Yogic sleep? Uncovering the secret to Yoga nidra

A woman lies in corpse pose (Savasana) on a yoga mat in a Yoga nidra class.

Imagine there was a type of yoga that was just like sleeping, only better.

Well, there is!

If sweating with strangers in a Hot yoga studio or knotting your body into near-impossible poses isn’t your thing, then Yoga nidra should be right up your alley.

Also called yogic sleep, Yoga nidra involves 40-45 minutes of deep relaxation and restful sleep that leaves you feeling more awake and rested than a 4-hour nap, and we haven’t even gotten to the best part.

Training your body to fall into this deep state of slumber also has plenty of remarkable health benefits, making it the perfect practice to incorporate into your busy schedule.

If this all sounds dreamy, then read on to discover the secret to this marvellous technique and how you can tap into it in a few simple steps.

What exactly is Yoga nidra?

Yoga nidra is a type of yoga that takes the form of an eight-step guided meditation.

This eight-step process allows you to enter a state of complete relaxation in which you experience a lucid, detached awareness; your mind remains conscious and active, but you feel completely at peace.

Yoga nidra is very accessible, empowering and restorative, making it a very popular form of stress release.

Yoga nidra is gaining popularity around the world, with retreats growing exponentially since the beginning of the global pandemic in 2020.

The purpose of Yoga nidra

While a rejuvenating rest is enough to convince anyone, there’s a bit more to this practice than a super sleep.

Yoga nidra’s purpose is to connect you fully with your true self, in mind, body and spirit. It is designed to generate a great sense of wellbeing through heightened self-awareness.

Yoga nidra teaches you to welcome and accept things in your life as they really are. It also allows you to gain insight and clarity about your higher purpose and deepest desires.

Yoga nidra is also a wonderful way to soothe the mind, reduce tension and stress, and work on becoming calmer and more focused.

Another great perk? Anyone can do it!

Yoga nidra doesn’t require particular expertise or any specialised equipment either, so it’s one of the most accessible and easiest practices to start.

A yogic enters a deep sleep state in a Yoga Nidra session.

What happens in Yoga nidra?

When we sleep, everything slows down and we fall into REM (Repetitive Eye Movement) sleep where our dreams ignite, but Yoga nidra is quite different.

In yoga nidra, we achieve a state that is between wakefulness and sleep. That is why it is also referred to as “yogic sleep” or “psychic sleep.”

In this state:

  • Your breathing is deep and even
  • Your limbs are loose and relaxed
  • Your body is in a state of complete equilibrium (balance)
  • Your mind is awake to both conscious and unconscious thoughts
  • You feel very calm and carefree, even blissful

The technical term for this dream-like state between wakefulness and sleep is “hypnagogia.” In this hypnagogic state, you can “bear witness to the self,” without judgement.

What are the 5 stages of Yoga nidra?

According to yogic philosophy, our being is divided into five different layers or sheaths. The Sanskrit term for this sheath is “kosha.”

There are five koshas in Yoga nidra, these are:

  1. Anna Maya Kosha (physical body)
  2. Prana Maya Kosha (energy and breath body)
  3. Mana Maya Kosha (mental and emotional body)
  4. Vijnana Maya Kosha (wisdom body)
  5. Ananda Maya Kosha (bliss body)

During the typical stages of a Yoga nidra guided meditation, you will be prompted to access each of your koshas, one by one.

You will be guided to a state of heightened awareness of where you are in the present moment by accessing each kosha and peeling back the various layers of the self.

A group of people lie in corpse pose as they drift into yogic sleep in a Yoga Nidra class.

How do you practise yogic sleep?

To enter this state of deep relaxation, a yoga instructor will ask you to lie flat down on your back with your legs hip-width apart and your arms stretched out beside you.

This posture is commonly known as Savasana, or corpse pose. Yogis believe this posture is very important to help you reach the optimal level of relaxation. Your instructor will check your alignment to make sure it is correct.

Through a series of verbal prompts, your yoga instructor will take you through eight classic steps in your guided meditation.

Similarly, you can also practise yoga nidra alone by following these eight simple steps.

Stage 1: Settle in

Lie down on your yoga mat in Savasana and make yourself comfortable, you can also cover yourself with a blanket for a better sense of relaxation.

Let all your worries and stress from the day simply fall away.

Stage 2: Set your intention

You will set an intention for the Yoga nidra practice.

This is known as Sankalpa (your heart’s desire). Sankalpa can be very general or more specific.

You may simply want to work on reducing stress or get rid of negative emotions tormenting your conscious mind.

Whatever your aim is, focus on it and let it guide your session.

Stage 3: Body rotation

Once you’ve nailed down your intention, it’s time to reach deep and let go through a full-body scan.

You can use a meditation app to guide you or simply listen to your body and begin to target each area with your mind, releasing tension as you move between different parts of the physical self.

You will bring awareness to each body part and check for pain and discomfort. Simply observe these sensations without attaching any judgement to them.

You will breathe into each body part to reach a deeper state of relaxation.

If you have a tight calf muscle, for example, you will breathe deeply and try to relax that stiff muscle further, without overthinking it.

Stage 4: Breath awareness

In this stage, you will focus completely on the inhalation and exhalation of breath.

Become aware of the air passing through your nasal passages and moving deep into your belly. With each breath, fall deeper into yogic sleep.

This deep concentration on breathwork allows the mind to calm itself and let go of any intrusive thoughts.

Stage 5: Opposite sensations

Next, it’s time to face your thoughts.

If something is bothering you or you had a hard day, acknowledge it and how it makes you feel in the present moment. The same goes for happy and joyful emotions.

The purpose here is to feel things without attaching any kind of moral judgement to them.

Stage 6: Mental visualisation

You will then picture various scenes in your mind’s eye.

This stimulates the imagination and helps you process the emotions you have evoked in Stage 5.

It is a good technique for keeping the brain sharp and active. It also helps with concentration.

Stage 7: Second Sankalpa

Now that you are in a deeper state of relaxation, return your focus to the intention you set during Stage 2 of your practice.

As your subconscious mind is very active at this stage, the idea is that your intention will imprint on it. In other words, you will be able to live out your intention more successfully once your session is over.

Stage 8: Externalisation

The final step is to gently awaken and in some sense, come back to reality.

This is to ensure that you don’t feel too disorientated or confused and have adequate time to process your experience and return to day to day activities without feeling fuzzy.

Once you understand its basic principles and have worked with an expert a few times, you’ll be able to practise Yoga nidra on your own.

It can be useful to enjoy it in the comfort of your own home after a long day or on a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

That said, first practising Yoga nidra as a fully guided meditation led by a professional has immense benefits. 

Let’s take a look at some. 

A woman massages tension in her neck after a stressful day at work.

What are the benefits of Yoga nidra?

Practising yoga nidra is a great form of self-care or stress relief, but its benefits don’t stop there.

Regular practice of yogic sleep can also positively impact our mental, emotional and physical well-being with benefits that have amazed researchers.

Mitigates stress and anxiety

Yoga nidra practice has been shown to activate the brain’s pineal gland which releases the hormone, melatonin.

Melatonin is a powerful gland, responsible for inducing a more restful and effective sleep state.

This switches off the sympathetic nervous system which drives the flight-or-flight response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, acting as a kind of brain brake.

Research shows that this form of yoga is more successful than meditation at reducing anxiety.

Combats insomnia

If you’ve tried everything from counting sheep to whale sounds, then perhaps it’s time to give Yoga nidra a try.

Yoga nidra is a great way to get you into the zone when your mind is rushing like a freight train, helping you fall asleep in a matter of minutes.

Alleviates chronic pain and trauma

In the West, clinical psychologist, Dr Richard Miller, began successfully using Yoga nidra to help treat PTSD and manage pain in battle-injured soldiers in the 1980s.

Miller achieved such impressive results that he eventually developed an integrative restoration system called IRest.

Its overall purpose is to help people cope better with chronic anxiety, pain and trauma.

In the last few decades, it has been used to assist war veterans as well as in schools, hospitals and prisons worldwide.

Reduces symptoms of addiction and depression

While much data is anecdotal, thousands swear by Yoga nidra’s success to help manage and combat symptoms of addiction and depression.

During a Yoga nidra session, our parasympathetic nervous systems are activated. This lets your body rest while your mind is drawn inward.

The experience often allows for deep healing and helps you uncover deep memories and traumas buried within the psyche.

Improves memory and concentration

Yoga nidra stimulates the right hemisphere of the brain, the centre for retention of information.

Regular practice of Yoga nidra improves both your memory and ability to retain and recall facts and experiences.

The visualisation exercises you perform in stage 6 of the meditation practice assist with this process.

Cultivates a deeper sense of wellbeing

During a Yoga nidra session, you’ll have the amazing opportunity to spend some quality time with yourself.

You’ll check in with your organs, muscles, and also with your mind and spirit. 

It’s an opportunity to touch base on where you’re at and cultivate some intention for what it is you’re working towards in your life.

What are your true wishes and goals? This is a great way to find out!

Uncovers insight and perspective

Yoga nidra offers deep rest and an opportunity to connect with yourself on a more intimate level.

Yoga nidra meditation is often described as running into an old, long-lost friend. You’ll have a chance to give yourself some proper spiritual nourishment, something we all tend to neglect.

This is also an opportunity to learn more about yourself by accessing repressed thoughts trapped in the unconscious mind.

A woman stretches out her legs to relieve tension while preparing for a Yoga Nidra session.

If your spirit is in some dire need of nourishment or your body is yearning for a night of deep sleep, a Yoga nidra retreat will help you reignite your inner light.

Basubu’s handpicked selection of yoga retreats makes planning a restorative getaway an absolute dream.

So, what are you waiting for?

Browse Basubu and book your next retreat today.