Gillian Buckley Yoga & Wellness
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what is yoga nidra

What Is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra is often called “yogic sleep”...but that’s not quite it. You aren’t sleeping in Yoga Nidra. 

Yoga Nidra is also called “guided meditation”...but that’s also not true. While the practice is guided by an instructor, the effect of Yoga Nidra on the mind is different from meditation.

The entire practice, which can be as short as five minutes and as long as an hour, is done in savasana. If lying on the floor is not comfortable for you, the session can be done seated. Some practitioners like to practice from their bed and allow themselves to drop into sleep. There is no wrong way to do Yoga Nidra.

Yoga Nidra, as it is done today, is a fairly modern creation. Most Yoga Nidra is based on the work of Satyananda Saraswati, who created the practice during the 1960s using a combination of ancient techniques (tantra) and the physical practice that was becoming more popular in the west.

How does Yoga Nidra work?

As you lie in savasana, the instructor will read to you from a script. The script follows a system designed to move you through what are called the pancha maya kosha—the five layers of self. Each nidra is focused around a sankalpa, sometimes also called an intention or resolve. The sankalpa is a simple phrase designed to create change from within. Some examples of sankalpa are: 

  • I am healthy and whole
  • I let go of what no longer serves me
  • I am loved
  • I have everything I need

What are the benefits of Yoga Nidra?

  • Anxiety and Stress: Yoga Nidra has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Studies conducted on heart rate during practice have shown a favourable shift in the autonomous nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic. What this means is that the nervous system regulates from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.” 
  • Decreased Inflammation: Reduction in stress can mean a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone that can cause inflammation, chronic pain and heart disease.
  • Muscle Recovery and Healing: In Yoga Nidra, our brain waves drop between the theta and delta state. It’s where our brains are during our deepest state of sleep. When our brain waves slow, our bodies are able to heal and restore.
  • Trauma: By working through the layers of self to plant a seed of growth (the sankalpa), Yoga Nidra works to change our subconscious thoughts outside of our nidra practice. It’s almost like rewiring the brain. Yoga Nidra has been used to treat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to help with the side effects of PTSD

Tips for practicing Yoga Nidra at home:

  • Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. If you are worried about noises in your household, consider using earbuds to listen to the class.
  • Set the scene. Dim the lights. If you like to bring essential oils into your practice, you could rub some lavender or frankincense on your temples or add them to a diffuser. If you are feeling any body discomfort, stretch and move a bit before you settle.
  • Take the best savasana for you and your body. In Yoga Nidra, savasana is held a lot longer than in most asana classes. This means that the floor may start to feel a little hard under you after five or ten minutes. Consider taking savasana on a carpet or placing a blanket or second mat over your mat. Your head may need a bit of extra support with a thin pillow or folded blanket. Some practitioners find that their lower back can become sore—placing a bolster or some pillow under the thighs can alleviate some of the pressure. Make sure you are warm enough. You might find that you get chilly after a few minutes of stillness. Consider wearing socks and covering yourself with a blanket. Finally, an eye pillow is a wonderful addition to any savasana. Not only does it block out the light, but it can help calm the nervous system by stimulating the vagus nerve, an important player in our parasympathetic (rest and digest) system.

Okay, I could write about Yoga Nidra all day, but that would never replace actually experiencing it! Check out this recording to try it out. I would love to hear what you think.

Hi, I'm Gillian.

I’m obsessed with helping women live their best lives. Together we'll use yoga and mindfulness to build confidence, reach goals and have some fun!

Let's do this!


About the Author Gillian Buckley

When she's not teaching yoga classes or wellness workshops, Gillian can be found doing boot camp in the park, spending time with her kids or developing her latest and greatest kombucha flavour.

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