August 31, 2023

Yoga Nidra: A Step-by-Step Guide to Yogic Sleep for Top Relaxation

As Yoga Nidra grows in popularity, more and more students and teachers are getting interested in discovering what Yoga Nidra is and how to practice it. It’s not a surprise. In a world filled with constant hustle and bustle, finding moments of tranquility can seem like an elusive dream.

This is where Yoga Nidra comes to our rescue. Through this relaxing practice, you can experience a state of blissful awareness, effortlessly melting away stress and tension.

This ancient practice, rooted in the yogic tradition, takes you on a guided journey through various stages of consciousness, leading to a profound sense of calm and inner peace. As you delve into the depths of your subconscious mind, you will unlock the hidden potential within, tapping into a wellspring of creativity and self-discovery.

While other forms of yoga and meditation have been well-known for decades, Yoga Nidra is only now starting to become popular. Nevertheless, Yoga Nidra has many health benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety, relieving chronic pain, and improving sleep.

If you are wondering what exactly yogic sleep means, how it works, and how you can practice it, keep reading! This blog post will outline the practical technique and its essential steps.

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a relaxation technique that can be practiced at different levels depending on the tradition and our skills. It is a fascinating practice that can take us from deep states of introspection to the practice of Tantric Tibetan dream yoga through lucid dreaming

For the scope of this article, we will delve into the modern Yoga Nidra style developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. The Indian Sanyasi described it as “a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation”. 

The term is composed of two Sanskrit words: yoga meaning ‘union’, and nidra translating as ‘sleep’. However, Yoga Nidra is very different from ordinary sleep.

Yoga Nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation

As we are guided through the practice, the body and mind progressively release tension. We become very still and relaxed. Although it looks like we are sleeping, we remain alert and aware. 

In this state of genuine relaxation, our consciousness functions at a deeper level. We are able to access the subconscious and unconscious layers of the mind. That is why Yoga Nidra is often referred to as “psychic sleep.” It has the potential to take us to higher levels of consciousness.

Yoga Nidra and meditation are two distinct practices that sometimes meet. It is important to understand that one can not replace the other. They organically complete each other but they grow separate “spiritual muscles” and bring about different benefits.

Understanding the Benefits of Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a practice that goes beyond the usual physical asanas. Its benefits extend far beyond a simple nap or relaxation technique. This practice has been shown to have a profound effect on both the body and mind, bringing about a wide range of positive changes.

Yoga Nidra is a practice that goes beyond the usual physical asanas

Yoga Nidra for Relaxation

First and foremost, yogic sleep helps to reduce stress and anxiety. By guiding you into a state of deep relaxation, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and recovery.

As the body relaxes, stress hormones decrease, and a sense of calmness and tranquility washes over you. This can have a profound impact on your overall well-being, helping you to cope with the challenges of daily life with more ease and resilience.

Yoga Nidra for Sleep

Yoga Nidra also promotes better sleep. In today’s fast-paced world, many people struggle with insomnia or poor sleep quality. In fact, research shows that half of US adults experience sleep disorders once a month or more (50%).

The guided relaxation and meditation techniques used in Yoga Nidra help to quiet the mind and relax the body. As a consequence, it will be easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

By incorporating this practice into your bedtime routine, you can experience more restful and rejuvenating sleep, waking up feeling refreshed and energized. Find out more relaxing techniques to practice before sleeping in our post about Sleep Yoga.

Yoga Nidra for Spiritual Growth

The benefits of yogic sleep are not limited to the physical and mental levels; they also extend to the spiritual aspect of our being. As you journey into the depths of your subconscious mind during a Yoga Nidra session, you may experience a profound sense of connection to your true Self, and new levels of inner silence and stillness.

This practice allows you to tap into your intuition, creativity, and inner wisdom, opening the door to self-discovery and personal growth. It can be a transformative experience that helps you align with your true purpose and live a more fulfilling life.

If you’re still wondering why you should incorporate Yoga Nidra into your life, here are 8 good reasons to practice it.

The Science Behind Yoga Nidra

While yogic sleep finds its roots in ancient yogic and tantric traditions, modern science is now shedding light on its profound benefits. Numerous scientific studies have shown that practicing Yoga Nidra can have a positive impact on various aspects of our physical and mental health.

One of the key scientific findings is the effect of Yoga Nidra on the brain. During a session, the brain enters a state of deep relaxation and contemplation, similar to the state achieved by experienced meditators.

Scientific studies have shown during a Yoga Nidra session the brain enters a state of deep relaxation and contemplation leading to an increase in alpha brainwaves

This leads to an increase in alpha brainwaves, which are associated with relaxation, creativity, and enhanced learning. The brain also enters a state of coherence, where different regions synchronize their activity, resulting in improved cognitive function and overall well-being.

It’s important to stress that while brain activity in Yoga Nidra and meditation looks similar, the benefits achieved through the two practices are different. Also, they are not easily measured with scientific methods. However, the relaxation effect alone is an important benefit for many practitioners.

Furthermore, Yoga Nidra has been found to have a positive impact on the nervous system. In particular, this practice helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which controls our body’s involuntary functions.

By activating the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, yogic sleep promotes relaxation and helps to reduce the negative effects of chronic stress on the body.

Numerous scientific papers and studies have been published on Yoga Nidra such as the prominent ’The Origin and Clinical Relevance of Yoga Nidra. Sleep and Vigilance.’ (2022). More can be found on Google Scholar if you’re interested in finding more scientific evidence.

How to Practice Yoga Nidra

There are different ways to practice Yoga Nidra according to the specific tradition. However, in this article, we will analyze the popular method developed by Swami Satyananda. We will guide you through this technique step-by-step.

Yoga Nidra follows a very systematic approach that is designed to release tension from the body and mind. Therefore, we usually practice by following the instructions of a teacher or audio recording.

Yoga Nidra, or "yogic sleep", is a powerful meditation technique that helps prepare you for deep sleep

If you want to gain a better understanding of the essential steps – or maybe create your own Yoga Nidra script one day – keep reading!

Step 1: Preparation

Unlike classic meditation styles, Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down. First, establish a comfortable position in Savasana, the ‘corpse pose’. You can use various props to make yourself more comfortable.

For instance, you can place a bolster under your knees to support your lower back or rest your head on a soft pillow. You can also cover your body with a blanket to stay warm or use a blindfold to keep out bright lights.

Step 2: Initial relaxation

Next, consciously let your body and mind relax. There are multiple techniques that induce relaxation. The simplest and most used technique is a body scan. This involves moving your attention from the toes to the crown of the head, just observing any sensation along the way.

The goal is to stay motionless for the entire duration of the yogic sleep session. You are allowed to move if you feel uncomfortable, but it is best to try and remain still. During the practice, you may become sleepy.

While it’s tempting to give into the feeling, try to stay awake and alert. Yoga Nidra is more than a nap. It is a conscious relaxation practice, where the awareness rests between waking and sleep.

The instructor’s voice will guide you through the initial relaxation. However, if you’re looking for a stand-alone body scan practice, you can listen to our teacher Astrid guiding you through this 15-minute meditation.

Step 3: Sankalpa

The Sanskrit word Sankalpa means resolve or resolution. Your resolve should be a short, positive statement in simple language. Silently repeat your resolve three times. For a more in-depth analysis of Sankalpas and how to choose one, we highly recommend reading a dedicated post that can help you better understand this fundamental step.

Since the mind is very open and receptive during Yoga Nidra, the Sankalpa is a powerful tool for reshaping your direction in life. Every time you repeat your resolve, it becomes stronger. Therefore, your Sankalpa should remain the same for every Yoga Nidra session – until it becomes a reality.

Step 4: Rotation of Consciousness

In this step, we move our mental awareness throughout the body. Following the voice of the instructor, silently repeat the names of different body parts in your head. Then visualize them in front of your mind’s eye (Chidakasha).

Don’t concentrate too much, just keep your mind moving from point to point. This rotation of consciousness simultaneously relaxes each body part and the associated neural pathways in the brain.

You might feel sleepy, but keep following along. Remember, the goal is not to fall asleep. Do your best and if you happen to temporarily fall asleep, just pick it up and follow the voice.

If you fall asleep deeply, don’t worry, you’ll try again next time. Yoga Nidra can still produce a few beneficial effects even though you sleep through it. Still, it’s not its main purpose.

Step 5: Awareness of the Breath

After the rotation of consciousness is finished, focus on your breath. Without trying to change or influence the natural rhythm, simply observe the movement of your navel. With every inhalation, it rises and expands. With every exhalation, the navel gently contracts.

Count these up-and-down movements of the navel – counting down from 27. You may be surprised how difficult this is without dozing off or getting lost in your thoughts. But don’t worry, this is quite normal. Anytime you lose your count, simply start over. 

Step 6: Feelings and Sensations

At this stage, we explore different sensations – intense physical or emotional feelings – and we let them go. Usually, this is practiced with pairs of opposites, such as heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, pain and pleasure.

This is said to harmonize the opposing brain hemispheres. By recalling these intense feelings, we are able to relax emotional tension. You should feel calm, relaxed, and almost asleep when you reach the end of this stage.

Step 7: Visualization

In this step, you visualize the different images named by the teacher. For example: stars in the night sky, waves breaking on the beach, a burning candle, an endless desert, and the full moon.

Visualization is said to relax mental tension and develop self-awareness. The practice usually concludes with an image that evokes feelings of inner peace and tranquility. This leaves the mind receptive to positive suggestions.

Step 8: Sankalpa

After the visualization, your mind will be very relaxed and receptive. That’s why, at this stage, you return to your resolve. Mentally repeat your Sankalpa three times – with full awareness and intention. 

Step 9: Externalization

During yogic sleep, the mind withdraws from the outside world. To finish the practice, we have to guide our awareness back slowly and carefully. Take your time and do not rush this externalization process.

First, become aware of your physical body, your breathing, and the feeling of inner silence. Then, focus on your surroundings. Keep your eyes closed, but listen to the sounds around you. When you are ready, gently move your body to wake yourself up fully. 

Incorporating Yoga Nidra into Your Daily Routine

Integrating Yoga Nidra into your daily routine can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. Below are some ways to include this practice in your daily life, at home, in the office, or wherever you are.

Integrating Yoga Nidra into your daily routine can have a profound impact on your overall well-being

Start your day with a Yoga Nidra session

Set aside 10-15 minutes in the morning to practice Yoga Nidra. This can help you start your day with a sense of calm and clarity, setting a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Follow our Online Studio class Awake and Restore to boost your energy with invigorating movements that release stress and tension before fully relaxing and restoring with a short yogic sleep session.

Take a Yoga Nidra break during the day

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed during the day, take a break to practice Yoga Nidra. Even just a few minutes of deep relaxation can help you reset and recharge.

A short Yoga Nidra session (15-20 minutes) can have the same cleansing effect as hours of normal sleep. Here’s a 20-minute Online Studio class to follow, which is part of our 30-day Yoga Challenge.

Wind down with Yoga Nidra before bed

Incorporate a longer yogic sleep session into your bedtime routine. This can help you unwind from the day’s activities, quieten the mind, and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.

Follow Katharina as she guides you into a bedtime Yoga Nidra session to prepare you for a restful night and sweet dreams. Lie down and allow yourself to release the thoughts and worries of this day, as you are carried into blissful relaxation.

Explore Yoga Nidra workshops and retreats

If you want to deepen your understanding and experience of Yoga Nidra, consider attending dedicated workshops or retreats led by experienced teachers. This can provide an immersive and transformative experience.

One Yoga offers regular in-person Yoga Nidra classes where you can just drop in if you are in Koh Phangan. Or, you can book our Sadhana retreat for a more immersive experience that includes weekly Yoga Nidra classes on top of Yoga and Meditation activities.

5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Yoga Nidra Practice

With every session, yogic sleep nourishes your entire being – body, mind, and soul. It releases muscular tension, soothes the nervous system, increases stress resistance, helps train the mind, and guides you to higher levels of awareness.

5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Yoga Nidra Practice

Here are 5 tips to make the most of your Yoga Nidra practice:

  1. Consistency is key: Try to practice Yoga Nidra regularly to experience its full benefits. Aim for at least a few sessions per week or more if possible.
  2. Time it right: You can practice Yoga Nidra anytime you need to rest and replenish your energy levels. But to get the most benefits, it is recommended to practice Yoga Nidra at the same time every single day. For example, you can practice in the morning or late afternoon. In the morning, it can help you start your day with a sense of calm and clarity. In the late afternoon, it can help you unwind and prepare for an early night’s sleep.
  3. Try to keep awake: Practicing before sleeping might induce you to actually sleep quickly. That is not bad per se, on the contrary, it is useful for people with insomnia. However, if you fall asleep too soon during the session you won’t take full advantage of all its benefits. In this case, we recommend you practice earlier.
  4. Experiment with different recordings: There are numerous guided Yoga Nidra recordings available, each with its own style and approach. Explore different recordings to find the one that resonates with you the most.
  5. Be patient and gentle with yourself: Yoga Nidra is a practice of surrender and self-compassion. Be patient with yourself as you navigate through the journey – especially when you fall asleep! and remember that each session is an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.

Final Thoughts

As we conclude this practical exploration of yogic sleep, we invite you to embrace the profound benefits this practice has to offer.

Whether you’re seeking relief from stress and anxiety, improved sleep, or a deeper connection with yourself, Yoga Nidra provides a powerful tool to nourish your body, mind, and soul.

Take the time to embark on this journey into bliss, and discover the transformative effects that await you. Through the practice of Yoga Nidra, you can tap into the source of peace and tranquility within, opening the door to a life filled with profound joy, serenity, and self-growth.

Yoga Nidra provides a powerful tool to nourish your body, mind, and soul