I first experienced Yoga Nidrā many years ago on a yoga retreat … and fell asleep!
Since then, I attended a few classes here and there but it wasn’t until Lockdown in 2020, when many of us seemed to move our entire lives online, that I started a regular practice. One of my favourite yoga teachers, Alan Grier, ran weekly Yoga Nidrā classes on Zoom and the benefits I gained from the practice at this turbulent time were immeasurable.
These sessions induced a feeling of calm and also helped me to tap into my own reserves, so I could handle the total disruption and change to my yoga classes (and, effectively, my livelihood), the completion of a course that had to be moved online, as well as the disruption and uncertainty in everyone’s lives. This experience led me to train with Laurent Roure on a 55-hour Yoga Nidrā Teacher Training course accredited by Yoga Alliance Professionals, so I could share the benefits of this wonderful practice with my own students.
WHAT IS YOGA NIDRĀ? Yoga Nidrā is sometimes referred to as yogic sleep, although the objective is to remain awake. Its primary goal is to reach a state of conscious awareness between wakefulness and sleep. It is in this state that the body and mind can experience profound rest and healing. This powerful and transformative practice originated from ancient Indian traditions, although it is not exclusive to any one school or tradition. As with any yoga practice, there are different styles and some are more dogmatic than others. Modern day Yoga Nidrā involves the practitioner laying down in a comfortable position and following the verbal instructions of an instructor leading them through different stages of relaxation using breath and body awareness. This process starts to move the brain waves from wakefulness (Beta) to a feeling of calmness and stillness (Alpha) towards the deeper stages of restfulness. In these stages thoughts shift into the background and we are totally relaxed and open to creativity (Theta). The final stage feels like natural sleep but where we are still receptive (Delta). This is where we can experience the most restorative state for our body and mind. If you fall asleep you will still receive the benefits as the unconscious mind is absorbing the practice.
There is no right or wrong way to practice, every time is a new experience.
SANKALPA A key part of the practice is for the practitioner to set a Sankalpa, which is mentally repeated three times towards the beginning of the practice and again towards the end.
The word stems from
San (togetherness, union or the connection with the highest truth)
Kalpa (vow or the possibilities within us)
A Sankalpa is a short statement, resolve or affirmation that is positive, stated in the first person and the present tense. It could be a clear statement reaffirming who you are. Or it could be a conscious statement of an intention that can help you align with your heartfelt desire. A Sankalpa differs from a resolution or goal in that it assumes that you already are, have or have achieved the thing you desire. Occasionally, the teacher may suggest a Sankalpa that fits with the theme of the Yoga Nidrā. You may want to use that or you may prefer to use one of your own. It is important that it resonates with you. If you don’t have a Sankalpa and one is not suggested, then that is fine. You will still gain benefits from the practice and often one may come to mind at some time in the future.
The benefits of Yoga Nidra are numerous. A regular practice has been known to:
Reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia, as it calms the nervous system and promotes relaxation.
Boost creativity, memory, and learning abilities, as it enhances overall brain function.
Help with managing chronic pain, as the practice prompts the brain to release natural pain-relieving chemicals.
Be a transformative tool for self-discovery and personal growth, and help towards establishing new positive habits.
Be beneficial for those seeking spiritual development, as it allows for exploration of one's innermost thoughts and beliefs.
Overall, Yoga Nidra is a potent practice for cultivating a balanced, healthy, and harmonious life. PRACTICALITIES OF YOGA NIDRĀ Where to practice In a studio, you will probably be on the floor but at home you can be on the floor or a bed. If you’d prefer to be in a chair, make sure that it is an armchair that will support you if you fall asleep. Comfort Whether you are in a studio or practising at home over Zoom (or similar), it is vital that you are comfortable and warm, but not too hot. Take time to set yourself up, using whatever props (blankets, cushions, bolsters, pillows, etc.) you have available. Make sure that you’ve been to the loo beforehand. It’s impossible to relax completely if you’re aware of having a full bladder!
Remove Distractions Minimise all distractions, including and especially phones. If you’re practising online, ensure that all notifications have been disabled on the device you are using. End of the Practice At the end of the practice, the teacher will guide you out of the Nidrā to a feeling of being conscious and alert. In a studio, the teacher will, obviously, ensure that everyone is fully awake. However, if you’re practising online, there is always the possibility that you fall into a deep sleep and miss those instructions. If that’s practical (maybe if it’s an evening practice and you’re in bed), then great. However, this is not usually practical, so set an alarm for, say, 10-15 minutes after the end of the class, just in case! Take it from someone who has fallen asleep in a Yoga Nidrā practice and woken up on the floor at 11.30pm, this is worth doing!
IN SUMMARY Yoga Nidrā is a powerful and positive practice that can help us reduce stress, achieve a state of deep relaxation and find inner awareness. This all sounds very deep but the reason why I now maintain a regular practice is very simple: it makes me feel great.