Yoga Nidra – A Restful State of Being

Yoga Nidra. What does it mean?

Well, the answer to that has varied over the centuries. It’s often translated as yoga sleep, but sleep is understood very differently in yoga.

Patanjali wrote of sleep in the 10th Sutra of Chapter One –

Sleep is the mental activity that has as its content the sense of nothingness. – trans. by Alistair Shearer

Sleep is the turning of thought abstracted from existence. – trans. by Barbara Stoler Miller

So in yoga, sleep is not the absence of consciousness. It’s just a different stage of consciousness. In the earlier centuries of yoga, yoga nidra even was considered the highest form of consciousness, the closest to God. In this altered conscious state, one experiences continuous awareness of the self and a merging or even engrossing with God’s consciousness.

But today, yoga nidra most often refers to a state of deep relaxation in which the senses are aware of external stimuli but do not in any way react, even in the mind.

How does one get to that state of relaxation? Here are some steps:

  1. Put your body in a comfortable physical position. Typically, this pose is corpse pose or savasana – you lie on your back, palms up. You can support your neck and head and put a cushion behind the knees. Just be sure you’re comfortable.
  2. Set an intention – this could be to let go of an irritation, to forgive someone who wronged you, to make this deep relaxation effective – whatever you’d like.
  3. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Slowly try to match the length of the inhalation to the exhalation. As you exhale, try to image the carbon dioxide, the waste, that your body naturally exhales.
  4. Survey your body – think in your mind of each body part, right side and left side separately. You can be as specific as thinking of each toe. The more precise you are the better. As you think of each body part, concentrate on relaxing that part. Do all of this in quickly. Don’t linger in any place of the body.
  5. When the survey is complete, think of the whole body, supported by the floor. (hopefully by now, you’ll have a slight sensation of floating)
  6. Think of your intention.
  7. You can repeat the body survey or simply focus on your breath. You can stay in this for 10 minutes or 60. You should feel calm, a calm abiding. You are aware of sounds, the floor touching you, smells. But you don’t react to them, either actually or even in your mind. You may even fall into a different state of consciousness (sleep).
  8. Come out gently.

You can do yoga nidra on your own. Admittedly, it’s easier to have someone with a kind and gentle voice to guide you in, through your body survey and back out.

I’ve actually transferred some of Shiva Rae’s yoga nidras onto my Ipod and sometimes go into yoga nidra to help me transition into night or during the day when I need deep rest. (See review of her Yoga Nectar CD next month, but if you want to check out her web site, click here.

I also really relish doing it. I come out feeling refreshed and renewed. Nectar, indeed.

For general background on Patanjali click here and the Yoga Sutras, click here.