Yoga Nidrā is most commonly and simply defined as “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 states equivalent to sleep or on the verge of sleep while enabling them to remain conscious through the process.
A Practice or a “State?”
In simple terms, Yoga Nidrā could be considered a “state” corresponding to conscious, deep sleep. This state is the culmination of the practice and also of the path of Yoga itself. It is often considered synonymous with the highest form of Samadhi – a state whereby one abides in a non-dual understanding of reality; the recognition that creation is not composed of innumerable, separate parts, but that all is an interconnected expression of One fundamental reality – Consciousness.
In the same way that we call the postures and techniques of yoga practice “Yoga,” we also call the tools that lead toward this state of Yoga Nidrā “Yoga Nidrā.” The tools themselves are ultimately in service of reaching the state, though they are often emphasized for their therapeutic benefits.
Yoga Nidrā is a guided practice designed to reorient one’s attention from the external world to the inner, subtle experiences within the body. Typically, in our waking experience, we’re in an almost constant state of reaction for or against our experiences, driven by the forces of like and dislike, desire and fear. In Yoga Nidrā we enter a space of non-action in order to simply be an “observer,” neutral to the contents of experience, whether occurring outside or inside of the body. By occupying a neutral, non-reactive state, we are able to be with those contents in a new way, without reinforcing our automatic, pre-programmed patterns. This practice of “witness awareness,” combined with a sequence of techniques that induce complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation, allow us to hover in the liminal space between wake and sleep, known as the hypnagogic state, where the subconscious and unconscious realms of the mind can be easily accessed. Here, the mind becomes much more receptive, impressionable and malleable, allowing the brain and body to undergo a re-wiring and reconditioning process to interrupt long-standing tensions, unhelpful behaviors, habits, misperceptions and self-limiting beliefs. The psycho-emotional limitations that have been our operational norm can be dismantled at the seed-level, in turn allowing our true potential to emerge.
At the deepest level of Yoga Nidrā, awareness of the external world, one’s body and all of the mental stories that comprise one’s sense of self is completely absent. The mind becomes still and quiet, as one rests in the silent space of awareness. Here one can recognize their essential nature as the very source of peace, limitless and free.
There have been numerous studies on Yoga Nidrā, and it is widely recognized as a very effective method for treating and even healing a variety of disorders including stress/anxiety, depression, PTSD/trauma, addiction, insomnia and other psychosomatic disorders. It is quite common for practitioners to experience a sense of freedom, a refreshed perspective, and even a new relationship to life within just a few sessions.
“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