What is Yoga Nidra and Why Should You Try It? A Beginner’s Guide to this Ancient Practice

What is Yoga Nidra

Table of Contents

Yoga Nidra, also known as “yogic sleep,” is an ancient form of relaxation that puts those practicing it into a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

Yoga Nidra is a profoundly restorative practice involving relaxation techniques and visualization exercises designed to help people achieve complete physical peace and feelings of relaxation.

Unlike other meditation practices typically done seated or standing, Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down in a yoga pose (asana) called Shavasana or Corpse pose.

It is often described as a “meditation for non-meditators” because of its ease and effectiveness.

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What Does Yoga Nidra Do?

The term “yogic sleep” is somewhat misleading regarding what we try to achieve in Yoga Nidra, as we’re not actually trying to go to sleep. 

The purpose of Yoga Nidra is to reach the transitional state of consciousness that exists between wakefulness and sleep, called Hypnagogia

During this state, our senses are withdrawn from the external world, and our conscious mind can explore and observe creative streams of thoughts and images that we typically only experience as we awaken or drift off to sleep.

A girl practices yoga nidra surrounded by dream like images

How Does Yoga Nidra Work?

So how does it work, and what exactly is going on? As we transition from a state of wakefulness into a state of sleep, our brains move through different stages of brain waves.

During the progressive relaxation of Yoga Nidra, our brain wave activity undergoes a similar process.

Starting in an active state of beta waves (14-40hz), we then move into the more relaxed and thoughtless state of alpha waves (9-13hz).

From there, we move to a state of deep meditation, which is theta (3-8hz), and finally into the deep sleep waves of delta (1-3hz).

Hypnagogia, the state of consciousness we can achieve in Yoga Nidra, happens between the alpha and theta waves.

In this state, we are able to tap into the inner wisdom of the subconscious mind, access levels of deeper relaxation, and potentially overcome limiting beliefs and behaviors.

Brain waves changing during yoga nidra

How to Prepare for Yoga Nidra

If you practice Yoga Nidra in a class with a teacher, most of the setup will be done for you. However, you will need to prepare if you are practicing Yoga Nidra from home using a pre-recorded script.

Before you start, wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes that won’t feel restrictive.

As you relax and get closer to the ‘sleeping state’ of consciousness, your body temperature may begin to drop, so you could consider having a blanket at hand.

To ensure you’re in a comfortable position during practice, lie on a yoga mat, or rug with a pillow to support your head.

If you struggle with practicing whilst lying down in Shavasana, any relaxed position will do.

Finally, make sure your room is suitably dark with the curtains or blinds drawn. If this isn’t possible, you can practice in a sleep mask.

A photo of a women doing yoga nidra

What Happens During a Yoga Nidra Session?

The structure of a Yoga Nidra practice may vary depending on the instructor and type of class, but they generally follow a similar format.

Most classes last between 20 and 40 minutes, although some may be longer or shorter.

Intentions / Sankalpa

A Sankalpa is an intention or a resolve that you will be asked to make at the beginning of the practice. This should be a specific intention that can relate to your personal growth or deepest desire.

Dont worry; you don’t have to share it with anyone. 

Here are some examples:

  • I will achieve total health
  • I will awaken my spiritual potential
  • I will let go of that which no longer serves me
  • I will quit smoking
  • I will find peace of mind 

If you have difficulty coming up with a Sankalpa, start with something small that can help you build toward a more significant Sankalpa in the future. 

During practice, you may be asked to repeat your Sankalpa to yourself multiple times silently.

Rotation of Consciousness

After you set your intentions, you’ll be taken through a body awareness exercise.

Unlike a traditional body scan meditation technique, where you spend time examining each area of the body for feelings and sensations, a Yoga Nidra body scan is rapid, rotating through the body repeatedly in quick succession.

A Yoga Nidra body scan also follows a particular order, starting with one of your thumbs and then moving through each individual part of your body until you end with your toes.

An example of a body part being scanned in yoga nidra

Breath Awareness

In the next section of the practice, you’ll be guided to become aware of the breath. This may involve counting down from a high number with each individual breath.

Often you’ll be asked to restart your count if you become distracted and lose count. This refocuses our mind after we’ve relaxed with the body scan, helping us avoid falling asleep.

Feelings and sensation

During this phase, you will be asked to focus on contrasting physical sensations, such as pain and pleasure or hot and cold.

These opposite sensations are not usually felt together in such a short period and stimulate different parts of the brain.

This stage of Yoga Nidra is critical in establishing new neural connections in the brain.

Neural pathways created from yoga nidra

Visualization

In the practice’s final phase, you’ll be led through a series of different visualizations designed to help you make contact with the unconscious mind.

This could be anything from being guided through a nature scene to visualizing your body’s chakras or aura.

There should be no effort on your part, but at the beginning, you may find that images take time to materialize.

In this case, avoid the temptation to focus on creating a visualization, allowing the sense to develop within you naturally.

You may wish to practice visualizing everyday objects and daily routines to build up your visualization strength.

With regular practice, you will find the introduction of static images much more accessible.

A women visualizes a river whilst practicing yoga nidra

Ending/ Repeat Sankalpa

At the end of the session, you’ll once again be asked to repeat your Sankalpa before being brought back to wakefulness.

You may wish to spend a few extra minutes resting in Savasana, absorbing the sense of peace before you get up and carry on with your day.

I also advise keeping a pen/pencil nearby to jot down any images or thoughts that arise during the practice.

The Benefits of Yoga Nidra

The benefits of Yoga Nidra are vast and can help and can aid us in developing both physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Physical Benefits

Stress Management

Yoga Nidra offers deep relaxation that can decrease anxiety by lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

The body scan and breath awareness techniques calm the nervous system, improving health by allowing the body to rejuvenate by reducing stress.

Releases Tension

Connecting with the sensations in your body through Yoga Nidra helps you become aware of the deep-seated bodily stress that you may have come to take for granted.

Yoga Nidra improves your emotional well-being and reduces depression and anxiety, leading to an increased sense of happiness and overall quality of life.

Improves Quality of Sleep

Yoga Nidra promotes physical and mental well-being through the restorative power of active rest.

By training your brain to relax through this process, you can learn to achieve deeper states of restful sleep for longer periods of time.

Mental Benefits

Increases Confidence

One of the most critical aspects of Yoga Nidra is the setting of Sankalpas (intentions).

By making positive steps towards achieving our goals and making our lives better, we build confidence that we can succeed in life and achieve our goals.

PTSD

Yoga Nidra facilitates the ability to dive into the subconscious mind and deal with deep-seated trauma in a way that is not possible in our waking states. 

An eight-week study examined the effectiveness of Yoga Nidra in improving the well-being of combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

All participants reported reduced rage and anxiety and increased feelings of peace, relaxation, and self-confidence

Improves Memory

Stress and anxiety directly affect our memories by overwhelming our minds with negative emotions.

By reducing our stress, we free up space within our brains from negative thought patterns that impede our mental performance and memory

memory is enhanced by yoga nidra

Spiritual Benefits

Mindfulness

As you delve into the restful states of a Yoga Nidra practice, you will become aware of how your thoughts come and go.

As your sense of internal awareness deepens, you will be able to apply this sense of mindfulness to your daily life.

Insight into the Nature of Consciousness

During Yoga Nidra, you will be working to connect with more profound levels of the mind, identifying how it works and what causes negative emotions and belief patterns that no longer serve us.

By gaining a deeper understanding of our conscious and unconscious thinking patterns, we can tap into more powerful ways to overcome long-held emotions that may be causing us harm.

Guidance From Within

The purpose of Yoga Nidra is to dive into the subconscious mind and receive guidance and insights directly from it.

These insights can help us improve our everyday lives, achieve our goals, and live a more fulfilled existence.

Spiritual insight from yoga nidra

How to Get Started with Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra can either be practiced in a class led by a yoga teacher or at home with a pre-recorded audio track.

Even if you want to explore Yoga Nidra in a class, start a practice at home first.

This way, you can get used to the format, sensations, and experience of Yoga Nidra before practicing in a class with other people.

MindEasy’s five-part Yoga Nidra course is an excellent resource for both experienced practitioners and people looking to experience Yoga Nidra for the first time.

The course begins with a simple body scan and then introduces you to Yoga Nidra over the subsequent four sessions.

Each session builds on the last and is designed to take progressively further into the practice, open up your senses, and achieve more profound states of deep relaxation.

Griff Williams

MindEasy founder & meditation teacher

Griff Williams is an accredited meditation teacher and founder of MindEasy. He spent 12 years working as a London firefighter before changing paths to pursue building MindEasy. He received his diploma in meditation teaching from The British School of Meditation.