Yoga Nidra – What is it? Why do it? And how?

 

I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who hasn’t loved a Yoga Nidra session.  It’s a wonderful relaxing experience, that you can teach as a stand-alone class, or a shorter version for Savasana.

To listen to a 30 mins Yoga Nidra session guided by Charlie click -> Yoga Nidra Audio

The History of Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra, often translated as “yogic sleep,” has its roots deeply embedded in ancient yogic traditions. The practice can be traced back to the teachings of the Upanishads, where it was used as a technique to explore the depths of the unconscious mind and attain spiritual insight. It was recognized as a method for exploring the deep recesses of the unconscious mind and achieving a state of profound spiritual insight. The term “Nidra” translates to sleep, but Yoga Nidra is not about ordinary sleep, or trying to fall asleep; it is a conscious, guided journey into the realms of inner consciousness.  Over time, Yoga Nidra evolved into a systematic method for inducing deep relaxation and awakening dormant potentials within the practitioner.

Nb:  as a yoga teacher, be prepared that some people might fall asleep.  At the beginning of the session, remind students that the objective is not to fall asleep, but to stay present and aware of the guidance you’re giving I always remind students that it’s normal to wander off in thought or get distracted, but we’re simply returning to the process of Yoga Nidra if that happens.  Tell them not to worry if they do fall asleep, and to not jolt up into a sitting position if they suddenly wake up, but to gently stretch before sitting up.

The Evolution Of Yoga Nidra

As the practice of Yoga Nidra continued to evolve, it found its way into various yogic texts and scriptures. The ancient yogic text, the “Vijnana Bhairava Tantra,” mentions practices resembling Yoga Nidra, emphasizing the importance of inner awareness and exploration. The “Yoga Taravali” by Adi Shankaracharya also contains references to similar practices, affirming the deep roots of Yoga Nidra within the yogic tradition.

Systematization by Swami Satyananda Saraswati:

While the core principles of Yoga Nidra remained intact throughout history, the modern era witnessed a resurgence of interest and a refinement of the practice. The teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a disciple of Swami Sivananda, played a pivotal role in bringing Yoga Nidra to the forefront of yogic practices. In the mid-20th century, Swami Satyananda integrated traditional yogic wisdom with modern scientific understanding, creating a systematic and accessible approach to Yoga Nidra.

In the 1960s, he founded the Bihar School of Yoga and introduced the practice of Yoga Nidra to a broader audience. Through his teachings and writings, Swami Satyananda emphasized the potential of Yoga Nidra in promoting physical and mental well-being, stress reduction, and spiritual growth.  He synthesized ancient yogic principles with contemporary knowledge.

Why Teach Yoga Nidra?

If you think about it, nowadays we are very rarely in silence or in stillness.  Even when we are asleep, we toss and turn and move or contract muscles during the REM sleep waves.  Being still is an important part of physical and mental healing, and connection with our true self.  It is only in stillness that we can really unlock our full potential.  Most people when trying to be creative or find a solution, will still the body, to really think.

In the fast-paced hustle of modern life, finding moments of stillness, true relaxation and mental clarity can be a challenge. Enter Yoga Nidra, an ancient yogic practice that offers a doorway to deep relaxation, and inner peace.

The Benefits Of Yoga Nidra

  1. Stress Reduction:

Yoga Nidra is a potent antidote to stress. The practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a relaxation response that counters the effects of chronic stress.

  1. Enhanced Sleep and Insomnia Relief:

Over the years most of my students have reported improvements in sleep quality and relief from insomnia. The calming effects of Yoga Nidra contribute to better sleep patterns.

  1. Emotional Healing and Well-being:

By accessing the deeper layers of the mind, Yoga Nidra can aid in emotional healing. It provides a space for processing emotions, reducing anxiety, and fostering a sense of inner peace.

  1. Improved Concentration and Mental Clarity:

The practice enhances cognitive function, leading to improved concentration, heightened awareness, and mental clarity. It acts as a rejuvenating tonic for the mind.

  1. Spiritual Growth:

Yoga Nidra serves as a tool for spiritual exploration, allowing practitioners to connect with their inner selves and access a profound sense of interconnectedness and spiritual insight.

Contemporary Recognition and Scientific Validation

In recent years, Yoga Nidra has gained recognition in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. Scientific studies have explored its impact on stress reduction, improved sleep quality, and emotional well-being. As the benefits of mindfulness and meditation gain widespread acknowledgment, Yoga Nidra stands out as a powerful tool for achieving these outcomes.

Numerous studies have explored the potential benefits of Yoga Nidra. While the scientific research on Yoga Nidra is continually evolving, several studies have provided insights into its positive effects on various aspects of physical and mental well-being. Below are some of the notable studies on the benefits:

  1. Stress Reduction:
    • A study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy in 2013 found that regular practice of Yoga Nidra significantly reduced stress levels among participants. The practice was associated with lower cortisol levels, indicating a decrease in stress hormones.
  2. Improved Sleep Quality:
    • Research published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine in 2013 suggested that Yoga Nidra can be effective in improving sleep quality. Participants reported better sleep patterns and reduced symptoms of insomnia after regular practice.
  3. Anxiety and Depression:
    • A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2018 examined the impact of Yoga Nidra on individuals with symptoms of anxiety and depression. The findings suggested that Yoga Nidra could be a valuable adjunctive therapy, contributing to the reduction of symptoms in these mental health conditions.
  4. Enhanced Emotional Well-being:
    • A study published in the International Journal of Science and Consciousness in 2018 explored the effects of Yoga Nidra on emotional well-being. Participants reported a significant improvement in emotional stability and a decrease in feelings of anxiety and depression.
  5. Pain Management:
    • A 2016 study in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine investigated the effects of Yoga Nidra on chronic pain patients. The findings suggested that regular practice was associated with improvements in pain intensity, pain interference, and overall well-being.
  6. Better Cognitive Function:
    • A study published in the International Journal of Yoga in 2017 explored the impact of Yoga Nidra on cognitive function. Participants showed improvements in attention, memory, and executive functions after engaging in regular practice.
  7. Reduced PTSD Symptoms:
    • Research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2017 investigated the effects of Yoga Nidra on individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study found a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms and improvements in overall mental health.

These studies suggest that regular practice of Yoga Nidra may have positive effects on stress reduction, sleep quality, emotional well-being, pain management, cognitive function, and symptoms of certain mental health conditions. I believe the findings of these studies will be further verified with continued research, which may also discover other benefits from a Yoga Nidra practice.  The field of Yoga Nidra research is still expanding, and more studies are needed to deepen our understanding of its mechanisms and potential applications.

The Practice Of Yoga Nidra And Its Components:

Yoga Nidra, as systematized by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, typically involves a guided practice that takes participants through various stages of relaxation. These stages may include body awareness, breath awareness, guided imagery, and a focused journey into the subconscious mind. The practice aims to induce a state of deep relaxation while maintaining a heightened state of awareness.

Not all Yoga Nidra classes are the same.  I’ve been to classes where the teacher spends longer on some components than others, and will have their own way of verbalizing the different aspects of it.  The order of some parts may differ, or there may be additional components to the practice.  However, usually it will follow the following pattern.

How To Teach Yoga Nidra

1.  Setting the Stage:

Yoga Nidra is practiced in Savasana / Corpse pose.  Ask students to lie down on their yoga mats with the legs and arms apart with the palms facing up (I’ve had students who found it uncomfortable with the palms facing up in which case I’ll never force anyone to be in any position that doesn’t feel right for them).  If they like they can have a blanket over them and an eye pillow.  While they’re settling into position you want to give them a little introduction explaining that Yoga Nidra means ‘yogic sleep’ but the idea is not to fall asleep but to consciously relax yourself mentally and physically.

They should keep returning to your guidance of this process, whenever they get distracted by their thoughts or something around them. If they’re holding on to any physical tension then it will cause mental tension and vice versa, so they need to take a minute or two to relax.  I usually talk them through becoming aware of the external (what they can smell, hear, taste and feel on the outer body), and then get them to practice pratyahara by withdrawing inwards to the sensation of their natural breath, and using their soft exhales to release tension in the body.

How long you decide to guide them in each stage will depend on how long you have.  A Yoga Nidra session can take 10 minutes or 45 minutes!

2.  Sankalpa (Intention Setting):

A key element of Yoga Nidra is the inclusion of a Sankalpa, a positive affirmation or intention, like a New Year’s resolution. This is a short sentence that serves as a powerful tool to align the subconscious mind with one’s heartfelt desires.  Usually it starts with ‘I will..’, ‘I am..’, ‘I want to..’.  Give them a moment to come up with it, and then ask them to repeat it to themselves 3 times.

3.  Body Scan aka Rotation of Consciousness/Body Rotation

The practice often begins with a comprehensive body scan, bringing awareness to different parts of the body. Explain to them that as you say the different parts, they should repeat the name of the part of the body in their mind, visualize it, and then most important is to relax it completely.  Go through the body parts relatively quickly, leaving about 5 seconds between each, just enough time for them to repeat it in their head and relax it.

Over the years leading Yoga Nidra, I’ve found the most effective direction is from the big toe of the right foot, and working all the way the right side of the body, all the way up to the right side of the forehead.  Go through each toe, part of the leg, hip, torso, parts of the arm, each finger, and then do the same up the left side.  After the session students love reporting the feeling of the right side of the body feeling completely relaxed and heavy in comparison to the left side!

Depending on how much time you have, you can then work up the back of the body from the heels and then down the front of the body from the head.

4.  Breath Awareness:

Now instruct your students to become mindfully aware of their natural breathing.  If advanced practitioners you can just leave them to keep their focus returning to the sensation of breathing for a few minutes.  If beginners then I like to guide them through following the journey of the inhale for a minute, then following the journey of the exhale, then taking awareness of the little pauses that happen in between.  You can also give them the option of counting each breath, and if they get distracted, coming back to the last number they remember being on.

5.  Opposites:

Ask them to release their attention on their breath, and become aware of sensation of heat in the body.  Give them at least 1 minute to feel this.  Then with any sensations of cold.  Followed by pleasant sensations, unpleasant / uncomfortable ones, heaviness and then lightness.

6.  Visualization

Releasing from the sensation of lightness you now explain that you are going to be naming different images that you’d like them to visualize as you call them out.  Only leave a few seconds between each one so there isn’t time to get lost in details or attach memories or meaning to any of them.  Examples can be – a sunset, snow peaked mountain, starry night sky, field of sunflowers, waterfall, a puppy etc.  Again, this component of the Yoga Nidra can go on for as long as you like.

7.  Sankalpa

To finish off you ask them to take a moment to recall their sankalpa and slowly repeat it to themselves 3 times again, to reinforce it in their mind.

8.  Externalisation

Drawing the Yoga Nidra session to a close, bring your students’ awareness back to their senses and the space around them. Taking a few deep enrgizing breaths, bringing some movement int fingers and toes, and slowly coming up into a sitting position.  Close your class, however you like ie. saying ‘Namaste’, chanting OM, saying a prayer etc

Conclusion

In the realm of holistic well-being, Yoga Nidra can be a pathway to deep relaxation, self-discovery, and spiritual growth.  Most of my students report that Yoga Nidra helps them relax, sleep and connect with a deeper part of themselves.  As contemporary practitioners embrace the profound benefits of Yoga Nidra, its timeless essence continues to resonate, inviting individuals to explore the infinite realms of consciousness within.

Yoga Nidra is not a practice that you can give yourself.  It is much more beneficial and effective is someone else guides you.  If you do not resonate with my voice or way of teaching from the audio file, I suggest using the Insight Timer meditation app to discover different guided Yoga Nidras.  Find one where you like the teacher’s voice and the way they teach it, and try to do it once a week.  Before bed might help you sleep, although you technically shouldn’t be falling asleep during the practice;-)  But if you do, I hope you sleep well!

If you’re interested in certifying as a 200 hr Yoga Teacher click on the link to discover my course, and if you’re already a 200 hr teacher, then you may be interested in certifying on my other courses : the 30 hrs online Yoga Alliance Foundations of Teaching Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher Training, or the Yoga Alliance 95 hr RCYT Kids Yoga Teacher Training.

 

 

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Charlie Stewart-Brown

Charlie began practicing yoga over 27 years ago as a recommendation for her severe anxiety, and has been teaching for over 15 years to people of all ages and abilities. With over 1300 hrs of training and 22,500 hrs of teaching, she is also the lead trainer on the Indiv Yoga 200 hrs YTT & RCYT Kids Yoga Teacher Training Courses, having certified over 400 students worldwide.  She is the voice of the ‘Yoga and Mindfulness Program’ on British Airways long-haul flights, has spoken at many seminars and corporate workshops, and runs exclusive yoga and meditation retreats during the year.

Originally from London and having worked in New York and Lisbon after her Psychology degree, she has since settled  in Switzerland with her husband, and dedicated her life to expanding her knowledge of the science of yoga, mindful meditation and better physical and mental health.

Over the years Charlie has trained with some of the most renowned yoga teachers around the world (David Swenson, Shiva Rea, Anne-Marie Newland, Leslie Kaminoff, Sadie Nardini, Sonia Sumar etc) certifying in Hatha, Sivanada, Ashtanga, Childrens and Family Yoga, Yoga for the Special Child, & Inner Engineering with Sadhguru. She has become highly respected for her successful work in yoga therapy, especially for Autism, ADHD and other behavioural and developmental syndromes. She has also talked at some of the biggest corporations in Switzerland and the annual SGIS (Swiss Group of International Schools) Conference on implementing Mindfulness in the work place and the education system.

Charlie holds the highest yoga qualifications as an ERYT500 (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher), RCYT (Registered Children´s Yoga Teacher), RPYT (Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher) and YCEP (Yoga Continued Education Provider) with the Yoga Alliance, and has developed Indiv Yoga™ to bring a more physiological, therapeutic and individual approach to yoga. Indiv Yoga™ Switzerland is a RYS (registered yoga school) and RCYS (registered children’s yoga school) providing Yoga Alliance teacher training certifications of the highest professional standards.

The focus of Indiv Yoga™ is to provide the benefits of yoga to every type of individual, using its teachings to achieve physical and mental balance, and diminish the anxieties of modern life for adults and children.

Read her online testimonials and qualifications for a feel of her knowledgeable and friendly professionalism.

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