Yoga Nidra: A Step by Step Guide to Yogic Sleep

Yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a relaxation technique derived from the tantras. The current method was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, who described it as “a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation.” 

Whereas other forms of yoga and meditation have been well known for decades, yoga nidra is only now starting to become popular. But don’t let this trick you into thinking that the practice doesn’t have much to offer. Yoga nidra has many health benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety, relieving chronic pain, and improving sleep.

As yoga nidra grows in popularity, more and more students and teachers are interested in learning the technique. 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 technique and its essential steps. 

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a relaxation technique derived from the tantras. The name is composed of two Sanskrit words: yoga meaning union, and nidra translating as sleep. However, yoga nidra is different from ordinary sleep.

During yoga nidra, we experience 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 actually has the potential of taking us to higher levels of consciousness.

How to Practice Yoga Nidra

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. 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 other forms of meditation, 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: perhaps 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 an eye pillow to keep out bright lights.

Step 2: Relaxation

Next, consciously let your body and mind relax. There are multiple techniques that induce relaxation. The simplest technique is a body scan, moving from the toes all the way to the crown of the head. The goal is to stay motionless for the entire duration of the yoga nidra. 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. 

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. 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 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 and visualize them in front of your mind’s eye. 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 neuropathways in the brain. You might feel sleepy, but keep following along. Remember, the goal is not to fall asleep.

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 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 instructor. 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 is usually concluded with an image that evokes feelings of inner peace and tranquility, leaving 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 yoga nidra, the mind is withdrawn 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. 

Make the Most of Your Practice

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 in the morning or late afternoon. With every session, yoga nidra 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.

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