What is yoga nidra?

Yoga Nidra pillow on a blanket and a tibetan singing bowl

Written by Kelley Griffiths

Mindfulness-based health coach, in love with Yoga Nidra, movement, currently studying contemplative psychotherapy, currently living in Berlin, Germany.

September 13, 2021

So, what is Yoga Nidra?

I’m so happy you asked! So first, Yoga Nidra is MAGIC. But you might already know that. In this post I will answer the main questions I get asked about Yoga Nidra and keep the answers short and snappy so you can get the general idea and overview. I’m working on creating blog posts for a more in-depth dive into each of these topics soon, so have a read and then let me know what more you’d like to know.

The practice is yoga is ancient and originated in South Asia. It’s been appropriated by the west and thus has changed, morphed, and been adapted, the same is true for Yoga Nidra. The nidra that I have been trained to facilitate is not what was talked about in the Upanishads or Mahabharata and has evolved greatly, in the last century most especially, but no matter what ‘iteration’ of nidra you come across, let’s remember where it came from and it’s profound and wise roots.

Yoga Nidra literally translated

Yoga Nidra literally means “yogic sleep.” It’s an accessible, effortless yoga practice that anyone can do. It can be done alone or in a class with a teacher. It’s like a guided sleep meditation that encourages deep restoration and healing but also brings you ‘home to yourself’ for a connection to your source. More on that later.


What can it be used for?

In this time of stress and anxiety, Yoga Nidra is a powerful tool. It helps one cultivate a sense of calm, both emotionally and physiologically. It can teach you how to bring the system into a state of peace and give you the chance to rest and relax. Now, more than ever, we need this deep state of healing. But it’s also a spiritual tool, and a way of access deep meditative states. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s just the latest stress management tools, no no no. You can use it to access your innate creative depths, develop emotional and nervous system regulation, re structure unskillful thought patterns, devevlop mindfulness and self-compassion and so much more. It’s used in the treatment of PTSD and addiction as well as being ‘just’ a relaxation technique. It’s magic and it’s power is strong.

Am I asleep in yoga nidra?

It is a state between sleep and awake. It is a state of consciousness, often referred to as an awakened sleep. It is a half-sleep and half-waking state. It is sleep with a trace of awareness. 

Yoga Nidra is a unique practice because it utilises the body’s natural ability to fall into the sleep state. The practice stills the waves of the mind, progressively taking you down into the same brainwave states of sleep, but with intention and awareness. You effectively ride off hte back of the body’s ability to go to sleep, to enter states of deep meditation.

If you’re tired, you will probably fall asleep and that’s fine. It’s an adaptive practice and you will often get what you need from it, so if you’re fatigued and you fall asleep great! But that’s not the purpose. With training, you will be able to stay awake and alert whilst the body sinks into rest and activate different brain waves states.

Is yoga nidra a form of meditation?

Some people say yes, some people say no. I’ve had teachers who said of course and some who said of course not. It’s a divided room and such an interesting question. I’ll write a whole blog post on that topic soon, but feel free to comment below and let me know what you think.

What do the teachers say about yoga nidra?

Richard Miller, a well-respected practitioner says “Yoga Nidra, for me, is the path, the means, and the realisation of True Nature and our interconnectedness with all of life.”

And Kamini Desai, one of my favourite teachers, says “Yoga Nidra is stilling the fluctuations of the mind…and abiding as one’s true nature…through conscious entry into the sleep state… it is not an escape from the world. The purpose is to teach you to live differently in the world.”

What do you do in yoga nidra?

Some people call Yoga Nidra a technique, but it can be seen more as a communion with the self. A connection with your true self and innate wisdom. It’s an opportunity to connect with yourself and feel into, and become aware of, what is really going on inside; a form of self-inquiry.

People usually practice Yoga Nidra laying down on their backs with their eyes closed, under a warm blanket, but it can also be done sitting in a chair or on the floor as long as one is safely supported.

You can do self-guided practices, but more often than not it is a guided practice with a trained facilitator (hello!) either live or from audio and the voice is your anchor. You listen and either follow the instructions or not, you might just let the words wash over you.

Do you move in yoga nidra?

There is no physical movement in Yoga Nidra. You lay in stillness and allow the physical body to rest. The practice promotes deep healing and rest at every level of being: physical, mental and emotional. But if you need to move, that’s fine. I practice a permissive form of Yoga Nidra where you are encouraged to look after yourself and do what is needed in the moment. If you need to move, move.

What are the stages of yoga nidra?

The opening stages of Yoga Nidra are designed to invite the body into a relaxed state, gradually slow the mind, and allow for a deep settling of the body whilst becoming aware of the subtle sensation of the breath. You might recognise that as a settling of the body and invitation to activate the relaxation response and then some mindfulness of body.

Different traditions follow different structures, so each session may be different, but commonly there is a settling stage, a rotation of consciousness, breathing awareness, experiencing pairs of opposites, floor awareness, visualisations, perhaps a Sankalpa and then finally externalisation.

What happens to me in the practice of yoga nidra?

It’s common for people to fall asleep, feel as if they went into a trance, or not remember anything at all.

The beauty of Yoga Nidra is that it can adapt to what the person needs and can be used in many different ways.

There is not a right or wrong experience. You may or may not feel calm and relaxed. You may or may not drift off. You may or may not be able to stop ruminating and connect with the bodily sensations. It’s all ok, whatever your experience is. And that, again is part of the practice to accept all experience, remind you again of mindfulness?

Why do people practice yoga nidra?

Listening to a Yoga Nidra guided meditation before bed can help people with sleep issues to enter into sleep comfortably and quickly.

Some uses of Yoga Nidra include overcoming negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, increasing productivity, healing the body and so much more.

I came to it as a means of dealing with anxiety and panic attacks and have found it a supportive practice for toning my nervous system.

It is also a strong and powerful spiritual tool for burning through the samskaras and strengthening one’s ability to enter deeper and more subtle levels of consciousness.

Yoga Nidra, when used regularly can help bring the body back into balance by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The vital functions of the body are regulated through this system in the resting state. 

Whatever your reason for coming to Yoga Nidra, you are welcome, and the practice can benefit you. 

The best way to understand it is to try it. 

Where can I try yoga nidra?

You can do a local search to find teachers and studios that offer it live. If you’re in Berlin you can come to one of my studio classes. Or you can find lots of incredible audios online.

I love the Yoga Nidra Network where I did my training, you can find mine and many other teacher’s recordings and multiple languages!

You can also find lots of Youtube and of course I recommend you take a look at my channel and subscribe if you enjoy it.

Want to know more? Comment below and let me know what you’d like more information on.

Made with love.

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