What It Is
Yoga Nidra is an ancient form of meditation that rests the body and mind. Nidra means to sleep, leading some people to call yoga nidra yogic sleep. The power in this practice comes from the ability to consciously relax.
Yoga Nidra is typically practiced lying down and is similar to a deeply restorative yoga session without the poses. (The more props you have the more comfortable you’ll be).
There are different types of Yoga Nidra, but most forms follow a similar sequence of breathing techniques, guided relaxation, and guided imagery meditation. In a Yoga Nidra practice, you learn how to connect with your physical body, feelings, and emotions and how to move past pain, discomfort, and fear.
According to Dr. Richard Miller:
“Yoga Nidra dissolves the obstacles that stand in the way of out leading an authentic life of purpose and meaning, and for those who are interested, it can awaken us into living an enlightened life of self-realization as our True Nature.”
In scientific terms, Yoga Nidra can put the practitioner into a hypnagogic state, between waking and sleeping. In this state, the practitioner can access the unconscious mind where he or she stores many repressed thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Working through these old thoughts, emotions, and feelings helps the practitioner release them permanently, also known in layman terms as “letting go.” All of this happens while the practitioner is in a physically relaxed state, which causes the practitioner to awaken from a Yoga Nidra practice feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
In other words, it’s kind of like multi-tasking to achieve full body relaxation, mental cleansing, and an emotional break all at the same time.
The Benefits of Yoga Nidra are wide and varied. They include, but are not limited to:
- Improve sleep
- Relieve symptoms associated with PTSD
- Reduce stress & anxiety
- Relieve symptoms associated with depression
- Sharpen memory
- Increase focus
- Increase learning ability
- Relieve headaches
- Reverse hypertension
- Recover from addiction
- Relieve chronic pain
- Relieve symptoms and pain associated with pregnancy and childbirth
- Improve mood
The following research studies are a sampling of the studies that have been completed specific to the practice of iRest Yoga Nidra:
- Evaluating the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for chronic musculoskeletal pain in U.S. veterans
- iRest Yoga Nidra on the college campus: Changes in stress, depression, worry, and mindfulness; International Journal of Yoga Therapy (2013) ref
- Evaluation of meditation in the treatment of chemical dependency; Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions (2012) ref
- Feasibility study of Integrative Restoration (iRest) Yoga Nidra on combat-related PTSD; International Journal of Yoga Therapy (2011) ref
- The effect of meditation on cortisol: A comparison of meditation techniques to a control group; Ohio University ref
To view a complete list of completed and current research, visit the iRest Research report
Stress & Anxiety
- The use of meditation-relaxation techniques for the management of stress in a working population; Journal of Occupational Medicine (1980) ref
- A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination and distraction; Annals of Behavioral Medicine (2007) ref
- Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion, and inflammatory pathways; PLOS One (2013) ref
- The effectiveness of various treatment techniques in different degrees and durations of sleep-onset insomnia; Behaviour Research and Therapy (1979) ref
- Self regulation techniques in the management of chronic arthritic pain in hemophilia; Behaviour Therapy (1981) ref
- A comprehensive yoga program improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: A RCT; Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2007) ref
- Impact of Yoga Nidra on psychological wellbeing in patients with menstrual irregularities: A randomized controlled trial; International Journal of Yoga (2011) ref
- Yoga for depression: The research evidence; Journal of Affective Disorders (2005) ref
- Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women; Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (2009) ref
- Psychotherapeutic control of hypertension; New England Journal of Medicine (1976) ref
- The effects of behaviour therapy, self-relaxation and transcendental mediation on cardiovascular stress response; Journal of Clinical Psychology (1980) ref
Neuroscience and Brain Health (memory, learning, focus)
- Mindfulness practice leads to increase in regional gray matter density; Psychiatry Research (2011) ref
- Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on pre-natal stress and mood: results of a pilot study; Women’s Mental Health (2008) ref
More resources from around the web:
- iRest Yoga Nidra for childbirth, pregnancy, and fertility; Calm Birthing
- Practising Yoga Nidra during pregnancy; BabeCenter
- The joys of Yoga Nidra for pregnancy; Ana Davis
This section will be continually updated with the most recent scientific research and is a work in progress.
How it Differs From Other Forms of Meditation and Hypnosis
At first glance, yoga nidra may appear to be just another meditation technique. However, when you look at what’s really going on in the body during Yoga Nidra versus what goes on in the body during other meditation practices, there are a few key differences.
First, Yoga Nidra is not a concentration exercise. Most meditation techniques instruct you to concentrate completely on your breath, a sound, or an object. Once you achieve one-pointed concentration, you’ll have withdrawn all your other senses and move into a meditative and enlightened state.
In Yoga Nidra, you’re actually trying really hard not to concentrate. By concentrating, you stay in the conscious mind and out of the unconscious mind. Yoga Nidra invites you to move past the conscious mind and into the unknown.
Hypnosis works because it disconnects the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems from the brain temporarily so that the brain becomes isolated from its normal sensory input. In other words, the brain goes to sleep while the body is awake. In Yoga Nidra, the central nervous system awakens the brain completely, allowing it to receive different kinds of knowledge and sensory input from the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Instead of the brain being asleep at the wheel, in Yoga Nidra, the brain is in mega alert mode without the associative stress and anxiety. The brain is awake, but the body is asleep.
Tips for Practice
- Yoga Nidra is best practiced lying down to ensure that you can completely relax all muscles in your body. If you can’t lie down, don’t sweat it. You can practice, standing, walking, or sitting as well.
- I highly encourage the use of lots of props. Body pillows are great. Pillows under your knees will help neutralize your low back and keep it from hurting. Put a pillow underneath your head to prop up your neck a little as well. Use an eye covering so you’re not distracted, and I encourage using a blanket as you’ll probably get cold.
- If you fall asleep, it’s okay. Even though the ultimate goal of Yoga Nidra is stay awake, when you first start practicing it will be really hard not to fall asleep. Trust that you’re body is getting exactly what it needs, no matter what happens.
- Practice Yoga Nidra at the end of the day, when your mind is active and you need to let go of the new tensions and stress you’ve accumulated.
- Yoga Nidra is also a great break when you’re feeling really, really overwhelmed.
- Yoga Nidra can be practiced every day or every once in a while when you feel you really need the deep rest, but I suggest making it a regular part of your daily success routine.
- In Yoga Nidra, it’s not uncommon for stuff to come up. By stuff, I mean mental and emotional stuff that you thought was safely packed away in the attic of your brain never to resurface. This stuff will be related to past trauma and heavy emotions that you never quite worked through. This is perfectly normal. It’s a good thing (although you might not feel like it’s a good thing at the time.) The point is to bring this stuff back up so you can finally work through it and clear it out. However, if what comes up is too much for you to handle on your own, please don’t be afraid to seek help. Find a psychologist or therapist who can help you work through the stuff. You’ll feel lighter, happier, and healthier if you do.
- At the same time, it’s perfectly normal to have peaceful, relaxing sessions and never have to deal with any demons. Either way, trust that you’re getting exactly what you need. You’re doing the work, and you’ll see the results build up over time.
Check out my Meditation Playlist on the AshleyJosephineYoga YouTube Channel for some more guided meditations. Be sure to sign up for my channel so you can access the 50+ yoga videos!
You can also check out what I’ve written and recorded about yoga nidra in the past here on the blog:
Where to Find Other Yoga Nidra Meditations
Yoga nidra is quickly gaining popularity across the world. Ask your local yoga studio to host a workshop or add a weekly class to the schedule if you’re interested in practicing regularly. I’m always available to teach privately if you’re interested in going deeper or getting one-on-one instruction.
If you haven’t downloaded my yoga nidra guided meditation CD yet, you can purchase it here.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga nidra, check out the resources below.
iRest – Dr. Richard Miller has done some incredible work transforming yoga nidra into an accessible practice widely accepted by the Western medical community. iRest is taught extensively at military bases around the world to help soldiers and veterans recover from the symptoms associated with PTSD. The iRest community offers CDs, retreats, and trainings around the world.
Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati – This book is the modern day bible of yoga nidra. Swami Satyananda Saraswati fuses both Eastern and Western perspectives to explain how and why yoga nidra works and offers practice scripts to work from. This is an especially valuable read for yoga teachers interested in adding yoga nidra to their teaching repertoire, but will interest the avid learner interested in understanding how yoga nidra works as well.
Yoga Nidra for Sleep – This Yoga Journal article outlines how yoga nidra can be used to help overcome insomnia and sleep-related problems.
Rod Stryker – A well-known teacher who offers workshops all over the world, Rod Stryker is one of the most prominent Yoga Nidra instructors in the West. I’ve practiced with him once before, although it wasn’t specifically Yoga Nidra, and it was a great experience. If you’re looking for something a little more Western and a little less academic, he’s your go-to guy.