Yoga Nidra's first scripts were written down in 700 BC. However, it dates back to 1000 BC through verbal teachings, predating the common era and Buddhism itself.
The ancient practice of Yoga Nidra, also known as yogic sleep or yoga of conscious sleep, originates in India. The Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts, were the first to mention the meditation technique, with roots tracing back to Sankhya philosophy. Yoga Nidra's first scripts were written down in 700 BC. However, it dates back to 1000 BC through verbal teachings, predating the common era and Buddhism itself. The guided meditation has evolved rapidly over time and continues to be practiced globally due to the endless benefits.
Yoga Nidra meditation has extensive benefits. Some of these include regulating hormones, stabilizing glucose levels, and alleviating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The restorative practice enhances and regulates the sleep cycle by improving sleep habits, helping you rest more soundly, letting you fall asleep faster, and allowing you to reach a deeper state of rest. In addition, just 30-minutes of the meditation practice is equivalent to as much as four hours of quality sleep, although it depends on the practitioner and their experience. The wide range of opportunities almost sounds too good to be true. However, these benefits are corroborated by Eastern medicine and the U.S. Military, supporting its effectiveness.
Please continue reading to learn the science behind Yoga Nidra and how it works.
What is happening to the body during the practice?
During yogic sleep, the body goes into a state of deep relaxation while the mind remains alert and conscious. This state is described as reaching the border between waking and sleeping. Western medicine also refers to it as the merging of alpha and delta brainwaves.
As we fall asleep, brain waves begin moving from thoughtful beta waves, pass through the thoughtful stage of alpha waves, and finally enter the slowest frequency of sleep - delta waves. Yoga Nidra puts practitioners into a state of deep relaxation between alpha and theta waves. In this conscious state, the body can rest and reset the nervous system the same way it does during deep sleep. This is a passive and active state, which allows you to access subconscious and repressed memories and experiences.
How does Yoga Nidra create these reactions?
So how exactly does Yoga Nidra create these reactions in the body? The meditative practice moves through the frame systematically, using what psychologists call “habituation.” In other words, it works by using repeated stimuli to create a response. By putting your attention into the body and ignoring the outside world, you become habituated, forget about external sensations, and draw your attention inward. This promotes deep relaxation and helps you find inner peace, promoting emotional balance.
The next part of the exercise is visualizations, which aim to shake out painful memories and fears. While in a state of emotional balance, you can view these memories in a new light. This process is called “brain plasticity.” It works against existing neural pathways to reinforce new ones. Creating space in the brain to alter negative thought patterns and habits can correct physical and mental imbalances and treat anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, and much more.
Supporting Research and Studies on the Benefits of Yoga Nidra
There has been extensive research to support the benefits of Yoga Nidra. For example, several papers published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology have found that yogic sleep improves blood pressure, heart rate variables, and hormone irregularities in women. In addition, research at Shyam Shah Medical College found that people with type-2 diabetes had fewer fluctuations in blood glucose levels after practicing Yoga Nidra meditation for 30 consecutive days.
The psychological benefits Yoga Nidra has on PTSD and other mental health problems are extensive. Researcher in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Amanda Hull, advocates Yoga Nidra in the VA hospital structure. In addition, John F. Kennedy University has researched Vietnam and Iraq war service members with PTSD. After practicing Yoga Nidra regularly for eight consecutive weeks, they reported a reduction in anxiety, rage, and an increase in emotional control.
Lastly, at a Veterans Hospital in Long Beach, California, women who were survivors of rape and military sexual trauma practiced Yoga Nidra twice a week for ten weeks. Women showed a significant decrease in negative thoughts provoking self-blame and depression.
The Process Of Yoga Nidra
Step 1: Relax the body
You will begin by lying down and relaxing into a comfortable position, either on the ground or on a mat. Optionally, you may choose to support your knees with a pillow, put a rolled-up towel under your neck, cover your body with a blanket, or shield your eyes. The guided meditation will then begin.
Step 2: Set your intention
After your body has relaxed, you will set a positive intention for your practice. This is known as a Sankalpa. You might want to think about what you are longing for at that moment, or perhaps what you wish to experience most in your life. For example, yours might be “my heart is open and relaxed” or “I let go of what was, I accept what is, I manifest what will be.” You will repeat this several times in your mind before moving on.
Step 3: Rotation of consciousness
As you begin to rotate your consciousness within, the teacher will ask you to take notice of certain parts of your body. You will follow the said body parts with focused attention. As you move your awareness through your body, the entire surface of the brain will be stimulated. This will help relax the mind.
Doing a mental scan of the body makes you forget about the physicality of your body. This helps you draw your attention within.
Step 4: Experience opposites
The teacher will then guide you through opposite experiences. This may include hot and cold and lightness and heaviness. Experiencing opposites allows the conscious mind to determine how your body really feels, rather than just responding to and relying on sensations from the external world.
Step 5: Visualization
The visualization part of Yoga Nidra practice exposes what has been stored in the unconscious mind. There are a variety of methods this could use. However, a common form of imagery to use is symbols and signs. Symbols are understood as the language of the subconscious and can lead to restorative healing and balance for the mind. It is effective in bringing hidden or repressed thoughts and emotions to the surface.
Step 6: Finish with a positive resolution
You will finish the Yoga Nidra practice with a positive resolution. As the session comes to an end, your mind will be highly receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, which can help strengthen the Sankalpa you made at the beginning. The instructor will then guide you back to an awakened state of mind.
Yoga Nidra For Beginners: Frequently Asked Questions
How to prepare for Yoga Nidra?
Here are some basic steps you can take to prepare for a Yoga Nidra session.
Find a recording of someone reading aloud Yoga Nidra instructions, or take a Yoga Nidra class to do this in person.
Prepare blankets, a soft mat, or any other comfortable surface for you to lie on.
Prepare other comforts to enhance your experiences, such as incense, a candle, or a diffuser [optional].
Wear comfortable, loose clothing.
If you have time, warm your body and mind up with some Yoga (such as sun salutation).
Make sure the space you are in is quiet.
How do you do Yoga Nidra?
Here is a break down of the simple steps to a basic Yoga Nidra process.
Step 1: Lay on your back with your arms by your sides or where you feel most comfortable.
Step 2: Close your eyes.
Step 3: Take several deep breaths.
Step 4: When instructed by the recording, rotate and visualize the said body part.
Step 5: Repeat step four until all body parts are visualized.
Step 6: Become aware of the entire body.
Step 7: Prepare to return to ordinary consciousness.
Step 8: Take your time and return to a seated position.
Step 9: If you have time, complete the session with some asana.
References And Resources
- Dol K. S. (2019). Effects of a yoga nidra on the life stress and self-esteem in university students. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 35, 232–236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2019.03.004
- Chung, B. (2016, November 1). 5 Reasons to Practice Yoga Nidra. Do You. https://www.doyou.com/5-reasons-to-practice-yoga-nidra-90029/.
- Pence, P., Katz, L., Huffman, C., & Cojucar, G. (2014, October 1). Delivering Integrative Restoration-Yoga Nidra Meditation (iRest®) to Women with Sexual Trauma at a Veteran's Medical Center: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. https://meridian.allenpress.com/ijyt/article/24/1/53/138182/Delivering-Integrative-Restoration-Yoga-Nidra?searchresult=1.
- Yoga Nidra classes on. Ekhart Yoga. (2020, November 16). https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/styles/yoga-nidra.