Note: I have capitalized Yoga Nidra when referring to the state of consciousness, and I have not capitalized yoga nidra when referring to the practice.
The science of sleep
Imagine that you are falling asleep. Your body slows down, relaxes, and progresses to deep sleep. Eventually, you enter the famous REM cycle, during which your body is paralyzed, and your mind is dreaming. These experiences correspond to four stages of sleep, from non-REM N1, N2, and N3 to REM stage R.
Don’t worry too much about the jargon – what’s important is that you experience non-REM stage N3 sleep regularly; this is the deepest sleep stage, during which your brain emits delta waves. During this time, you gain all the benefits of deep sleep, including cell regeneration and energy restoration. Perfect! Imagine that you remain conscious while in the non-REM N3 sleep stage – this is Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra, a state of consciousness or form of being, allows you to remain aware while your body travels through the first three stages of sleep. The scientific community refers to the practice of Yoga Nidra as “non-sleep deep rest” or NSDR.
Essentially, you allow your brain activity to shift from alpha to theta and finally to delta waves. As your brain frequency during yoga nidra mirrors the frequency during the various sleep stages, you can reap the benefits of each step. Yoga Nidra is a deep, conscious sleep. Practitioners also call this yogic sleep.
In case you were wondering, Yoga Nidra is not lucid dreaming, the latter of which can occur during the REM cycle.
How do I practice yoga nidra?
The origins of this practice lie in the myth of Lord Vishnu’s slumber on the great serpent Adisesha in the cosmic ocean. You can read a summary of this legend here. Western scientists have only recently begun examining this tradition, so there may be much more to yoga nidra than what hard evidence already supports.
Beyond the regenerative benefits that occur when the brain is in delta frequency, a nidra session may also help you unwind deep mental conditioning. The focus usually lies on beliefs that counter common subconscious patterns. You may hear your teacher repeat a phrase such as “You are enough.”
Being in the state of Yoga Nidra can occur during a yoga nidra session, which usually lasts anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. During yoga nidra, an instructor guides you through deep relaxation and guided awareness that may result in you experiencing Yoga Nidra.
Like any other yoga practice, yogic sleep takes time to adjust to, and you will more likely benefit from repetition than one-off sessions. Regardless of what you experience during yoga nidra, the practice is valuable. In the words of my teacher, Kaya Mindlin, “Whatever happens is beneficial.”
- If you stay awake, you’ll benefit by releasing physical tension.
- If you fall into the REM (dream) stage, you’ll benefit from the psychological effects of dreaming.
- If you fall asleep and are unaware, you still benefit from the effects of deep sleep.
- And if you experience Yoga Nidra, you can resolve problematic patterns (conditioning) and experience deep bliss. It’s like soul therapy 😌
Outside of regular sleep, yoga nidra is a beautiful way to gather soma (the nectar of rejuvenation). Soma is the counterpart to agni (fire), and we need the presence of both to live balanced lives. In modern lifestyles, we tend to have an overabundance of agni – this depletes our soma. The imbalance is visible in our inability to rest and constant dissatisfaction.
Is yoga nidra sleep? Not quite, but if you don’t get enough uninterrupted sleep time at night, try yoga nidra during the day to support your body with the rest it needs.