Amita Jain guides over 50 students in Yoga Nidra at her weekly Hatha Yoga class for all levels in Rockville, Maryland.
Yoga Nidra is guided deep relaxation. The most rejuvenating, healing, and elevating part of your Hatha Yoga routine. Unlike anything else you've ever experienced.
Listen to Yoga Nidra audio:
Yoga Nidra (Deep relaxation in Corpse Pose)
We often equate 'relaxation' with activities like listening to music or walking in nature, or simply having a quiet time. Relaxation is something we do naturally, and we don't need any special training or techniques.
However, deep relaxation is something very different. It quietens your mind and releases physical tension in your body. In a state of deep relaxation, your heart beat and breathing slow down, and your body and mind become deeply calm.
There are many techniques to help you relax deeply, including the practice of yoga nidra, or 'psychic sleep'.
Yoga nidra comes from the Indian yoga tradition. The technique could be described as a lying down form of meditation that uses the whole body as a focus of awareness.
Practitioners say that with regular practice, yoga nidra, like meditation, can have profound physical, psychological and spiritual benefits.
If you have been to a hatha yoga class, you probably will have practiced yoga nidra at the end of the session. Here we outline how you can achieve deep relaxation and rejuvenation through the practice of yoga nidra.
Theory and Practice of Yoga Nidra
The theory behind yoga nidra is that it works on something called our body of energy or life force. In India this energy is known as prana, and in China it is called chi.
Nearly all spiritual traditions acknowledge the existence of a body of energy that permeates the physical body and is responsible for our health and well being. The aim of acupuncture and all martial arts, for example, is to balance and enhance the flow of life force in your body.
Yoga nidra also aims to enhance and balance this energy. Moreover, it does so in an enjoyable and effortless way that involves no costly equipment or training. Some practitioners describe yoga nidra as a form of self-administered acupuncture.
You don't have to attend a yoga class to reap the benefits of this relaxation practice. All you need is a warm, quiet space and an audio recording of a yoga nidra.
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. Your eyes remain closed throughout the practice.
Make sure that your body is lying symmetrically. It may help if you imagine a centre line running between your navel and throat.
Yoga nidra puts a strong emphasis on the way your body is laying. Practitioners believe your relaxation posture influences your consciousness, and that this supine position prepares you for letting go and helps to balance the flow of life force in your body.
Now your guide will ask you to turn your attention inward and to bring your awareness to your breath.
In this first stage of the yoga nidra practice, your guide will ask you to bring awareness to a particular part of your body, for example your left hand.
While every yoga nidra is different, a common way of rotating awareness through your body is through the practice of tensing and releasing different body parts. During this process, your guide will ask you to tense certain muscles while you breathe in deeply, then soften them again as you breathe out. In a classic yoga nidra, your guide then asks you to rest your awareness on each part of the body when it is mentioned. There is no tensing, no doing anything, just awareness.
At this point, you may begin to feel softness and lightness in your body, or feel as if you are melting into the floor or floating.
After the rotations, your guide will help you to further calm your mind. This often involves bringing your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath.
Other techniques may include visualising energy or light flowing through your body or being guided into an imaginary place of beauty and serenity.
Yoga nidra practice often includes a technique for realizing a resolve in your life, something you want to achieve. Your guide invites you to repeat your resolution several times to yourself before you move into deep relaxation and immediately after you come out of it.
Your resolution could be as simple as wanting to be more loving to someone in your life, or kinder to yourself. Or it could something very specific, like resolving to give up smoking on a certain date.
Practitioners say that by repeating your resolution to yourself when you are in this state helps it take root in your unconscious, almost like post-hypnotic suggestion.
Yoga Nidra versus Meditation
Yoga nidra is not quite the same thing as meditation. In yoga nidra practice you are lying down and the exercises help you move into a semi-hypnotic state, somewhere between being awake and being asleep. During meditation you usually sit with your spine as vertical as possible and remain alert and aware.
You can think of yoga nidra as a way of preparing for meditation; in the yoga tradition it is understood as being a practice of sense withdrawal that prepares you for moving into a state of meditation. It turns your attention inwards and helps your mind and body reach the calm mental state required to meditate effectively.
Meditation does not come easily to busy people. Most people find sitting still and silent for any length of time a huge challenge. It's particularly hard if your mind is over active, or your body is tense.
Mastering the art of yoga nidra first will help you with this, and to eventually tackle the much greater challenge of relaxing the mind during a sitting meditation practice.
Tips for Effective Practice
Yoga nidra practice is best done with voice guidance (in a class or listening to a CD), otherwise you may simply fall asleep or become distracted. Many people find it easier to surrender to the relaxation process if they don't have to think about what they are doing.
You may find that you become so relaxed that you fall asleep during the practice. This is fine, the aim of yoga nidra is to 'surf the interface between sleeping and waking consciousness'. Usually your guide's voice will bring you back to a semi-conscious state.
Ideally, you should try and practice yoga nidra regularly, on a daily basis if you can manage it, preferably at the same time and in the same place. Most recordings run for about 10-30 minutes.
If you don't think you have the time to fit it in, remember that practitioners claim that a 30 minute yoga nidra session has the rejuvenating effects of several hours sleep!