Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation

Yoga NidraWhat exactly is Yoga Nidra? The term appears more and more often on studio timetables and in my upcoming yoga day retreat I will be offering this yogic practice, too.

Yoga Nidra for deep relaxation

Yoga Nidra could be described as a form of guided relaxation. The practice typically last 30-40 minutes and often brings immediate benefits such as a delightful sense of well-being, peace and contentment.

Although the translation of Yoga Nidra is yogic sleep, it is not at all like being asleep. Rather, Yoga Nidra leads to a state somewhere in-between alertness and sleep – a bit like daydreaming or being lost in thought. It is a state of deep physical relaxation while the mind stays active, able to think and observe.

As well as a technique to relax, Yoga Nidra can facilitate a good nights sleep and help overcome insomnia. In addition, the tantric practice is increasingly used as a therapeutic tool to reduce levels of stress and anxiety and to let go of difficult emotions.

Yoga Nidra as meditation

Yoga Nidra can also be used as a form of meditation, as it based on mindful concentration and detached observation. Meditation is an integral part of yogic practice, typically practiced in a seated position. Yoga Nidra offers a more comfortable and restorative form of meditation, thus opening meditation up to people with physical restrictions and those who have a need for deep relaxation.

The practice of Yoga  Nidra was pioneered in the West by Richard Miller, an American clinical psychologist. He developed a systematic approach to Yoga Nidra called iRest. IRest combines the ancient practice with insights from Western psychology and neuroscience. He has also been instrumental in bringing Yoga Nidra and its benefits to the attention of scientists and therapists. Follow this link to hear Miller talk you through an iRest Yoga Nidra routine.

What to expect

People often ask me how they would know that the have entered the state of Yoga Nidra. As the experience differs from person to person, this question is not easy to answer. But I venture the remark that we will know: We will come to a point when we suddenly realize that we have not thought about anything in particular for a while, that we lost track of time, that we were completely absorbed in just being.

To get the most of Yoga Nidra, it is best not to expect anything. Without preconceptions, we simply follow the instructions from our yoga teacher, the audio we are listening to, or our own routine. When the conditions are right, Yoga Nidra happens automatically. Just as sleep and happiness happen automatically when the conditions are right. It cannot be forced by will power.

During a Yoga Nidra session, we will typically drift in and out of different levels of relaxation, sometimes the mind gets distracted, sometimes we wish to adjust our body position. All this is part of the natural flow of the practice.

Follow these simple steps

Yoga Nidra is a deceptively simple practice, which can be learned by almost everyone. Initially, it might be useful to be guided by a yoga teacher or recording. Once we know the structure, we can practice by ourselves. In fact, the most benefit might be gained from a short, 10-15 minute daily practice as part of a yoga home practice routine.

  1. Get ready: Find a quiet place, where you will be undisturbed for the length of your practice. Lie down in a comfortable position. You may like to put a pillow or block under your head, a rolled-up blanket or bolster under your knees and cover yourself with a blanket. When you are ready, close your eyes.
  2. Welcome your environment: Notice and welcome any sounds, smells, taste, bodily sensations. Allow everything to be just the way it is.
  3. Set an intention for your practice. This intention could by anything, big or small. Maybe you would like to rest or to re-energise. Maybe you would like your mind float freely or keep it focussed to reflect on a particular topic, theme, emotion or mindset.
  4. Connect to an inner resource: Bring your awareness to a safe haven within yourself. This safe haven could be a place (real or imagined), a person, a symbol, a memory. Anything, which makes you feel safe, strong and protected.
  5. Scan your body: Systematically move your awareness through your body, without trying to relax or react in any way. Welcome whatever you might be experiencing.
  6. Become aware of your breath: Feel the natural rhythm and movement of your breath, allowing the body to breathe naturally and freely. Release any tension with a deep sigh if you feel like doing so.
  7. Welcome your feelings and thoughts. Whatever you are emotions ar bubbling up throughout your practice, whatever thoughts are crossing your mind, observe them with a certain sense of detachment and without judging.
  8. Find a joyful memory or return to your safe haven. Discover a sense of oneness spreading throughout your body and into the space around you.
  9. End your Yoga Nidra practice with a few moments of further rest. Finish by taking a few deep breaths, gently stretching the body and gradually returning to activity. Some people find it helpful to drink water after a Yoga Nidra practice.

I personally like to close my yoga classes with a Yoga Nidra relaxation and find it particularly effective after a session of yin yoga. Yoga Nidra is also part of my workshops on Yoga for Managing Stress.

“We can’t know what an apple tastes like, unless we taste it. You can’t know the power of Yoga Nidra unless you practice it.”
Richard Miller