Yoga nidra is a systematic method inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. The Sanskrit word “nidra” means sleep. In this sense it means active sleep. During the practice of yoga nidra you appear to be asleep but your consciousness functions on a much deeper level of awareness; it is a threshold state between asleep and wakefulness.
I have never done yoga before. Do I need to be bendy to do this?
No, yoga nidra is not a physical form of yoga. In yoga nidra, you are invited to listen to the class instructor as s/he talks you through a script. During the experience, you will lie or sit still in a quiet and dimly lit room. All you need to to do is: i) remain aware, ii) listen to the voice, and iii) enjoy!
How does yoga nidra "work"?
Between the states of waking and dreaming lies a distinct band of awareness which has been termed the "hypnagogic state". This transient state is characterised by low frequency alpha brain waves. It is accompanied by deep and progressive relaxation and release of muscular and postural tensions, and by loss of awareness of the external environment. In yoga nidra, the practitioner is guided through a script that encourages entry into the hypnagogic state; the brain is isolated and introverted, while maintaining a degree of external awareness by listening to the verbal instructions.
I like to relax with a coffee or in front of the TV. Is it the same?
Drinking a coffee or slouching in front of your favourite TV show can feel like relaxation but it would be more accurate to describe these activities as sensory diversions. They are a temporary diversion from the muscular, mental or emotional tension you have stored, but they do not release you from tension or anxiety.
Do you have to practice yoga nidra regularly for it to "work"?
No. However, like most things, yoga nidra becomes easier with regular practice. If you are familiar with Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, then you will have heard the term "pratyhara", or sense withdrawal. When practised regularly, yoga nidra dissociates your mind from your sensory channels with greater and greater ease. Sense withdrawal can lead to higher states of concentration and inner bliss!
What will I get out of yoga nidra?
In the state of active sleep, your conscious mind can communicate with your subconscious mind spontaneously. The subconscious mind is over 30,000 times more receptive than the conscious mind as it is not restricted by the intellect, conditioning or rational thinking. During yoga nidra, the practitioner often makes a personal and heart-felt resolve or "sankalpa". Once planted deep within the subconscious, this resolve can lead to emotional and physical healing, changes in negative thoughts, beliefs or destructive behaviours, and even promote love and compassion for oneself and others, amongst other things. Yoga nidra can be performed with or without a sankalpa and still there are countless benefits including increased concentration and vitality, reduced stress, anxiety and depression, improved sleep, lower blood pressure, emotional stability, and more.
Is yoga nidra suitable for children and teenagers?
Yes! Yoga nidra can be tailored to suit anyone. Children, teenagers and young adults can be particularly vulnerable to the fast-paced world we live in. Often stress builds up in young people because it can be difficult to express or articulate feelings to others. This in turn can lead to other physical and mental disturbances, negative thoughts and behaviour patterns. Yoga nidra can help by bringing balance to both hemispheres of the brain, promoting ease within one's own skin and subsequently the confidence to change negative beliefs or self-destructive behaviours. In particular, teenagers experience stress as a result of the many tests, exams and assessments they receive on their journey towards becoming an independent young adult. Scientists have found that deep relaxation can reduce end-of-year stress levels and help teenagers improve exam results*.
*Rhodes, C.J. et al. (2013). Journal of Instructional Pedagogies.