What is Yoga Nidra and Yoga Nidra Benefits

Ah, my old friend, insomnia. Over the years, I have tried everything to get a good, uninterrupted, solid night’s sleep, from daily meditation to CBD oil, in-depth sleep tracking with my Oura ring, and even a wearable vibration device for soothing my autonomic nervous system. However, I have a new favorite, low-tech, relaxation-inducing hack: yoga nidra.

what is yoga nidra

Yoga nidra is not an asana-based yoga practice, and although it has some shared techniques and benefits of meditation practices, it is not classified as a traditional meditation practice… so, what exactly is yoga nidra?! A powerful, transformative, holistic relaxation practice! And all I can say is when you can’t sleep, the yoga nidra benefits for quality rest, better sleep quality, deep relaxation, managing post-traumatic stress disorder, and general wellbeing and physical health can’t be overstated!

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra is often described as ‘yogic sleep’ (the Sanskrit word ‘nidra’ translates to English as sleep). The intention of the practice is to enter a relaxed state of consciousness and deep rest, hovering between being sleep and wakefulness. This is what makes yoga nidra more than a simple relaxation exercise: it’s a powerful way to access the parasympathetic nervous and do deep healing work on your body and mind. Plus, it is one of the easiest yoga practices.

Probably, the biggest challenge with a yoga nidra meditation is actually staying awake! Yes, believe it or not, yogic sleep involves staying awake while the body relaxes completely and, through the power of intention, implant positive messaging in the subconscious mind.

Who Invented Yoga Nidra?

It’s a relatively ancient practice. References to yoga nidra are found as far back as the Ancient Hindu and Yoga philosophy texts like the Upanishads. However, although there may be ancient practices associated with the techniques or name yoga nidra, modern-day yoga nidra was popularized in the 1960s and 1970s and has its origins in Tantric relaxation practices.

How To Practice Yoga Nidra

There are many styles and methods of practicing yoga nidra, but these steps outline the basics and include some of the most common elements. Some different styles of yoga nidra incorporate elaborate visualizations or even work with evoking sensory extremes in the body, such as warmth and cool, or pain and pleasure, but this yoga nidra guide is more straightforward and focused on wellbeing and self-care. Important is to find a yoga teacher who’s voice really calms you down.

You can familiarize yourselves with these yoga nidra steps for a self-guided meditation practice, or there are loads of great guided yoga nidras on YouTube. Throughout the practice, if your mind wanders, don’t judge yourself but guide yourself back to the practice when you notice. If you fall asleep, then congratulations! Even though the goal is not to fall asleep and stay in the present moment (unless you are using it in bed for that purpose), you were probably really really tired and needed that extra rest!

  1. Lie down in a comfortable position. This could be on a yoga mat in corpse pose, supported with a bolster, a pillow under the head, and covered under a blanket or even on the sofa or in bed. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and ensure you are warm enough, as it’s hard to relax fully when cold.
  2. Take a few deep breaths to help relax and acknowledge that you have arrived for your yoga nidra practice. You may want to take note of any sounds or sensations you are aware of. You may also want to take a moment to commit to your yoga nidra practice—i.e, you have made the choice to take this time to support your greater wellbeing or have more restful sleep.
  3. Set your Sankalpa. A Sankalpa is a statement that represents your deepest, truest self or desire. It is not an objective but is aligned with broader, universal values. Even if you don’t feel it to be true at the time, internally state it as if it is, such as: ‘I am abundance’, ‘compassion is my truest self,’ ‘I live in truth.’ Repeat your Sankalpa internally to yourself and try and truly believe it, noting the physical sensations it evokes.
  4. Set an Intention. Now, set an intention for your practice, as you may do in a yoga practice. This tends to be grounded in the here and now, such as ‘I will use this practice to rest and take care of myself’ or ‘I will be present and nonjudgemental.’ 
  5. Body Scan. Take your time to scan through the body (either from the top of the head down or starting with the little toe of one foot). The body scan takes up a large part of the practice, so don’t rush it. Areas of the body tend to relax automatically when we bring attention to them, but you can always take deep breaths into a specific body part to encourage further relaxation. 
  6. Become aware of your whole soft, resting, and relaxed body. Savor it!
  7. Witness your breath. See if you can follow the journey of your breath in your deeply relaxed body. 
  8. Witness sensations. Notice any physical sensations, pleasant or unpleasant. Try not to get caught up in any stories of pain, injury, etc, but let yourself be the witness.
  9. Witness the mind. Notice how the mind swings from idea to idea, latching onto thoughts or sensations. Don’t try and push them away, but try and remain a witness.
  10. Reconnect to your Sankalpa. In this relaxed state of awareness, recite your Sankalpa. You may want to focus on a spacious, loving, and infinite heart center as you repeat it.
  11. Guide yourself out of your practice. Slowly and mindfully, invite gentle movement back into the body.
  12. Thank yourself for taking time to rest! You can also journal and reflect further on any realizations or challenges that occurred for you!

How Long Does a Yoga Nidra Take?

Don’t worry the practice of yoga nidra doesn’t need to be long, if you can only swing ten minutes that’s fine! Some practices may take around an hour but personally I find half an hour to be the sweet spot, if time permits!

When to do a Yoga Nidra?

You can do a session of yoga nidra any time! They are great for after work or in the evening when you need to unwind and even to help you sleep. I have definitely done some in the middle of the night, too! However, you can practice them whenever you need some time out. Practising earlier in the day has the benefit that you are less likely to fall asleep mid-nidra!

Yoga Nidra Benefits

yoga nidra benefits

So, what is yoga nidra good for?! A regular practice of yoga nidra can have many benefits.

Nervous System Balancing, Rest, and Stress Reduction

It’s no secret that in our hyper-stimulated, screen-addicted, stress-filled world, we probably all need to be resting more… but rest isn’t necessarily a quantity thing, but a quality thing! One of the major effects of yoga nidra is that it offers high-quality, restorative, healing rest in a relatively short period of time. So a million hours of sleep might not be what you need after all…

The main way a yoga nidra session helps with stress reduction is by changing your brain waves and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest and digest’/relaxation response, the mode that allows different parts of the body to heal and recover. Many of us are only really in the parasympathetic state when we sleep — and spend our waking life in the active sympathetic nervous system. However, being able to balance the nervous system and move between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system throughout the day is important for well-being and mental health.

Yoga Nidra not only triggers the parasympathetic nervous system but reminds the body and mind that it is available throughout the day, which could in turn lower blood pressure.

Improved Wellbeing, Health Benefits, and Chronic Pain Reduction

In a review paper analyzing multiple studies on Yoga Nidra, numerous benefits were reported across a wide range of conditions. Although scientific studies on yoga practices are notoriously difficult to carry out (and the results can sometimes be dubious), there is a clear trend across all the yoga nidra studies surveyed in this paper of participants reporting improvements in their overall well-being as a result of regular nidra practice. And thankfully no negative yoga nidra side effects were reported!

One study showed yoga nidra was a powerful tool for managing and reducing chronic pain. There is also evidence that it can reduce the heart rate and lower blood flow, which is important for stress and heart health overall.

Even if you don’t experience chronic pain, many of us carry excessive tension in the physical body, and the body scan element is a great way to encourage physical relaxation.

Mindset and Improved Focus

Yoga Nidra is more than just a relaxation exercise or meditation. Sankalpa and intention setting are crucial elements because when you enter the conscious dream state that characterizes the yogic sleep, the subconscious mind is considered to be highly suggestible, and therefore, it is possible to make positive psychological changes.

Moving the mind through the body and focusing on different sensations, such as the breath or evoking the feelings of hot and cold, is a good mental exercise with neuroplasticity benefits
and can help improve your ability to focus on other activities and improve cognitive function.

yoga nidra

Sleep and Managing Insomnia

For many people, practicing yoga nidra at any time of day can help improve their nighttime deep sleep and manage sleep disorders. It can also be an effective tool to send you to sleep at night or even in the middle of the night if you can’t sleep. Don’t stress if the middle of the night nidra doesn’t send you to sleep! As yoga nidra encourages a deep state of relaxation that has so many physical and mental benefits,you will still profit from the deep, restorative holistic rest it provides.

A great thing about the benefits of yoga nidra meditation is that whether you do the occasional session or practice regularly you will experience positive effects. Personally, I’m trying to make a regular practice of it because of all the positive effects it has in body and mind! It’s not necessary to do a long yoga nidra session every time, and you can add it to your existing yoga or workout routine by using it as a yoga mat relaxation technique at the end of a dynamic practice, to fully charge your Savasana/post-workout experience!