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  • Hayley Wilson

Yoga Nidra: A Yogic Sleep Practice

What is Yoga Nidra?

yoga nidra

Yoga Nidra can be described as active sleep, enlightened sleep, or aware sleep. In my first blog post, I explained how the translation of the word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root "yuj", which means to yoke, join, or unite. The word "nidra" also originates from the Sanskrit roots "ni" and "dru", explained below.


Ni: nothingness, void, absence

Dru: which means to draw forth, extract, to unveil, to uplift


My teacher, Alex Nashton, states beautifully that "Yoga Nidra is a state of mind: cessation of vrittis (mind fluctuations). It's not a state of concentration nor is it scattered awareness. It's not savasana and it's not meditation, although those things can help us get into it. It's not a therapy, although the steps to get there can be very therapeutic.


Yoga Nidra is a state and an experience. Just like "yoga", union is not something that can be taught, "yoga nidra" is not something that can be taught. What can be taught are the tools, techniques, and practices that help us get there.


Through a series of body scans, breath awareness practices, and specific visualizations, the mind is brought into the hypnagogic state between being asleep and being awake. This is the same kind of "twilight zone" state you might find yourself in just before you wake up in the morning. The practice works to weave awareness through the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious to release old patterns, trapped memories, and stuck emotions."


How Does it Differ From Meditation?


Often times I am asked how yoga nidra differs from meditation. I love both of these practices deeply and could dive in to all the benefits of both (maybe in another post), yet they are not synonymous.


In simple terms, meditation is usually a seated practice within the waking state used to attain awareness of one's thoughts, that is generally breath, mantra, or visualization focused then self guided. Whereas yoga nidra is a fully guided meditation usually practiced lying down, in the hypnagogic state, focused on deep relaxation and used to obtain a deeper understanding of the self.


For the science lovers, both meditation and yoga nidra fall together under the umbrella term of non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR practices, a term coined by Dr. Andrew Huberman, who is a neuroscience professor at Stanford University.


What Are The Benefits?


Some of the benefits of a yoga nidra practice include:


  • Deep relaxation of the physical, mental, and emotional body

  • Release things from the subconscious and unconscious mind that cannot be accessed intellectually

  • Sleep Supplement: it's believed that 20 minutes of yoga nidra has an equivalent effect on the mind and body as 2 hours of sleep

  • Increased ability to focus

  • Increases creativity and greater access to imagination

  • Management of pain relief

  • Helps process PTSD

  • Soothes anxiety and depression


More Resources:


As always, this post feels like the tip of the yoga nidra iceberg, but hopefully it gave you a basic understanding of the practice. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend these resources:


  1. My beloved teacher, Alex Nashton, who weaves the neuroscience and spiritual aspects of this practice beautifully.

  2. For more on neuroscience and NSDR practices, I recommend Dr. Andrew Huberman.

  3. Books: Yoga Nidra by Satyananda Saraswati and Radiant Rest by Tracee Stanley


And if you are ready to practice, I have a few guided yoga nidra practices inspired by the chakra system, on the free meditation app, Insight Timer. Each recording includes instructions on how to set up your space and lasts 20-30 minutes. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I would love to hear about your experience if you feel like sharing.


With love and gratitude,

Hayley


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