bed. You can be guided by an audio recording, by a teacher in a live yoga class (either online or in-person) or even guide the practice for yourself. There is no right or wrong way to do Yoga Nidra, and in fact, Yoga Nidra is very much about allowing the process to happen to you. Every time you make space for Yoga Nidra, you will encounter new experiences. You can also do Yoga Nidra at any time of the day or night, and again, each time will be completely unique. You might remember some parts of the Yoga Nidra and not others, and you might find yourself falling asleep. Every experience is uniquely yours and part of the practice of Yoga Nidra.
2. Yoga Nidra helps to reduce stress and anxiety
During a Yoga Nidra, you are invited to use body sensing and breath awareness techniques, which help you to systematically relax your muscles and encourage you to slow and deepen your breath. These physiological shifts encourage you to move from the Stress Response (sympathetic nervous system) to the Relaxation Response (parasympathetic nervous system). The Relaxation Response (or Rest and Digest) soothes and calms the nervous system and moves the body to a state of physiological rest and relaxation. When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged muscles relax, the breath slows and deepens, blood pressure is reduced and digestive and hormonal function return to normal levels. Inflammation in the body is also reduced. Both the Stress Response and the Relaxation Response are normal parts of life, however, our modern society and lifestyles promote the Stress Response. Yoga Nidra helps to elicit the Relaxation Response in the body, helping to reduce physiological stress and creates space for stillness and rest so that we can mentally deal with stress more effectively.
3. Yoga Nidra can improve sleep and energy levels
Yoga Nidra is so much more than a power nap. The practice of Yoga Nidra invites you to explore different states of consciousness. Throughout the practice your brain will function with different brainwaves that are associated with different states of consciousness including awake, between waking and sleeping, dream sleep and deep sleep. These shifts of consciousness as well as the Relaxation Response give space for profound rest for the body and mind.
A typical 12 to 18 minute Yoga Nidra practice can increase creativity, problem solving and energy, reduce sleepiness and heighten alertness, elevate mood, enhance concentration and motor performance. An 18 to 35 minute Yoga Nidra practice can initiate tissue repair, enhance memory, decrease cortisol (stress hormone) production, enhance weight loss, release healing hormones and boost the immune system. With prolonged daily practice, your need for night time sleep can be reduced anywhere from 1 to 4 hours per night. Yoga Nidra can help you to get to sleep more easily, improve the quality of your sleep and help you to reduce sleep debt if you are recovering from a sleepless night.
4. Research indicates that Yoga Nidra can be helpful for PTSD, trauma, chronic pain, PMS symptoms and addiction
There is a broad range of research exploring Yoga Nidra and the positive impact that it can have for people suffering from PTSD, trauma, chronic pain and PMS symptoms as well as people coping with addiction. The iRest website is a fantastic resource for exploring this research.
5. Yoga Nidra offers you space to become more attuned to your emotions and to connect deeply within
Yoga Nidra can also be a powerful tool for becoming more attuned to your emotions and the practice offers a safe haven for you to connect inwards. In the same way that seated meditation helps you to practise mindfulness and being present in each moment, Yoga Nidra is an effortless way to create more space and less reactivity to your emotions, thoughts and feelings. Yoga Nidra does not label emotions, thoughts or feelings as inherently 'good' or 'bad'. The process simply creates a safe haven for you to come face to face with your emotions, feelings and past experience without needing to overcome them, process them or intellectualise them.
In every Yoga Nidra you are invited to work with a Sankalpa (or intention), which is a positive statement said in the present tense. Your Sankalpa is intended to be a reminder of why you practise yoga, meditation and/or Yoga Nidra and acts as a tool to help you remain present in your practice. Examples of a Sankalpa are "I am at ease and open to this experience", "I am compassionate to myself and others" and "I dedicate time to my meditation practice". They are similar to goals and resolutions in that they might focus on something that you want to cultivate in your life. However, where goals stem from the idea that you are not good enough and prescribe the notion that happiness depends on acquiring what you want, a Sankalpa recognises that this heartfelt desire or specific goal is held deep inside you and that you simply have to recognise, acknowledge and reinforce this virtue or specific goal.
The practice of Yoga Nidra with a Sankalpa can offer profound transformation for both your internal landscape and your external life. The practice is non-judgemental, allows you to explore what you need in that moment, offers space to work on long-held emotions, beliefs and thoughts and perhaps helps you to recognise the true nature of your being.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the benefits of Yoga Nidra! My name is Ailsa and I am Scottish yoga teacher based in Bristol, United Kingdom. I have been practising yoga for almost 15 years and teaching since 2017. I specialise in Yoga Nidra and if you would like to practise Yoga Nidra with me for free then I have dedicated playlists on my YouTube channel and you can practise with me on Insight Timer.