Yoga nidra is a state of conscious deep sleep.
In Sanskrit, “nidra” means sleep, but this practice should not be mistaken for physical sleep. It’s a meditation done while lying in savasana. When a practitioner reaches a state between wakefulness and sleeping in this practice, full consciousness is achieved.
My guru in Rishikesh shared this practice with me as one of the most effective paths to self-realization. Yoga nidra helps us attain complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation because knowledge of the true self comes only when we’re free of all tension.
As I was learning how to teach this practice, I discovered that not only was my guru correct, it also deepened my meditation and aided my sleep, mood and memory. Since practicing and teaching yoga nidra, I have slept 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep nearly every single night; I have found joy in all activities and situations (even when I got into a fender bender and while I was having money problems); and I have found myself more disciplined and eager in my studies.
How do we practice yoga nidra?
1. Practice with a guide
A yoga instructor guides you through a body scan, going through each bit of stress and bodily tension, so you can physically relax. Your instructor will also lead you through a visualization, often a spiritual trip guiding you through a place or time. Each guide is unique and has an individual flair. No two guides will lead you in the same way.
I often guide yoga nidra in a very specific order, leading meditators through movement both physically and mentally, slowly calming things down so there’s no anxiety or tension in the body by the time the meditation begins.
2. Find your drishti (focus point)
Without a focus, the likelihood of distraction is heightened and the ability to focus becomes much more difficult. When practicing yoga nidra, your guide will help you keep your awareness on either your body, a sankalpa or a visualization. In yoga nidra, it’s essential to both stay awake and focus inward and not allow your thoughts to cloud the mind.
When I began meditating, I found it difficult to sit in silence. I found distractions all around me. It wasn’t until I went to India and took meditation classes that I found the helpfulness of guided meditation. Now I help my students maintain focus by guiding them through their body and mind.
3. Explore your true self
In a yoga nidra class, you will explore your spirit perhaps more than you ever have before. This exploration can be both gratifying and scary, but is absolutely necessary in order to not only become but also be comfortable with your true self.
Opening up to yourself is terrifying. When I began practicing consistently, I was opened to parts of myself that I had no idea existed. Emotions that I’d never seen before rose up inside of me. Through the exploration of my spiritual and emotional being, I dropped my previous understanding of what was strong—being emotionless—and discovered that real strength is being 100% true to myself and embracing every emotion fully. I no longer detached from others because I realized we are all one. The realization of this unity with all that is around us makes the world a much more pleasant and safe place.
4. Find complete and total relaxation
In a yoga nidra class, your guide will likely lead you to complete relaxation, both emotionally and physically. Every guide is different and therefore the methods of arriving into relaxation will be different.
When I guide a yoga nidra class, my favorite part is when the class ends and I’m able to see the bliss on each and every practitioner’s face.
I love using essential oils and acupressure practices in my classes. It brings a level of intimacy, which is necessary for my students to be able to be vulnerable enough to relax into their true selves and be immersed in their meditation.
5. Gain knowledge about your practice by asking questions
After class, it’s important to raise any questions with your guide. By doing this, you’ll gain an understanding of not only your practice but also the science and the philosophy of yoga nidra.
I did not fully understand the practice of yoga until I had in-depth conversations with my guru. It was not until then that I fell in love with the practice, philosophy and lifestyle of yoga. I love to share this knowledge of yoga, and specifically yoga nidra, with other yogis and students. And trust me, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
The practice of yoga nidra is still a bit of a hidden gem, so it can be difficult to find classes. However this only enhances the experience because those who’ve found the loving and meditative practice of yoga nidra and share it are true to the art. They’ve likely dedicated their teachings to the specific characteristics of yoga nidra. It’s a special practice and it’s not only what I teach most often but also my favorite class to guide. It takes a lot of mental and spiritual preparation but it’s tremendously rewarding, especially seeing the bliss on my fellow yogis’ faces as they “wake” from their nidra practice.
Yoga nidra is like a massage for the spirit, a part of our humanity that is often neglected. Respect and love your soul.
Author: Allie Bright
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Image: Author’s own