Yoga nidra means yogic sleep- it’s a state of conscious deep sleep. It’s a powerful meditation technique; you leave the waking state, go past the dreaming state, and go to deep sleep, although you remain awake. This state of consciousness (yoga nidra) is different from traditional meditation in which concentration on a single focus is required. In Yoga Nidra, the practitioner remains in a state of light withdrawal of the 5 senses (pratyahara). Four of the senses become internalized or withdrawn, and only the hearing still connects to the instructions. During a session, the practitioner rests comfortably in savasana (corpse pose), as they are guided through steps to achieve the highest level of relaxation.
The regular practice of Yoga Nidra has been found to reduce tension and anxiety. The exercises help to release blocked energy that is trapped within the body-mind. Releasing this energy and tension re-balances the body and the deeper mind, promoting healing and growth.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Studies have shown that 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is the same as 2-3 hours of sleep. During a Yoga Nidra session, your brain goes into the deepest state of sleep where it produces theta (4-7 hertz) and delta waves (0-4 hertz). But unlike sleep, the student remains conscious throughout. Theta State is a state of very deep relaxation; it is used in hypnosis and during REM Sleep. Delta waves are usually associated with the deep stage 3 of NREM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). It is the deepest level of restorative, healing sleep.
Studies have shown that Yoga Nidra may help with insomnia, anxiety, depression, addiction, and chronic pain. In 2006, the Department of Defense conducted research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the efficacy of Yoga Nidra for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. They found the treatment helpful, and began to incorporate it into treatment programs in several VA facilities across the country.
Since then, The University of Massachusetts Medical Center has proposed a new National Institutes of Health study on Yoga Nidra’s benefits for chronic pain. And in 2010, the US Army Surgeon General endorsed the practice for treating chronic pain. Additionally, The Department of Defense Centers of Excellence in Washington has recommended continuing research using yoga nidra to treat post-traumatic stress.
In classic yoga nidra practice, you lie on your back with your arms away from your body, palms turned upwards. Your feet should be hip width apart, with your toes falling outwards. It is important that your body is lying symmetrically. Your eyes remain closed throughout the practice.
The session begins by the guide instructing your to turn your attention inward, and bring your awareness to your breath. This releases tension and helps induce a state of parasympathetic activation in the nervous system.
Setting an Intention
The next step is to create an intention or affirmation. Yoga Nidra practice often includes a technique for realizing a resolve in your life, or something you want to achieve. It could be as simple as a mantra. Or, it could be a goal such as to have more patience, to be kinder to yourself, etc. Or it could something more specific, like resolving to quit a bad habit by a certain date.
Next, you will bring awareness to your physical body. The primary objective in this stage is to isolate the mind to separate it from outside stimuli. Your guide will ask you to bring awareness to a particular body part. And then, rotate your awareness throughout the other parts of the body, one by one. The science behind this follows a mapped stimulation through the brain, which relaxes the motor and sensory regions, thereby relaxing the body and the mind.
After the body awareness rotations, you will once again bring your awareness inward, to the natural rhythm of your breath. Through breathing techniques, you continue to withdraw from the external body, and further the momentum of the inward journey.
The next phase involves the balancing of the emotional states. This may be done using words or ideas that create a polarized emotional experience. The idea is to dissolve the attachment to emotional and conditional programming hidden within the subconscious mind.
After this, the guide may lead you through a visualization technique. It could involve visualizing energy or light flowing through your body, or being guided on vivid journey through your imagination.
Reaffirm Your Intention
Finally, your guide may invite you to repeat your intention again while in deep relaxation. This helps to deeply root your intention while your mind is relaxed and receptive.
Once you have moved through the stages explained above, then your senses are guided properly to reorient towards external surroundings. This allows you to come out of deep relaxation without any disorientation.