What Is Yoga Nidra? Definitions & Benefits Uncovered

February 17, 2020

Last updated : October 26, 2023

Yoga Nidra can be practiced by anyone. It holds immense benefits for all those who struggle to let go or suffer from lack of sleep, trauma, burn-out, and even anxiety. As a result, this powerful yet gentle practice is gaining popularity all over the world as more and more people experience its healing powers. But what is Yoga Nidra actually, and by the extension of that, what isn’t it? Read on to discover the true meaning of Yoga Nidra and how it can elevate your health and well-being.

What Is Yoga Nidra? 

Yoga Nidra literally means "yogic sleep".  It is an ancient meditation technique where practitioners enter a deeper state of conscious relaxation, moving awareness from the external world to the internal.

Yogic sleep brings us to a state of deep relaxation, verging on sleep, where our senses, intellect, and mind can completely let go and rest. In this dreamless sleep, we are free from the concepts of time, space and reason. When this happens, brain activity reduces and the body goes into a healing state, removing toxins at a cellular level, refreshing the mind, and eliminating emotional baggage from the subconscious. As a result, one hour of this psychic slumber is said to give the same benefit as four hours of sleep.

What Isn’t Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra is often described as meditation, but there are some key differences you need to understand before you can enter this profound state of consciousness successfully. If you’re still confused about the meaning of yogic sleep, it might be easier to understand it by looking at what it isn't. Yoga Nidra is not just:

Relaxation 

It has become quite popular to use the term ‘Yoga Nidra’ for any yoga technique that provides relaxation. This sleep-like begins with relaxation but it goes much further. In yogic sleep, relaxation is necessary for the body to heal, repair and grow; but that is not the final goal. Rather the aim is to keep the consciousness active and in an observing state, allowing you to connect with the inner world. 

Guided Visualizations 

Guided visualizations are often used in Yoga Nidra to focus the mind and body. However, these methods are vastly different in their end goals. The purpose of yogic sleep is to focus the awareness inwards, while guided visualizations mostly encourage us to become conscious of our senses and therefore move the awareness externally. Guided visualization is merely one step in the journey toward this sleep-like state.

Dreaming State 

In the beginning, it is possible to dream during practice; but Yoga Nidra is not a state of dreaming. When you’re dreaming, your senses and the mental processes are still fully active; however during sleep meditation, the mental processes cease, our senses rest, and the mind becomes clear and calm.

Shavasana 

Shavasana, or Corpse Pose, is a resting yoga pose where the physical body and the mind are meant to be silent and still. On the other hand, Yoga Nidra is a state of consciousness, in between sleep and awake. Practitioners typically lie down in Shavasana in a Yoga Nidra session it’s the most effortless and balanced resting position, but the two are independent concepts. Proper use of Shavasana may help you experience yogic sleep however Shavasana is not required for the practice.

Is Yoga Nidra Hypnosis? 

In Yoga Nidra and hypnosis, the body is deeply relaxed and the subconscious is very active. But these are the only similarities. As both can be used to influence the mind, many people think that yogic sleep is a form of hypnosis; however the practice and its purpose are very different. 

Although they both begin with guided relaxation, Yoga Nidra continues in one direction and hypnosis in another. It’s true that when the senses and the mind calm down you may pass through a hypnotic state; however yogic sleep promotes a deeper level of consciousness that bypasses the state of hypnosis. This is why teachers often remind students to stay awake. During this dreamless sleep, your conscious mind remains active and can take charge whenever needed. In contrast, the conscious mind can be subdued during hypnosis, leading to potential memory gaps of the experience.
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Benefits of Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a popular practice that has gained wide-spread attention in recent years for its numerous health benefits. By guiding practitioners into a state between wakefulness and sleep, it serves as a powerful tool for holistic well-being. If you’re thinking about trying it, here are some of the most significant Yoga Nidra benefits. 

Rejuvenates the Body

Regular practice of yogic sleep helps the body enter deeper dimensions of healing and rejuvenation. During this state, bodily functions are minimal, metabolism slows down, and hormonal functions increase, giving your body the chance to repair and purge toxins from your system. This process also helps you conserve energy, decreasing fatigue and rejuvenating the brain.

Reduces Stress

Everyone experiences stress, whether it's positive or negative. But if left unchecked, negative stress can push our bodies into an overactive mode, leading to issues like burnout, anxiety and depression. Moreover, buried emotions can consistently stress both our mind and body. Regular practice of Nidra helps us relax and become more aware of our subconscious and any underlying problems. With greater awareness, we can address and release these issues.

Increases Concentration

Concentration means keeping your mind focused on one thing. For many, this is challenging because our minds are often in the Kshipta state, jumping from one thought to another like a restless monkey. In Yoga Nidra, the teacher's guidance helps participants focus on various body parts and sensations. At first, the mind may drift, but with practice, it becomes easier to stay focused and distractions decrease. This training can improve overall focus and concentration, and its success has even led to several schools incorporating it into their curriculum.

Improves Memory

Practicing yogic sleep can also boosts our memory. By clearing out mental clutter, we create space for our subconscious to operate more efficiently. This is like tidying up a computer's hard drive to make it run better. Normally, we rely on the left side of our brain for learning, but Yoga Nidra engages the right side, which aids in information retention. 

Improves Autonomic Nervous System Response

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls bodily functions like metabolism, healing, and growth without our direct input. It has two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The SNS gears us up for action, supplying energy to muscles and the heart. Its main job is to help us handle these stressors. On the other hand, the PNS focuses on rest and recovery and operates when we're calm, aiding in healing, growth, and digestion. Ideally, both systems should work when needed. However, because of ongoing stress, many people have an overactive SNS even when it's time to relax. This can delay body repair and lead to health issues.

Yoga Nidra encourages the PNS to take charge, helping us to release stress and maintain a calm state. Regularly falling into this sleep-like state can also decrease an overactive SNS and promote better health.

Final Thoughts

Yoga Nidra is a subtle, yet very powerful practice that can help us deal with everyday stress and triggers. But it can offer us so much more healing and growth, as the practice holds the potential to release deep-seated traumas and guide our awareness toward our most authentic self.

In the words of Swami Satyananda:

“It is a state in which you are neither asleep nor awake. If you fall asleep, it is not Yoga Nidra. If you remain awake, then it is also not Yoga Nidra. If dreams overtake you, it is not Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a state in which there is awareness of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious fields of your mind all at one time. It is a perfect therapy. It removes all psychological abnormalities and sanskaras, and helps you to become your normal, natural self.”

Relax deeply with our guided Yoga Nidra
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Receive an exclusive 25-minute Yoga Nidra session with master teacher Ram Jain

About the author

Ram Jain

Born into a Jain family where yoga has been the way of life for five generations, my formal yoga journey began at age of eight at a Vedic school in India. There I received a solid foundation in ancient scriptures, including Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras (to name a few).

In 2009, I founded Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. I see yoga as a way to master the five senses, so I named our ashrams 'Arhanta Yoga,' the yoga to master the five senses!

In 2017, I also founded Arhanta Yoga Online Academy so that people who can not visit our ashrams can follow our courses remotely.

At Arhanta, we don't just teach yoga. We teach you how to reach your potential, deepen your knowledge, build your confidence, and take charge of your life.

Lucia Seglie is an experienced yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer. Lucia started her yoga journey in India with traditional teachers. During her 10-year teaching career, she has worked with various anatomy and physiology experts and has developed a comprehensive approach to yoga and Restorative Yoga in particular and including teaching, adjustment, and modification techniques.

Lucia runs successful two yoga studios in Italy and guides a team of more than 10 yoga teachers. She has taught Restorative Yoga for many years and collaborates with Arhanta Online Academy in offering an Online Restorative Yoga Teacher Training.

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