Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Reaching back to its roots in the old tradition of tantra yoga (inner transformation) and Indian philosophy (in old texts Yoga Nidra is a state of cosmic sleep of the god Vishnu), the practice of Yoga Nidra as it is known now was introduced by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar Yoga School in the mid of the 20th Century. He developed it while serving at his teacher’s ashram, Swami Sivananda Saraswati. Yoga Nidra, sometimes also called yogic sleep, focuses on the meditative aspect of yogic practice. It develops a particular faculty of the mind – relaxation with mindfulness of the body and thoughts and in the words of the Swami is “the doorway to Samadhi”- a blissful state of mind absorbed in meditation.
Through a series of guided instructions, the practitioners learn to refocus their attention from the outer to the inner world of experiences and slowly enter a deeper relaxation state of body and mind, from the grosser to more subtle experiences. Because the practice is performed lying down it removes a need for sustained difficult yoga postures making it more of an effortless technique and accessible to anyone who wants to try it. The recommended posture for practising it is Savasana or a ‘corpse pose’, lying down flat on one’s back with arms and legs slightly open and relaxed alongside the body, palms facing upwards. For those struggling with back problems, some equipment can be used to elevate the knees to relieve tension from the lower back. Yoga Nidra can also be practised in a side lying position. The most important is to take a position that is best for your unique body and needs. An eye pillow or a scarf can be placed on the eyes to limit distraction and promote relaxation. For the duration of the practice, practitioners lie without movement with a clear intention to not fall asleep. If your goal is to fall asleep, you can practice on the bed, but if you want to sustain your awareness, it is best to practice on the floor.
Why Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra has many benefits for the body and mind. On a more basic level, deep rest and relaxation result in a profound feeling of rejuvenation and reduction of stress. During the practice all body functions become minimal, metabolism slows down, breathing becomes slower and more relaxed, heart rate regulates, and hormonal function increases, leading to releasing of the toxins from the body.
Other benefits of Yoga Nidra include:
- Improving self-awareness and connection with the body and mind
- Changing in physical and emotional responses to stress
- Regulation of autonomic nervous system response
- Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system
- Boosting the immune system, and decreasing inflammation in the body
- Reduction of pain
- Conservation of energy, and removal of fatigue
- Regulation of hormonal health
- Healthier sleep patterns
- Quieting down the mental noise
- Increased focus and concentration
- Decreasing anxiety and stress
- Development of intuition and creativity
- Transformation of feelings and thoughts
- Awareness of hidden subconscious issues and letting them go
- Improved memory and cognitive functions
Who is Yoga Nidra for?
Since we all experience stress and related problems, Yoga Nidra practice can benefit practically anyone who’d like to give it a fair go. As it aims at removing negative thought patterns that perpetuate negative states of mind it can be particularly beneficial to people with moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety or struggling with PTSD when practised regularly a couple of times a week. But even just one session can be beneficial if practised correctly. A word of caution. Although Yoga Nidra is very much a safe practice it is not recommended for people with more serious mental health problems including schizophrenia, severe depression and severe anxiety.