Yoga Nidrā is defined in a handful of ways, though the most common definition is “conscious sleep” or “sleep with a trace of awareness.” It is a practice of deep relaxation that resembles guided meditation, designed to bring the practitioner into either upper or lower realms of sleep while enabling them to remain conscious through the process.
The Practice vs a State
Technically, Yoga Nidrā is a “state” characterized by conscious deep sleep. It is meant to be the culmination of the practice and of Yoga itself, sometimes considered synonymous with “objectless” samadhi. In other words the ultimate goal of the practice shares the ultimate goal of Yoga, which is “union” or a non-dual understanding of reality.
In the same way we call the postures and techniques of yoga practice “yoga,” we also call the tools that lead to yoga nidrā “Yoga Nidrā.” The tools themselves are ultimately meant to be in service of reaching the state, though often are emphasized for their therapeutic purposes.
Yoga Nidrā (as defined by Swami Satyananda) is considered a tantric practice of deep, conscious relaxation. It is a meditation technique used for effectively imprinting new patterns on the mind and body, harmonizing the deeper unconscious states of the mind and awakening one’s inner potential. Through the practice of Yoga Nidra, we can induce a state of complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. This takes the mind into a hypnagogic state, the threshold state between sleep and wakefulness, where contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions occur spontaneously. This occurs by turning away from outer experiences, then shifting the consciousness to function at a deeper level of inner awareness. Through this practice of pratyahara—withdrawal of sense organs—the mind becomes one-pointed by concentrating on the auditory channel through a sequence of a guided meditation. Here, the focus in on the receptivity of consciousness which becomes very powerful and can be applied in many ways making impressions on the mind and body much greater and more powerful. This transformative practice works at the deepest levels to release tensions, old patterns, conditioning, and self-limiting beliefs.
The scientific understanding of Yoga Nidrā is used to heal a variety of disorders including stress, depression, PTSD/trauma, addiction, insomnia. It proves effective in aiding in the management of psychosomatic disorders. Through deep relaxation and deliberate orientation of attention, one can disengage from restrictive physical, mental, and emotional patterning and eliminate undesirable, long standing behaviors and acquired conditioning. This creates new-found freedom in one’s personal experience and a redefinition of one’s relationship to the world.
The greatest benefit of Yoga Nidrā is that it clears away the residue of mental emotional suffering and confusion, and invites one into the discovery of their limitless, essential Nature.
“Now, go within, into a state which you may compare to a state of waking sleep, in which you are aware of yourself, but not of the world. In that state you will know, without the least trace of doubt, that at the root of your being you are free and happy.”
– Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj