Yoga Nidra Meditation is the Best Kept Secret to Deep Relaxation

Chances are you've been in a yoga class where the teacher gives verbal cues or instruction during a usually silent savasana. You're encouraged to breathe deeply, visualize, or focus on specific body parts, one at a time. As you leave the studio, you wonder: What happened during final savasana? Why do I feel so great? How did I get this incredibly calm and relaxed? It's not magic--your teacher most likely just incorporated a few aspects of Yoga Nidra meditation into the final posture.

What is Yoga Nidra?

Is it a pose? Guided imagery? An affirmation? A visualization tool? Mind-body therapy? A relaxation exercise? Yoga Nidra can be all of these things, and more--in essence, it's a highly effective meditation technique that's been around for thousands of years. Here's a primer from some of our Gaia experts to help explain and demystify the practice of Yoga Nidra:

Armand Sagredo says that the method is so inherently powerful it had been kept secret for nearly 4,000 years, until the 1960's. Through Yoga Nidra you can enter the realm of the subconscious and create effective, seemingly magical changes in your life, and relax your nervous system in the most powerful way available to humans without chemical agents. read more from Armand

Yoga Nidra is a secret weapon many yogis swear by, according to Rachel Grussi Keller; and one hour of the meditation can be as effective as three hours of regular sleep. It's not about conscious effort, but about conscious relaxation. read more from Rachel

Gwendoline Odeluga tells us that Yoga Nidra is a scientific method for achieving a deep state of relaxation, and is also a bridge to the higher branches of Yoga. During a session, she says, you are not in a deep sleep--you are still fully aware. You relax physically yet stay mentally alert and in a place of great creativity. Yoga Nidra makes it possible to effect profound change in your body, mind, and life. read more from Gwendoline

Yoga Nidra is a technique that increases awareness of sensation in the muscular, connective and nerve tissues, David Flores explains, by breathing into those areas and sending signals for relaxation. You can feel energy flowing up and down the chakras--it's even possible, with ongoing practice, to dissolve sensations from the body altogether. He says that Yoga Nidra is like a "voice-guided eraser that slowly fades your body into the ether." read more from David

Doesn't a "voice-guided eraser" sound like an amazing tool for relaxation and stress-reduction? It is! And it's so simple and effective, you can practice anytime you need to take the edge off disturbing thoughts, raging emotions, bodily tension or a combination of all three.

According to the Yoga Nidra Network's resource guide, there are a variety of approaches to the practice of Yoga Nidra, each with its own value and purpose. The easiest way to begin is to have a yoga teacher walk you through the steps or follow an audio version of a guided meditation. The recordings are all a little different: short or lengthy; music in the background or quiet; deep or soothing vocals; various scripts for sleep, tension relief, focusing, intention, and more. Choose an audio guide with the voice, tone and sequencing right for you.

A 10 Step Guide to Deep Relaxation with Yoga Nidra Meditation

Here's a sample of what a Yoga Nidra session might look like. Thanks so much to our gaia.com expert Jill Miller for providing the template for this beginner's guide. And remember that this is just one example--there are many Yoga Nidra practices to choose from!

  1. Take time to get comfortable. Give yourself at least 10-15 minutes for a short version of the practice. Lie down in a quiet, calm environment. Cover yourself with a light blanket; you can also cover your eyes with a towel, if helpful. Try to remain still and present. Close your eyes and relax--get ready to follow the sound of the voice guiding your practice.
  2. Set your sankalpa. Visualize a deep resolve or positive intention for your Yoga Nidra. You can say it out loud or to yourself a few times. Feel the sankalpa spread throughout your body, suffusing your awareness. Then release the intention and let it go. The seeds of the intention will remain even after you drop your conscious focus. You can learn more about the power of sankalpa in Cheryl Lyn's informative article, Magical Map to Manifesting with Yoga Nidra.
  3. Open your senses. Welcome any smells, tastes, sounds or sensations in your current environment. Notice feelings, thoughts and images as they arise and fade away--let your body and mind just "be." With eyes closed, allow your internal vision to take shape. Rest easy, but stay curious and open to the practice. Focus your attention on each particular instruction as prompted by the audio guide.
  4. Become aware of your breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose with simple, welcoming breaths. Notice the flow--invite your breath in and then out. Remember to take slow, relaxing breaths, not ujjayi breaths. Release a bit of tension with each successive outbreath. Vijai Sharma, Ph.D., says to use the imagination in order to increase the exhalation. He encourages us to imagine inhaling through the crown of the head straight to the heart, and then exhaling from the heart all the way down to the toes and soles of the feet. Imagine taking a whole body inhale, and then a whole body exhale. Repeat a few times.
  5. Practice countdown breaths. Next, breathe in while mentally saying the number '40.' Breathe out and mentally say the number '39.' The next inhale is '38,'and the next exhale is '37.' Keep counting backward all the way down to '1.' There's no need to rush. Don't get frustrated if you miss a number. Be friendly to yourself if you fall asleep or forget to count--begin counting again when you get the next cue from the instructor. Feel yourself relaxing more deeply with each outbreath as you count backward from 40 to 1.
  6. Progressively relax your muscles. Relax every muscle in your body by squeezing and releasing--focus on each unique muscle or muscle group as you go. For example, your instructor might ask you to tighten your hands as much as you can--tighter, tighter--and then release. Each Yoga Nidra uses different sequences or progressions to take you through the body; just go with it. Don't overthink or force yourself to concentrate; simply follow the guiding voice from location to location within your body. You can subtly encourage each muscle to "breathe a little with you," in and out, as you tighten and release.
  7. Become aware of your whole body. Now let go of the tightening sequence and take a full body tour. First, become aware of your whole body all at once. How do you feel? Let yourself be light and weightless, or heavy and dense--just experience whatever arises. Your guide may ask you to move your awareness to different parts of your relaxed body--organs, muscles, joints, skin and more--maybe into places you never even knew existed! Welcome any sensations you find there. Keep still as you continue to focus attention on each body part.
  8. Bring in the light! As you move through the sequence, the instructor may prompt you to imagine your awareness as a golden light touching each part of your body. Caress your eyes, your fingers, the space between your organs, your navel--suffuse your entire body, heart and mind with soothing light. Next, radiate that light outward--first to friends and family, then to everyone you know. Finally, radiate light everywhere, to all beings, and imagine light being sent back to you just as you are sending light out to them. Continue giving and receiving; let your sense of self and others start to dissolve. Bask in the radiant, shared sensation.
  9. Take some final breaths. Now come back to your breath. Don't think too much about it--just experience the movement, in and out. Let your breath hold you, nurture you. You might be asked to revisit your sankalpa (intention).You can do so on an inbreath, and let it go again on an outbreath. Then return to the gentle rhythm of your natural respiration.
  10. Close the practice. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Start to move your body around. Notice: Do you feel energized and awake? Relaxed and peaceful? Tender and loving? Gently roll onto your side and sit up. Open your eyes and come back to waking life. Has your awareness changed? Feel any warmth, joy or soothing feelings you've generated in your body, mind, spirit...and beyond.

Sound intriguing? Yoga Nidra can be used as a tool for deep relaxation, but it's also a fulfilling spiritual practice. Try this Yoga Nidra guided meditation and enjoy a dose of yogic "deep rest"--try it today.

And don't just read about it: Get comfortable, open your ears, and give a listen. Remember how good you felt after your instructor incorporated just a few elements of Yoga Nidra into that final savasana? You can come home to yourself every day with that same deep relaxation--all you have to do is practice Yoga Nidra meditation.

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