Yoga Nidra first entered my life whilst travelling. I was visiting a tiny Peruvian town full of alternative healing wonders. Upon seeing a poster for Yoga Nidra class I thought, why not? The sleeping woman pictured looked blissful.
I was the only participant later that evening. Briskly locked in a darkened room, I was asked to leave my possessions in the corner, lie down and close my eyes. Ready for what seemed like possibly the end – I was instead taken on the magnificent journey that is Yoga Nidra.
What is it?
Yoga Nidra is rooted in ancient yogic concepts such as nyasa and prajna. A yogic science of deep relaxation; it’s a process where we’re finding a state of consciousness between wake and sleep states. We’re reaching place individually, or with guidance.
Someone who’s lucid dreaming has little to no awareness of their present environment. Contrastingly, we’re maintaining full consciousness in Yoga Nidra – which simultaneously offers one of the deepest possible relaxation states.
We’re achieving this through a gentle withdrawal from the 5 senses (pratyahara). With four internalised, only hearing remains – connecting us with a chosen prompt. Prompts could include guided visualisation, relaxed concentration or observation techniques. From here, we begin moving into deeper layers of awareness of the wider mind.
In modern times, Yoga Nidra was popularised by Satyananda Saraswati. After studying tantric scriptures, he constructed his own eight-stage system. His book became instruction for practitioners around the world.
What happens to the body?
In Yoga Nidra, we slow our brain waves down – as we we enter a state of extreme relaxation.
We begin with focused breathing methods, triggering a relaxation response in the body. Here, we’re balancing sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems . With this, we’re shifting the brain from beta (an active state) to alpha (a more relaxed state). Alpha states release serotonin, which is a mood-regulating hormone. Entering an Alpha state also means initiating a process of ‘powering down.’
From here, we begin moving into a Deep alpha and High theta brain-wave state. This is also known as the dream state, or REM sleep. We’re slowing down to 4-8 thoughts per second in Theta. Emotional integration and release happens here, as well as Super Learning. Artists and children often experience theta activity.
After theta, we begin shifting to Delta. Thoughts are slowing down here to 1-3.9 times per second. In this restorative state, cortisol (a stress hormone) begins dissipating from the system.
Many of us aren’t reaching deep states of theta or delta, on a regular basis. This mean we’re not giving our bodies a chance to restore their systems. Studies have shown that those with depression sit within beta and alpha states, never or only rarely going into theta or delta.
Yoga Nidra takes us even further than Delta. The fourth state of consciousness (Below Delta), renders the brain thoughtless. Not everyone who practices Yoga Nidra will reach this state of total surrender, as there’s a high likelihood of falling asleep first. Yet, with committed practice it’s certainly possible.
What are the benefits?
Studies have shown that one hour of Yoga Nidra is as restorative as 3-4 hours of deep sleep. Its ongoing practice significantly reduces tension and anxiety. This has obvious healing implications for autonomic symptoms of stress such as: headaches, chest pain, digestive issues and so on.
Yoga Nidra can also help awaken one to unconscious barriers such as long-held fears, self limiting thoughts and destructive emotions. Soldiers suffering from PTSD have used this method.
Ultimately, it’s a practice that encourages personal growth. We often begin Yoga Nidra with a Sankalpa (heart-felt intention). This is essentially a resolve that one impresses on the subconscious mind during practice. Some suggestions from Sarawsati’s book include; ‘I am a positive force for the evolution of others,’ or ‘I achieve total health.*
Where do I start?
You’ll be performing Yoga Nidra in Savasana (corpse pose). Feel free to use cushions or blankets for total support and relaxation to ensure maximum comfort. Make sure your body is warm – as it can cool down in this practice. Using an eye pillow can also be helpful.
The next important step involves removing any distractions. It’s important to ease gently out of practice, and being jolted out of deep states can be harmful! Your next step is finding your chosen guidance. There’s an abundance of Yoga Nidra videos available on youtube. Alternatively, you could try joining one of the many Yoga Nidra classes fast popping up locally.
Happy Buddha also offers beautiful Yoga Nidra Sessions. Speaking from experience… it’s a magical conclusion to the day, and a great start for your own practice of Yogic Sleep.
*We originally wrote this article back in 2019.
Nisha is a freelance writer and Vedic astrologer, based in the magical Byron Hinterlands. As well as running her candle business, her life and loves involve: yoga, gardening and all things esoteric. You’ll find her out in nature, or curled up at home with a good book. Happy Buddha is one of her most treasured places on earth (and indeed where she met her fiancé!).