No matter how well we work it out, cope with it, exercise it away, or even try to ignore it, we all feel how the accumulation of stress, trauma, and emotional turmoil affects us on multiple levels: muscle tension, headaches, jaw clenching, restless sleep, incessant thoughts, emotional blowups, feeling drained, distracted, shut down, or disconnected. A glass of wine or Netflix binge may be a welcome relief at the end of the week, but many of us are searching for more nourishing and fulfilling ways to unwind, replenish our energy, and reconnect with ourselves. Enter Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra bestows total relaxation from the wellspring of the inner self. Although Yoga Nidra, or “yogic sleep”, is commonly referred to as a relaxation practice, it is actually a state of being; Yoga Nidra is the level of consciousness underneath both the waking and dreaming states. The state of Yoga Nidra is most easily accessed by practicing a systematic rotation of self-awareness, awakening subtle energies that have been lying dormant within the body. Yoga Nidra is accessible to everybody and appropriate for everyone, regardless of age or state of health.
The term Yoga Nidra is mentioned in the ancient texts Devi Bhagavata, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and Taravali. (However, it has been noted that in none of these references instruction or an in-depth explanation of the concepts are given.) The history and lineage of Yoga Nidra is said to have been preserved in writing by Bhagwan Sri Deep Narayan Mahaprabhuji and the knowledge passed on to his two main disciples, Swami Muktananda and Swami Sivananda. After their passing, Yoga Nidra was revived by modern notables Swami Satyananda Saraswati (founder of the Bihar School of Yoga) and Swami Rama (founder of the Himalayan Institute). From these origins, slightly different interpretations of the teachings and practices have emerged.
Yoga Nidra supports healthy function of the immune system, the endocrine system, the nervous system, the organs of the body, and improves quality of sleep. It works with both the conscious mind and the subconscious mind; we become more aware of how our thoughts, emotions, and experiences impact our well-being and we are able to connect with the precise locations where these thoughts, emotions, and experiences reside within our bodies.
Yoga Nidra creates a safe space to explore where trauma and emotions have been concealed, and to resolve those emotions without reconnecting with the stories or feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of reaction associated with the original traumatic experience. In this way, we experience a wholeness of self as Yoga Nidra heals and integrates pancha maya kosha (the five layers of the self/being): annamaya kosha (physical body), pranamaya kosha (energy body), manomaya kosha (mental body and sensory input), vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom body and sense of individual self), and anandamaya kosha (bliss body). Read more about the five layers of the self and how they give us the ability to interact in the world as both matter and spirit, in our Creation Center blog The Five Koshas.
At the most subtle level, Yoga Nidra clears away the debris of samskaras from the mind and energy bodies. Samskaras can best be described as “grooves” in the psyche, deeply ingrained habits and patterns based on our preferences, that unconsciously drive our actions (otherwise referred to as our “karmas”). Over time, and through mindfulness, diligence, and practice, samskaras begin to weaken and lose their ability to control our actions through the forces of attraction and aversion. Yoga Nidra allows us to to know ourselves at a deeper, more intuitive level; we are able to begin identifying with our innate sense of being, instead of the transient thoughts and habits that temporarily inhabit the mind.
Finally, Yoga Nidra develops the ability to shift, at will, between Ida (lunar/feminine) and Pingala (solar/masculine) channels on left and right sides of body, as well as consciously moving between polarities (heavy/light) and contrasting states of being (cold/heat).
Wear loose, comfortable clothing and choose a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Lie comfortably on your back and use pillows or props to support your head, neck, and behind the knees. Cover your body with a blanket, if needed. Make sure that your head, neck, and spine are aligned and that your arms and legs are in a comfortable position. Keep your eyes closed for the duration of the practice.
Sankalpa/Setting an Intention
You may choose to set a simple healing intention for the practice. You can set the intention on allowing yourself to heal from a psychical, mental and/or an emotional challenge you are experiencing. You can set the intention to have solutions come to you around how to move forward in your life and service. The intention is entirely up to you, there are more specific forms of the practice as well (see additional practices at the bottom of this article). Now begins the practice of Yoga Nidra.
Body Scan (approx 3-4 Minutes)
Breathe and Relax. Be aware of your body. Be aware of your whole body. Be aware of the stillness throughout your whole body.
Bring your attention to the Top of Head
Face - Neck - Throat
Shoulders - Arms - Hands - Fingertips
Return from Fingertips - Hands - Arms - Shoulders
Chest - Abdomen
Hips - Legs - Feet - Toes
Return from Toes - Feet - Legs - Hips
Abdomen - Chest
Shoulders - Arms - Hands - Fingertips
Return from Fingertips - Hands - Arms - Shoulders
Throat - Neck - Face
Ending at the Top of Head
Full Body Relaxation (approx 11 Minutes)
This Full Body Relaxation practice can be used to prepare for any meditation practice. Explore each of these areas of the body with curiosity, noticing any sensations, emotions, or thoughts associated within each of these spaces.
Gently guide your attention to the entire head and face - including the top of the head, forehead, eyebrows, eyes and eyelashes, cheekbones, and nostrils. Be aware of the breath as it flows in and out of the nostrils for several breaths. Continue your state of observation to the mouth, jaw, and chin.
Next, bring your awareness to the neck and throat, shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers, and fingertips. Feel as though you are inhaling each breath from the fingertips up to the shoulders, and then exhaling from the shoulders back to the fingertips. Repeat this process this several times.
Allow your attention to move from the fingers, back through the hands, wrists, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, upper back, and chest. Focus your attention at the center of the chest, taking several deep breaths in and out.
Bring your awareness to the stomach, lower abdomen, lower back, hips, thighs, knees, calves, ankles, feet, and toes.
(Breathing the body) Inhale as if you are inhaling with your entire body and exhale as if you are exhaling with your entire body. With each in-breath, imagine that you are inhaling relaxation, peace, and love. With each out-breath, imagine that you are exhaling all of the tension, anxiety, and stress out of your body.
Bring your awareness back to the toes, then from the toes to the feet, ankles, calves, thighs, knees, hips, lower back, abdomen, stomach and chest.
Focus your attention once again at the center of the chest, taking several deep breaths in and out.
Explore the upper back, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, wrists, hands, fingers, and fingertips. Feel as though you are inhaling each breath from the fingertips up to the shoulders, and then exhaling from the shoulders back to the fingertips. Repeat this process this several times.
Allow your attention to move from the fingers, back through the hands, wrists, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, throat, chin, jaws, mouth, and nostrils. Maintain your awareness of the breath as it flows in and out of the nostrils for several breaths.
Gently guide your attention back to your face, to the cheekbones, eyes and eyelashes, eyebrows, forehead and the top of the head.
Spend a few minutes examining the quality of the breath as it flows in and out of your body. Focus on your breath until it is smooth, steady, and even.
Bringing Consciousness to the 61 Points of Relaxation Exercise (approx 30 Minutes)
The 61 Points of Relaxation exercise is a practice to take one into Yoga Nidra, where one is in a state of deep sleep, while remaining fully conscious or awake. Beginning on the right side, feel each part of the body without moving. Yoga Nidra can be used to clear samskaras, while they are still in a latent or unrealized form.
Forehead - Throat
Right Shoulder - Right Elbow - Right Wrist - Right Thumb - Right Index Finger - Right Middle Finger - Right Ring Finger - Right Little Finger - Right Wrist - Right Elbow - Right Shoulder - Throat
Left Shoulder - Left Elbow - Left Wrist - Left Thumb - Left Index Finger - Left Middle Finger - Left Ring Finger - Left Little Finger - Left Wrist - Left Elbow - Left Shoulder - Throat
Space between the Breasts - Right Breast - Space between the Breasts - Left Breast - Space between the Breasts - Navel - Lower Abdomen
Right Hip - Right Knee - Right Ankle - Right Big Toe - Right Second Toe - Right Middle Toe - Right Fourth Toe - Right Little Toe - Right Ankle - Right Knee - Right Hip - Lower Abdomen
Left Hip - Left Knee - Left Ankle - Left Big Toe - Left Second Toe - Left Middle Toe - Left Fourth Toe - Left Little Toe - Left Ankle - Left Knee - Left Hip - Lower Abdomen
Navel - Space between the Breasts - Throat - Forehead
Meditate within the deep sleep state of Yoga Nidra for as long as your mind can remain calm, yet attentive, the awareness is turned inward, and the body is relaxed and still.
There are additional practices which can be incorporated into the practice of Yoga Nidra, as one’s mind becomes trained to hold a longer attention span. Practices of integrating polarities: for example, feeling the whole body becoming heavy until it feels like it is sinking into the floor, then feeling the whole body becoming light and weightless until it feels like it is floating. There are also more advanced practices such as breathing into the navel and spine (to strengthen the stream of energy within the subtle bodies), and meditations to purify the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether/space) within the chakras (energy centers of the body).
This may seem complicated at first, however, with practice it begins to feel more natural. Yoga Nidra can be performed on your own, or as a guided audio meditation (Keep an eye out for my meditation on Yoga Nidra that we will be offering in our site store soon!), a live yoga nidra class or personal session guided by a qualified instructor. If you would like to work personally with me in the sadhana of Yoga Nidra, please note that I am available for both in-person and long distance healing sessions and look forward to the opportunity to serve those of you that feel a call for this work.
May you experience the deep bliss of inner peace. ~ Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi ~
Walk in Beauty,