Yoga Nidra: A Complete Guide to Ancient Deep Relaxation Practice

Sometimes, to achieve more, you have to let go of things that hold you back. We are talking about things that cloud your senses, such as insecurity, stress, low self-esteem, fear, anger, and other negative thoughts. When these thoughts overpower you, it results in suffering, desolation, and low productivity.

The best way to win over these negative thoughts is to practice Yoga Nidra, the art of doing nothing.

Yoga Nidra takes you to the higher realms of consciousness where you realize your true potential. You attain a state of awareness where you realize that the thoughts influencing your mind are temporary objects. These thoughts will come and go, but you will remain forever.

Once you achieve this state of mind, you will become a self-realized soul, determined to fulfill your duties, without subjecting to temporary influences of this physical world. And the simplest way to achieve this state is by practicing Yoga Nidra – the ancient art of relaxing the mind and elevating the consciousness.

Are you excited to know more? Let us now dive deeper into the world of Yoga Nidra.

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra – also known as Psychic Sleep, Yogic Sleep, and Dynamic Sleep – is an ancient technique of attaining a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. It’s a way of inducing deep relaxation and at the same time, being aware of the inner consciousness.

Confusing? Let us talk about Yoga Nidra definition in detail.

To understand Yoga Nidra, you must know about the three states of consciousness that influence human existence. These are:

  • Jagriti or Jaagrut (Conscious) – Wakeful State of Mind – When the mind is connected to the external environment. It relies on the sensory organs to receive and interpret signals from the surroundings.
  • Swapna (Subconscious) – Dream State – The mind drifts into the world of dreams. It’s the state between the external world and the inner world.
  • Sushupti (Unconscious) – Deep Sleep – The mind slips into an unconscious state wherein you have no connection with the outer world. You are not even aware of the flow of time.

So when you are awake, your mind and body are in a wakeful state. You are conscious of the activities happening around you. But when you sleep, you enter into a dream state (subconscious) or deep sleep state (unconscious) of mind. Your awareness shifts to these states and you are not aware of the outside world. Your body also slips into the rest mode.

Now in Yoga Nidra, your body moves into a state of rest (relaxation), but your mind is awake. Yoga Nidra is an art of inducing a state of rest without falling asleep. The mind attains a state wherein it is connected to the conscious state as well as the unconscious state.

Yoga Nidra helps you in attaining pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). You listen to a set of instructions, similar to a guided meditation, to shift awareness from the outside world to the inner world. Besides pratyahara, you also practice pranayama (breathing techniques) and dharana (concentration) to enter a relaxed and conscious state.

Practicing Yoga Nidra takes you into self-awareness mode, wherein you can consciously watch and analyze your samskaras (impressions of the mind). The samskaras are the result of your experiences from the past. Based on the nature of experiences, the samskaras manifest in the form of suffering, happiness, contentment, and other humanly states.

Yoga Nidra helps you in breaking the bonds associated with the samskaras, tensions, and other negative habits. You undergo a spiritual as well as emotional evolution. You attain higher levels of consciousness and become more receptive to people and situations in your life. Ultimately, you evolve as a better human being, possessing a positive outlook towards life.

How does Yoga Nidra work?

Swami Satyananda Saraswati – who popularized the practice of modern Yoga Nidra in the mid-twentieth century – says Yoga Nidra is attaining a state between waking and sleeping states. The body is at rest, but the mind is active. As a practitioner, you can experience it by practicing Yoga Nidra under the guidance of a Yoga Nidra expert.

There is a scientific explanation for Yoga Nidra as well. Different states of consciousness are marked by different levels of brain activity, measured in the form of brainwave patterns. So when you are awake, your brain emits a particular brainwave pattern. And when you are asleep, the brain emits different types of brainwave pattern.

An electroencephalogram (EEG) test is conducted to measure the intensity of these brainwave patterns in cycles per second (cps). Let us have a look at the brainwave patterns for different states, including Yoga Nidra. 

State of Consciousness Psychological Name Brainwave Pattern Characteristics
Alert Wakefulness Conscious Mind Beta (frequency > 13 cps) Receptive to the external world through sensory organs
Relaxed Wakefulness (Yoga Nidra) Superconscious mind (Transition from Conscious to Subconscious & Unconscious state) Alpha (8 – 13 cps) Deep & conscious relaxation, a state of drowsiness
Dreaming Sleep Subconscious Mind Beta (3 – 7 cps) Dreams appear, the brain is awake, body paralyzed
Deep Sleep Unconscious Mind Delta (frequency < 4 cps) Disengagement of the mind and consciousness, body restoration takes place

Yoga Nidra, or the Sleep of the Yogis, induces the Alpha brainwave pattern. Once you enter this meditative state, your heart rate slows down, muscle relaxation takes place, and the autonomic nervous system kicks in. The process stimulates the pineal gland that, in turn, releases melatonin – a hormone that reduces stress and boosts the immune system. Your mind and body start to rejuvenate.

Now the question arises – how to practice Yoga Nidra and rejuvenate your mind and body? Let us proceed ahead and look at the Yoga Nidra practice popularized by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

Eight Stages of Yoga Nidra

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of Bihar School of Yoga, devised the modern Yoga Nidra concept and codified the practice in eight stages. Let us guide you through these eight stages of Satyananda Yoga Nidra practice.

Stage 1: Preparation

To begin with the process, you must relax your body and create a suitable surrounding, calm and serene. Select a space where you can lie down in Shavasana. Make enough room on the floor so that your body doesn’t make contact with any object. Lie down on the floor, cover yourself with a blanket, and assume Shavasana position, limbs stretched out in a relaxed position with no tension at the joints.

Stage 2: Sankalpa – The Resolution

When you begin Yoga Nidra, you need a Sankalpa, a resolution, a determination to focus upon. It’s not like that you are doing Yoga Nidra to fulfill a wish or a dream. Taking a Sankalpa is a way of strengthening your will power. It’s a way of training your conscious and subconscious mind to work towards fulfilling your goals.

So when you begin Yoga Nidra, you take a Sankalpa, and when the session is about to end, you repeat the Sankalpa. You are planting the seed in your subconscious mind. As you keep on practicing Yoga Nidra every day, you nourish the seed so that it grows into a healthy plant. The process continues till the time your Sankalpa comes true.

Stage 3: Rotation of Consciousness

There are two sections in this stage – rotation of sound awareness and rotation of body awareness.

The rotation of sound awareness begins with the process of internalization. You start by focusing on external sounds. You will hear all types of sounds – insects creaking, wind blowing, footsteps in the alley, horn blowing, and so on. Gradually, your focus on the external sounds diminishes, and instead, it shifts inside you. You start becoming aware of your presence. This is the point where the process of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) comes in.

The rotation of body awareness makes you realize the “wholeness” of your body, not just individual parts. The instructor guides you through the process of internal awareness of the body parts. He or she names the body part, you think about the part, and you become aware of it. As soon as the instructor names another body part, you become detached from the previous body part and your awareness shifts to this particular part. The process continues until you become aware, and at the same time, detached of the whole body.

Stage 4: Breath Awareness

Once your body becomes still, the internal processes also calm down. Your breath and heart rate slows down. You enter a relaxed state.  In this stage, you watch and observe your breath. You DO NOT control it. Just let it flow through different channels and become aware of its movement. The process will further open the door to consciousness within you.

The breath is the link between physical and mental aspects. It is the Prana (the life force). The relaxed breathing calms your mind and body. Eventually, it removes the psychological blocks, revealing your suppressed thoughts and emotions. You observe your thoughts and let them pass by, without holding on to them. Ultimately, relieving yourself of the unnecessary weight that you have been carrying for a long time.

Stage 5: Manifestation of Opposites

In this stage, the practitioner learns to deal with the emotions and the emotional states. The instructor arouses opposite emotions or feelings at the physical and emotional level. The opposite feelings can be love/hate, heat/cold, pain/pleasure, and so on. As a practitioner, you experience these opposite emotions, let them fade away after some time, and finally enter into a relaxed state, unaffected by the emotions.

This stage activates the limbic system of the brain that deals with three key functions: emotions, memories, and arousal. The ultimate aim of this practice is to develop will power, emotional control, and composure.

Stage 6: Creative Visualization

This stage will invoke the power of visualization within you. This practice aims to visualize imagery and use this visualization to construct or recall emotions and experiences. These experiences may be from the past, present, or the future. Since you are in a relaxed state, these visualizations don’t influence you. You are aware of the nature of these visualizations. But you will analyze them, use your creativity to paint a complete picture, and let it pass by without holding on to them.

Stage 7: Sankalpa

Remember the Sankalpa you took in Stage 2? It’s time to repeat the same Sankalpa and let the subconscious mind know what it needs to do. Since you are completely relaxed and aware of the cosmic consciousness within you, it’s the perfect moment to focus on your resolution. Your mind is receptive to the instructions, and therefore, you should recall the Sankalpa at this particular moment.

The Infinite Consciousness…

Before you proceed to the last stage, you experience the infinite consciousness within you. The seven stages of Yoga Nidra stimulate the consciousness within you. You are aware of the ‘inner spaces of consciousness’ within you. Chidakash, or the ‘space of mind consciousness’ manifest inside your forehead or behind your eyes. Hridayakash or the ‘space of heart consciousness’ exists at the center of your chest.

Yoga Nidra practice activates these inner spaces of consciousness within you where you can watch your thoughts, feelings, samskaras, and experiences. You watch them, but they don’t affect you. They appear, and they go, and you experience them, with complete detachment.

Stage 8: Externalization

The last stage brings back the practitioner from the internal world of psychic sleep to the external world. The process of externalization should be gradual because if it’s too quick, the practitioner may feel disoriented and the serenity after a Yoga Nidra session may disappear abruptly.

The instructor guides you through a series of steps, comprising of breath awareness, body awareness, and familiarization to the external surroundings.  Finally, the transition takes place from sleep to wakefulness.

Yoga Nidra vs. Meditation

People often confuse Yoga Nidra with meditation. They say – the difference lies in the position, you assume an upright position in meditation and while doing Yoga Nidra, you lie down as if you are sleeping. Well, this is one of the major differences. But there are other aspects as well that makes Yoga Nidra and meditation similar yet different practices.

  Yoga Nidra Meditation
Position You lie down on the floor in Shavasana. The body is completely relaxed and tension-free. You sit cross-legged in an upright position. You can lean against the wall to maintain an upright position. If possible, you can also sit in lotus pose.
Process A cycle of Yoga Nidra comprises of eight steps. An instructor guides you through these steps. While meditating, you focus on your breath, mantra, or any other intangible tool, such as numbers, a ball of light, and so on. An instructor may or may not guide you during meditation.
State of Consciousness You enter a state of deep conscious sleep. Your mind is awake, but the body is at rest. It’s a state between being asleep and awake. You are in a waking state of consciousness. You are aware of the external environment. However, you can also transcend into deeper levels of consciousness.

Learn Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is an ancient art devised by the Yogis and excelled by the Yoga experts. Whether you want to live a stress-free life or you want to open the door to opportunities, Yoga Nidra can assist you in both cases.

You need an instructor who can guide you through the complete process of Yoga Nidra, and help you in exploring the depths of consciousness within you. Get in touch with a Yoga Nidra expert to embark on the journey of self-awareness. To learn more about Yoga Nidra join Jeevmoksha yoga teacher training in Rishikesh


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