You know that nanosecond of space between sleeping and waking first thing in the morning? The space that can be hard to describe, yet we all experience it? Imagine dropping into a similar space in a yoga practice designed to take you there. The practice is called yoga nidra and it disengages your thinking mind, allowing you to enter that divine space between waking and sleeping.
The name of a yoga style can sometimes dissuade students from trying it because they don’t understand what it involves, and yoga nidra might fall into that category. Yoga nidra at its root is yogic sleep; however, it is sleep with awareness that uses a systematic method to induce complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. A single hour of yoga nidra can be as restful as four hours of conventional sleep; if you find that hard to believe, give it a try and you’ll understand how it is possible.
One of the greatest things about yoga nidra is there is no way to do it wrong. It is phenomenal how much can be accomplished by doing nothing more than lying in savasana (corpse pose) and following a guided relaxation meditation. The relaxation technique that is used systematically rotates your consciousness through different parts of the body, but does not involve any physical movement. The only three requirements during the practice are to remain aware, listen to the instructor’s voice and move your mind freely and rapidly.
Every experience we have, consciously or unconsciously, is registered by our subconscious mind as grooves, or samskaras, that reside on a level deeper than the mind. Some samskaras are more ingrained than others and may be difficult to release, becoming beliefs, habits and patterns that may not serve us. Yoga nidra provides a beautiful opportunity to release various long-held thoughts and emotions. It does this by bringing the deeper layers of the psyche into conscious experience as your consciousness travels through one layer to another.
The mind gradually becomes one-pointed during the practice and while not conscious on the sensory level, your brain is completely awake. When you are in the state of yoga nidra, there may come a moment when you don’t even know you are in yoga nidra. I have repeatedly experienced this as I find myself dropping into deeper states of consciousness the more I practice, but I am present and aware when the instructor gently guides us back at the end of the meditation.
Lying still and shifting attention inward in an external-focused, multi-tasking, buzzing society can prove to be a challenging task. At the end of every class, my mind feels like it has experienced a thorough and deep massage. I experience an extremely peaceful feeling and know that something has transpired within me at a profound level. The benefits of the practice remain long after the class is over.
I experience an extremely peaceful feeling and know that something has transpired within me at a profound level.
Other benefits of yoga nidra can include increased ability to concentrate, increased stress resistance, improved brain neuroplasticity, increased creativity, reduced anxiety and effective symptomatic relief of psychosomatic conditions such as asthma and hypertension.
Yoga nidra is a unique and beneficial practice. Don’t let the name prevent you from trying it, and you may feel refreshed in a way you never thought possible.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger.
Karen Fienberg is a devoted yogi who has been practicing yoga since 2007. A former competitive cyclist, she turned to yoga for increased mobility and strength, discovering that strength came from surrender. Yoga allows her to access the healing qualities of her mind and body. Her preferred styles are Avita, Iyengar, yoga nidra and restorative. Karen is also a craft chocolate connoisseur, a fitness enthusiast and a plant-based food advocate and activist. Follow her on Instagram at @coloradochocolateenthusiast