YOGA NIDRA MEDITATION FOR DEEP RELXATION: HEALING BODY AND MIND
No, “yogic sleep” is not a new yoga craze. It’s the English translation of the Sanskrit term “Yoga Nidra”: a yoga that dates back to ancient India and is associated with Lord Krishna - found in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, in tantric texts, then modernized in the 1950’s by a (now) stained Swami.
Yoga Nidra is a meditative practice that involves deep relaxation and self-inquiry into the structures of your personal identity. You may be familiar with these structures already. They include your physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and ego-identity body. Through a relaxed awareness you’re able to transcend your sensory perceptions and enter into your witness consciousness - observing and allowing yourself to be with (and go beyond) your structures.
And in continuing with true WOTRP fashion: detailing simple yet deeply profound practices, Yoga Nidra may take the cake for the laziest and most comfortable way to enlightenment.
“[The Ocean] becomes the bed of the lotus-naveled Vishnu when at the termination of every Yuga that deity of immeasurable power enjoys yoga-nidra, the deep sleep under the spell of spiritual meditation.”- the Mahabharata
The Hypnagogic State
While Yoga Nidra translates to “yogic sleep”, it’s technically not sleep at all (see: dream yoga). Rather, Yoga Nidra Meditation is practiced in a hypnagogic state, which is the state of consciousness that lies between waking and sleeping (or the greatest of all naps). This is the deepest state of relaxation possible while still maintaining full consciousness.
The hypnagogic state is found in between the alpha (relaxation) and theta (daydreaming, light sleep, and hypnosis) brain waves. This is where you could say that your body is asleep while your mind stays (inwardly) awake.
A Danish study where subject’s brains were scanned and measured while in Yoga Nidra had this to say about it:
“Consciousness during Yoga Nidra is in a very deep and stable state. The measurements show, for the first time, that one can be completely aware in such a deep state – that one can consciously experience and control the brain’s activity simultaneously. This confirms that meditation is the fourth major state, equal to dreaming, sleeping and wakefulness. The results can therefore be said to be very important news within this field of research.”
Yoga Nidra and Healing
In the hypnagogic state of Yoga Nidra meditation, your sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for fight or flight) shuts down to awaken the natural healing qualities of our parasympathetic nervous system (the same process as seen in the Heart-Mind Connection Meditation). This is why Yoga Nidra is such a powerful healing vehicle; receiving praise for its effectiveness with treating PTSD in particular.
A Pioneer in using Yoga Nidra as a healing modality is author, psychologist, and spiritual teacher Richard Miller. On top of holding retreats, Dr. Miller is the creator of the iRest program which treats active duty members, veterans, the homeless, students, and children who are experiencing PTSD symptoms and other psychological wounds.
The Benefits of PractICe
It’s mind boggling how such an easy practice can pack in so many benefits, but none-the-less, it does. If you aren’t sold on Yoga Nidra meditation already, I’ve listed some reason why to take it up below:
It’s easy to do- Again, you don’t do much but lay there. Anything else asked of you is very little. For this reason, the practice is accessible to anyone.
Reduces stress- Yoga Nidra is the most relaxing meditation that I’ve experienced. If you need a vacation while not being able to take a vacation, Yoga Nidra is there for you. The combination of body scanning and breath awareness effectively calm the nervous system. It is a held belief within the yogic tradition that just 30 minutes of practice is equivalent to getting 4 hours of sleep.
Treats insomnia and sleep disorders- Yoga Nidra will knock you out if you let it. I’ve never used it for sleep, but I know what breath and body scan meditations can do to you while lying in bed at night. Sweet dreams.
Treats PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and other psychological wounds- Yoga Nidra has been picking up momentum within psychotherapy. And well deserved. From the work of Richard Miller and PTSD and beyond. Yoga Nidra allows us to transcend our thoughts to do the proper work, instilling a sense of well-being within.
Treats chronic pain- Through breath and body awareness, we’re able to explore the sensations of pain and our mental relationship to it. We’re able to connect with the part of ourselves untouched by pain.
Touch the deeper parts of yourself- Through transcendence of perceptions we’re able to connect with the much deeper part of ourselves, bringing us closer to Self-Realization, which is entirely possible with Yoga Nidra through a traditional yogic context.
How to Practice Yoga Nidra
Practicing Yoga Nidra is easy because we don’t do anything. We lay down on our backs in what is the easiest yoga pose (Savasana, aka the corpse pose), relax, and allow the instructor (or our own awareness) to take us there.
The scripts used to guide us in yogic sleep vary, but usually involve setting an intention, doing some type of body scan, focusing on breath, emotional awareness, and visualization.
Below I’ve written out instructions to the barebones version of Yoga Nidra. All the vital steps are there for a generalized practice, and it’s enough to get you started on your own, which I sincerely hope that you do.
We start by stating to ourselves and reflecting on our intention for the day and for our practice. This is what we are hoping to get out of our practice and what we’d like to bring with us “off-the-mat” and throughout our day.
Next, we do a body scan. This is where we move our awareness throughout our entire body, through all our body parts. We can start with our heads and work our way down and back up (if we please). We sense our bodies as a live and radiating sensation.
Now we become aware of our natural breath, not medaling at all, but letting it come and go as it is. We’re aware of the sensation in our nostrils, in our lungs, the rising and falling of our abdomen, and we feel the prana (energy) flow throughout our entire body.
We welcome in our feelings with open awareness - without judgement. These are sensations (tensions, heaviness, etc.) and our emotions (worry, sad, angry, happy, joy).
Observation of self- From our witness consciousness, or awareness, we observe and connect the deeper aspects of ourselves - our “I Am-ness”, or “Is-ness”. That part of us that’s beyond our perceptions and judgments.
Reintegration- At our own pace we come back to “waking life”, reorienting ourselves to our surroundings (if you’re using Yoga Nidra for sleep, this type is non-applicable).
While the above is a description of a generalized practice, searching “Yoga Nidra” on YouTube produces hits for a variety of guided meditations with specific aim.
You’ll notice that there’s guided Yoga Nidra for:
Past Life Regression
And many others.
In a Yoga Studio
Chances are that your local yoga studio offers up a Nidra class. If they don’t, they will soon, as this yoga style becomes more popularized in the self-help-spheres.
And while Yoga Nidra is getting exposure, it’s still a far cry from being a trendy yoga.
Classes aren’t going to be jam-packed like a typical hot or hatha class, with the amass of health-forward types looking to get their daily exercise in.
Yoga Nidra is a meditative practice from start to finish.
This is appealing to some such as myself. The classes that I go to tend to be more intimate and I get to practice alongside like-minded folks who share similar intentions. This adds immensely to what I’m able to walk away with each week.
Whatever You Do
Give Yoga Nidra a shot. It might sound too good to be true—the easiest way to enlightenment—but I assure you that it’s not (I know, I thought the same). No matter what I say or write about Yoga Nidra meditation, I can only under-sell the actual experience of it.