Origin of Yoga Nidra

Relaxation does not mean sleep. Relaxation means to be blissfully happy; it has no end. I call bliss absolute relaxation; sleep is a different matter. Sleep only relaxes the mind and senses. Bliss relaxes the atma, the inner self; that is why, in tantra, Yoga Nidra is the doorway to the bliss of Samadhi.”

– Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Nidra, pub. Bihar School of Yoga, 1976.

There is some controversy over the origin of Yoga Nidra as a meditation technique. To understand the origin of Yoga Nidra, you need to understand that the term Yoga Nidra has two different and distinct meanings.

Yoga Nidra has two distinct meanings.

1. A Yoga-tantra deep relaxation meditation technique

Origin of Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra Practice

Yoga Nidra is a powerful relaxation meditation technique derived from ancient tantra. The origin of Yoga Nidra as a meditation technique came from Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga. This yoga and meditation practice induces deep body-mind relaxation with the ultimate goal of increasing self-awareness.

Yoga Nidra meditation enables you to remain aware while you enter into the dream and sleeping states of consciousness. The state of Yoga Nidra occurs when you can remain conscious during the deep sleep state, called prajna in the Mandukya Upanishad.

The technique is practical and easily accessible while creating deep relaxation for health, mental peace, and higher awareness. Ultimately, Yoga Nidra meditation enables you to experience exalted states of higher consciousness.

2. An Indian philosophical concept

Origin of Yoga Nidra
Vishnu in Yoga Nidra

Many Indian philosophical and mythological texts refer to Yoga Nidra as the state that occurs when the Indian god Vishnu sleeps at the time when creation is destroyed (called pralaya). Vishnu is the cohesive power of the universe, so when he sleeps, the universe dissolves.

The state of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to the highest state of Self-realization. So the origin of Yoga Nidra as an exalted philosophical concept comes from the great ancient sacred texts, the Upanishads.

However, the modern usage of the term Yoga Nidra typically refers to the relaxation and meditation technique developed by Swami Satyananda from the Bihar School of Yoga rather than to the state of absorption into the highest Self.

The origin of Yoga Nidra meditation

Few people realize that the Swami Satyananda is the originator of Yoga Nidra meditation. He formulated the basis of this technique while serving as a disciple of his guru, the great yoga master Swami Sivananda, in Rishikesh, India, during the 1940s and early 1950s.

Swami Satyananda describes how, as a young student, he fell asleep while a nearby group of people chanted mantras – many of which he had not heard before. Even though he was deeply asleep during the chanting, when he awoke and heard these mantras again, he seemed to know them.

A yogi explained to Swami Satyananda that his subtle body had heard the mantras.

Nyasa – awakening subtle energy

The characteristic feature of Yoga Nidra meditation is the systematic rotation of consciousness in the body, which originated from the tantric process of nyasa (meaning ‘to place’ or ‘to take the mind to a point’).

During nyasa, a yogi consciously touches various parts of his or her body while repeating mantras. When this is done in the prescribed manner, the yogi can awaken subtle energy within the physical matter of the body.

It is this element that Swami Satyananda introduced when he developed Yoga Nidra. Instead of using mantras, Swami Satyananda asked people to recite the name of the part of the body they were placing their attention on during the rotation of awareness through the body.

It is the rotation of awareness through the body that is a hallmark and demonstrates the origin of Yoga Nidra meditation as coming from Swami Satyananda.

Yoga Nidra meditation is for everyone

By making highly complex and advanced techniques accessible to everyone, Swami Satyananda has offered a great contribution to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

Swami Satyananda recognized that complex and ancient tantric techniques had great potential but needed to be translated to fit our modern lives. He saw a deep need for simple techniques with great power to reduce stress and suffering.

He simplified the ancient yoga-tantra methods and made them both accessible and practical.

He also recognized that directing your awareness to a specific part of the body would relax and recharge that area – opening a doorway into other parts of the body and mind for further healing and rejuvenation.

As Swami Satyananda wrote, “The present system of Yoga Nidra, which I have devised, enables people who are unfamiliar with Sanskrit mantras to gain the full benefits of the traditional nyasa. It can be beneficially practiced by people of any religion or culture.”

[1] Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, Yoga Nidra, Bihar School of Yoga, 1976, p. 3

Big Shakti’s guided yoga and meditation MP3s and courses

To learn more about Yoga Nidra meditation, the other forms of meditation that we teach here at Big Shakti, and our courses, please go to our Meditation page and to the Guided Yoga and Meditation Courses page.


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