Yoga Nidra is a practice commonly described as a very deep form of meditation. It’s literal translation means, “Yogic Sleep” but the practitioner’s goal is to remain consciously awake throughout the experience. Among its many benefits include: reducing mental, physical, and emotional stress; elimination of adrenal fatigue, headaches, and migraines; balancing of brain hemispheres, decrease in muscle tension, and improved clarity of mind.
When we begin the practice of Yoga Nidra, we lay flat on our back in a posture known as “Shivasana” or “Corpse Pose” with our arms and legs slightly splayed out at a slight angle from the center of our body. The goal in Shivasana is to completely settle in to your position and resist any urge to move. Just be.
Throughout the process of Yoga Nidra, the help of a guide or a guided recording leads us through a series of instructions and descriptive visualizations that usher the mind from whatever state we are in when we begin the practice on down through the various levels of brain wave functionality.
In our regular daily routines, many of us in the Western world will find ourselves naturally leaning towards the higher end of the Beta wave (14-30 cycles per second) bracket in which the mind is in a restless, anxious, and overall stressed out state. However, normal waking consciousness is at about 14 cycles per second.
In the next window of consciousness, Alpha waves (7-13 cycles per second) accompany a more relaxed and peaceful state of being. It is here where the brain releases endorphins, hormones, and neuro-chemicals that produce an overall calming sensation. Theta waves (4-8 cycles per second) cover the range in which we typically fall asleep. Here, the body begins to heal and rejuvenate itself during rest cycles. While practicing Yoga Nidra, we access this range of brain waves while still consciously awake. This takes practice for many including myself who have drifted to sleep but still gained the baseline health benefits of the practice.
Delta waves range from 0.5-4 cycles per second and are typically a state of deep dreamless sleep. In the practice of Yoga Nidra, it is here where we can contact our subconscious mind if we remain awake and conscious throughout this phase. The potential loss of association of having a physical body can occur and the altered state produced here has been reported by some as feeling as if they are calmly and oddly floating or submerged in a medium such as water.
Our guide in Yoga Nidra will have instructed us at the beginning to bring a “Sankalpa” (a resolve/resolution) on our inward journey. Sankalpas are very short statements phrased in the present moment to own an aspect of ourselves we wish to bolster, heal, and revitalize. By contacting these deeper states of consciousness while periodically guided to repeat our Sankalpas, we reach a state of inner contact with our deeper nature; internalizing what we desire while accepting the notion that we have to start with where we are at this present moment to begin movement towards that ideal. More on Sankalpas can be found here.
Overall Yoga Nidra is a practice that promotes numerous benefits to the mind and body, should be conducted under the supervision of an experienced guide, and requires a bit of homework and self searching beforehand to come prepared with a Sankalpa to engage with when tapping into deeper layers of the subconscious mind.