Yoga Nidra, also called “Yogic Sleep”, is a deep relaxation technique, capable of leading those who practice it into a liminal space, between wakefulness and sleep, where it is possible to find refreshment and reach deep awareness.
There are many sources of stress to which we are subjected on a daily basis. Work, unexpected events, and sleep disturbances can undermine our psychophysical balance, generating a vicious circle that leads us to accumulate tension. The only possible solution is to let the body and mind rest.
During the practice of Yoga Nidra, breathing and heartbeats slow down, tension decreases and a state of conscious sleep is reached, which helps the body to relax and regenerate itself, preventing and fighting stress, psychosomatic illnesses and concentration problems.
In this article we will discover all the secrets of Yoga Nidra, a fascinating technique, accessible to all and capable of giving many benefits.
What is Yoga Nidra: meaning and definition
The term Nidrā comes from Sanskrit and means “sleep”.
For this reason, Yoga Nidra is known as “Yogic Sleep”, although this definition deviates from its true purpose.
The purpose of “Yogic Sleep” is, in fact, to train the subconscious to release tension and stress, to reach a natural state of balance and promote a new awakening of the self.
The practice in brief
It is a guided relaxation technique, in Savasana (lying position). The teacher’s voice leads the yogi through the different phases of the practice, to lead him to a state of conscious sleep.
There are several approaches, each of which identifies a different number of phases that make up the practice. This article shows those that constitute the cornerstones of “Yogic Sleep”:
Meeting points and differences with other types of Yoga
There are many types of yoga which, while always aiming to achieve psychophysical well-being, also differ quite clearly from each other.
Yoga Nidra belongs to that category of Yoga styles defined as static or not very dynamic, which do not require a particular commitment from a physical point of view.
Here are the most common types of static yoga, together with “Yogic Sleep”:
- Raja yoga: based on advanced meditation techniques, aimed at achieving spiritual awareness.
- Yin yoga: thanks to its slow movements and self-listening, it leads the yogi to physical stillness associated with a deep meditative state.
On the contrary we find the types of Yoga defined as dynamic, intended for trained people, in good health and looking for a challenging practice. The most common are:
- Ashtanga Yoga: a physically demanding and rigorous practice, which is based on the repetition of fixed sequences of positions.
- Vinyasa Yoga: A very flowing style whose movements are similar to a dance. This practice is an excellent combination of physical, mental and spiritual exercise.
- Power Yoga: It is the most Western of all types of yoga and is based on physically demanding exercises aimed at increasing strength and endurance.
If you are interested in the topic, discover our in-depth study on all types of Yoga.
Yoga Nidra between meditation and relaxation
It is often confused with meditation and, in fact, the points of contact between the two practices are very many.
Both are, in fact, guided practices that aim to get our body used to slowing down and eliminating stress, until we reach a state of profound relaxation and greater self-awareness.
A fundamental concept that combines “Yogic Sleep” with meditation is the Sankalpa, or the definition of a purpose to be achieved. There are three main differences between Yoga Nidra and meditation:
If you are interested in the topic, discover our study on meditation.
Yoga Nidra e Shavasana
Savasana, or Shavasana, is a Sanskrit word formed from “Shava”, which literally means “corpse”, and “āsana” which means “position”.
Because of this, Savasana is known as “Corpse Pose”.
It is the position in which Yoga Nidra is practiced, but it is also used very often after dynamic yoga sessions.
Savasana is practiced lying down on the floor on a mat or folded blanket. It is important that your back and head are straight and your legs are slightly apart. The arms should be held away from the sides, with the palms of the hands facing up.
At the end of the practice, before returning to a sitting position, you can move your legs, arms and head a little. In case of back problems, it is better to go from supine to fetal position and get up slowly.
Technique and exercises of Yoga Nidra
Wanting to synthesize as much as possible, it can be said that the practice of “Yogic Sleep” is based on putting the body to sleep which corresponds to a new awakening of the mind and spirit. This “awakening” takes place through the passage in the four states of consciousness:
These states of consciousness coincide with the four brain wave patterns, identified by psycho-physiology, to which different emotions and mental functions correspond:
- Beta waves: their frequency varies from 14 to 30 Hz, they are produced during normal waking activities and allow us to act in the fastest and most appropriate way to the situation, finding solutions to the problems we face. The Beta state is typically associated with anxiety and stress and, consequently, with an elevated production of cortisol and adrenaline.
- Delta Waves: in this case the frequency is very low, between 0.5 and 4 Hz, and corresponds to a deep psychophysical relaxation, or a dreamless sleep. It is the state in which unconscious processes of healing and regeneration are activated.
- Theta waves: their frequency oscillates between 4 and 8 Hz and are generated by the mind that performs creative actions, such as imagining and visualization. The production of Theta waves is typical of states of deep meditation and of the REM phase of sleep, during which one dreams, but they can also be produced during wakefulness, by those with strong creativity and imagination.
The practice of Yoga Nidra aims at the gradual and guided achievement of that condition of deep psychophysical relaxation, which leads to the production of Delta waves. In this way, healing and self-realization can be achieved.
Through the practice of “Yogic Sleep” the frequencies of the brain waves decrease and this produces measurable changes, both at the cellular and neuronal level, but not only:
- The physical relaxation that is achieved during the phase of “rotation of consciousness” produces the lowering of the frequencies of the brain waves.
- Abdominal breathing which is activated during the “awareness of breathing” phase stimulates the production of serotonin, the hormone of happiness.
- In the phase of “awakening opposite feelings and sensations” the growing awareness stimulates the functions of the frontal cortex, improving memory and concentration.
How Yoga Nidra is practiced
As already mentioned, the practice of Yoga Nidra consists of some fundamental phases, which the yogi goes through thanks to the guiding voice of the teacher.
Let’s see in more detail how a lesson is articulated, in all its passages.
1 – Preparation
To start this first preparatory phase, position yourself in Savasana on a mat.
To get used to the position, you can also use a blanket, to cover yourself during practice, and pillows for the head and legs, which help keep the back adherent to the floor.
2 – Sankalpa
Only now can you get to the heart of the preparation, following the guiding voice and focusing on a desire, a goal you want to achieve for your own improvement.
This desire is identified with the term Sankalpa, which literally means “resolution” and consists of a short and simple sentence such as “I live my life to the full”.
The Sankalpa must be visualized together with the reason for which it was chosen and can be repeated aloud before starting the practice.
3 – Rotation of consciousness
In this phase the state of one’s body is analyzed, to identify points of tension and dissolve them.
The teacher names each part of the body to guide the practitioner towards a new awareness and relaxation, thanks to the activation of specific areas of the brain.
4 – Awareness of the breath
Now is the time to focus on your breathing, to gradually slow down its pace.
It is a phase of physical relaxation conveyed by abdominal breathing: following the teacher’s voice, one perceives the air entering from…