Yoga Nidra 101
Yoga nidra is slowly becoming a mainstay in yoga studios around the country. To the unaccustomed mind, yoga nidra practitioners look like they’re simply asleep on their backs. However, the practice is so much more complex and actually shouldn’t involve sleep at all. So how did this ancient Indian practice turn into something modern Americans are practicing today?
What Is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is an ancient Indian form of guided relaxation. Using a series of steps to relax the body while keeping the mind alert, yoga nidra seeks to help practitioners enter a state of conscious awareness.
“Yoga Nidra helps you learn how to let go — on every level. It is both a meditation technique and a state of consciousness or awareness” says Hilary Jackendoff, a meditation teacher who leads a 100-hour Yoga Nidra training and has contributed yoga nidra audio guides for Yoga Wake Up. “People who have never meditated before in their lives can walk up to a Yoga Nidra class and have as deep of an experience as someone who has been meditating for twenty years! It’s very accessible.”
Why Practice Yoga Nidra?
A huge number of people practice yoga, and it’s easy to see why. In a world so connected and screen-centered, many people take advantage of the benefits of unplugging. They look to yoga and meditation as ways of grounding themselves and escaping the demands of everyday life.
Yoga is often used to treat chronic pain and increase longevity. Since many of us find ourselves sitting behind desks for upwards of eight hours a day, yoga’s ability to improve circulatory health and stress management is widely touted as well. Yoga nidra is no different, boasting drastic improvements in health and well-being in practitioners around the world who can’t believe such a short practice requiring such little physical effort can have such huge benefits.
By letting the instructions of the yoga nidra teacher seep into your subconscious, you may experience profound change during or after the practice. At the very least, you’ll leave after less than an hour feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and rested.
“People who have never meditated before in their lives can walk up to a Yoga Nidra class and have as deep of an experience as someone who has been meditating for twenty years! It’s very accessible.”
How Yoga Nidra Works
Yoga nidra consists of several steps or stages. You’ll be instructed to lie down on your yoga mat in savasana, or corpse pose, and make yourself comfortable. This might mean grabbing a blanket or pillow or diffusing some calming essential oils in your practice area to help you relax.
You’ll want to make your physical body as comfortable as possible so you’re not thinking about how hungry you are or how much you wish you’d taken something for that headache while you’re trying to relax and restore yourself during your yoga nidra.
The first step of yoga nidra is to create a resolve or affirmation for your practice. State your resolve in a way that makes it already true and in the present tense (i.e. “I am healthy” or “I am at peace” instead of “I want to be healthy” or “I wish I was at peace”).
Next, you’ll be instructed to bring your attention to each part of your body, all the way down to each individual finger and toe. The slow and methodical body scan helps focus your attention and release tension from where you might be holding it in your physical body.
After the body scan, you’ll bring your attention to your breath before you’re guided through a series of visualizations and instructions that connect to your senses. While it is common for beginners to fall asleep during this part of the yoga nidra, do your best to stay awake to get the most benefit from the practice. The more you practice yoga nidra, the easier it becomes to stay awake while bordering on sleep.
Finally, you’ll bring your attention back to your breath and begin making small movements to bring yourself back to the present. Once you sit up, your yoga nidra is finished.
Yoga nidra is great because it requires a low time commitment and offers a big payoff. Yoga nidra can be practiced at any time of day. Some people find it helpful to practice yoga asanas and meditation before their yoga nidra so the mind and body are warmed up for what’s to come, but it can absolutely be practiced on its own too.
The next time you’re feeling tired and low on time, open Yoga Wake Up and try one of Hilary’s 30-minute yoga nidra sessions for a boost in your day or a much-needed relaxation before going to sleep. While not everyone has time for a 90-minute yoga class, many of us can find 30 minutes of “me” time in the day to take care of our health. Yoga nidra is a great way to do that.
Lettie Stratton is a writer and urban farmer in Boise, ID. A Vermont native, she is a lover of travel, tea, bicycles, plants, cooperative board games, and the outdoors. She’s still waiting for a letter from Hogwarts.