Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra: Unveiling the Power of Deep Relaxation

Please note that the audio version of this blog post What is Yoga Nidra Meditation? 
is available on our podcast
Light on Yoga and Meditation.

Yoga Nidra Meditation

Yoga Nidra Meditation

Yoga Nidra is one of the most powerful relaxation meditation techniques in the world today. It combines the best of deep relaxation and meditation to relax all the layers of one’s being: physical, mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual. Yet, Yoga Nidra is simple, enjoyable, effortless, soothing, and recuperative.

Picture yourself unwinding from daily chaos, allowing your mind and body to reach a state of deep calm and tranquility. By practicing Yoga Nidra regularly, you can induce a state of profound relaxation, self-awareness, and inner peace. You can reduce the adverse effects of stress, sleep more soundly, reduce the symptoms of many physical and mental illnesses, and dive deep into your psyche.

Are you ready to explore this ancient practice for holistic well-being, mental clarity, and elevated consciousness? 

Experience the deep relaxation, rejuvenation, and joy of practicing Yoga Nidra.


What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra

Definition of Yoga Nidra

Yoga = connection, union; the connection of two or more things; various methods and techniques that enable connection and union; conscious connection of the little egoic self, individual consciousness, to the highest Self, cosmic consciousness; one of the eight main philosophies of India that describes how to connect to the highest Self.

Nidra = sleep

Yoga Nidra = both conscious connection to the highest Self during the deep sleep state and a yoga meditation technique that allows you to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit while awakening higher consciousness.

Yoga Nidra is often called deep relaxation, non-sleep deep relaxation (NSDR), sleepless sleep, yogic sleep, psychic sleep, transcendental sleep, dynamic sleep, and conscious sleep, that is, sleep with inner awareness.

Yoga Nidra, or non-sleep deep relaxation (NDSR), is a powerful relaxation meditation technique in which you attempt to remain conscious during the normally “unconscious” state associated with deep sleep. This is why it has been called non-sleep deep rest (NDSR). In the more advanced practice of Yoga Nidra, the practitioner appears to be asleep, but their consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness. 

During the final stages of Yoga Nidra meditation (the state of Yoga Nidra), your body is asleep, and your brain produces the brainwaves of sleep. However, you remain awake and aware internally. During the state of Yoga Nidra, your brainwaves typically shift into the theta and delta frequencies, associated with deep relaxation and dreamless sleep. However, you are internally aware and experiencing the deep bliss of the Self.

Attaining this state is difficult, and most people sleep during the practice. Therefore, a teacher or Mp3 is required to guide you into the practice, which encourages you to remain awake and experience what happens. 

Even though you do not experience the deep sleep state, your body and mind are deeply rested and rejuvenated. You emerge from the practice feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, with a deep sense of well-being. You have the energy you need to make the most of your life.

Remaining awake becomes easier with practice
as you become more energized and rejuvenated.

Swami Satyananda states[1], “The term yoga nidra is derived from two Sanskrit words: ‘yoga,’ meaning union or one-pointed awareness, and ‘nidra,’ meaning sleep. During yoga nidra, one appears to be asleep, but consciousness functions at a deeper level of awareness. For this reason, yoga nidra is often called psychic sleep or deep relaxation with inner awareness. In this threshold state between sleep and wakefulness, contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions occurs spontaneously.”

[1] Satyananda, ibid, p.1.

Yoga Nidra - a powerful relaxation meditation technique

Yoga Nidra, as a deep relaxation meditation technique, is a systematic method of remaining awake while inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation.

During the technique, you are guided layer by layer, from the physical body to the breath, then into the mind and emotions, and finally to the deep unconscious mind. The teacher’s voice or the MP3 holds your awareness as you do so, encouraging you to remain awake so that you can stay connected to the outer world and experience the inner depths of your being simultaneously.

Unlike traditional sleep, where you are completely unconscious, Yoga Nidra gives you the opportunity to address and release deep-seated physical, mental, and emotional tensions that may not be easily resolved during regular sleep cycles. By staying awake and attentive during the practice, you gain the ability to actively engage with any tensions or issues that arise, leading to profound healing and transformation.

How do you remain awake while you experience deep sleep? 

During a Yoga Nidra session, you are guided through various stages of relaxation, starting with a body scan to release physical tensions systematical from every part of your body, from head to toe. As you focus on the different parts of your body, you become more attuned to any areas of tightness or discomfort, allowing you to consciously release these blockages.

The practice then moves into breath awareness, where you observe the natural rhythm of your breathing and connect with the present moment. The breath is connected to your life force, prana. By focusing on your breath you circulate prana to speed up healing and rejuvenation. If you fall asleep you cannot direct your prana. However, you still feel incredibly rejuvenated from the practice.

There are several other steps in the practice that will be described in detail later. One of these steps is visualization. Visualization stimulates the creative part of your brain, enhancing your imagination and intuitive abilities. This supports you in manifesting your desires, intentions, and goals. By visualizing images or scenarios suggested by the teacher, you can tap into your subconscious mind, which fosters mental strength, clarity, and focus. It also empowers you to reprogram limiting beliefs and thought patterns. Visualization is a powerful method of connecting with the deep unconscious parts of you if you can remain awake.

The rest gained from half an hour of Yoga Nidra
is equivalent to hours of normal sleep.

In his book Yoga Nidra[1], Swami Satyananda states, “Yoga nidra, derived from tantras, is a powerful technique in which you learn to relax consciously. In yoga nidra, sleep is not regarded as relaxation. People feel they are relaxing when they collapse in an easy chair with a cup of coffee, a drink, or a cigarette and read a newspaper or switch on the television. But this will never suffice as a scientific definition of relaxation. These are only sensory diversions. True relaxation is actually an experience far beyond all this. For absolute relaxation, you must remain aware. This is yoga nidra, the state of dynamic sleep.”

[1] Swami Satyananda Saraswatī, Yoga Nidra – Deep Relaxation, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, India, 1985, p.1. (Australian ed.)

The three stages of Yoga Nidra

Practiced in the lying position, Yoga Nidra is one of the most popular yoga meditation techniques because it induces a profoundly deep state of rest while lying down. 

The problem, and paradoxically, one of Yoga Nidra’s major benefits, is that most people sleep during the practice because they are exhausted. During this twenty- or thirty-minute Power Nap, the rest you achieve during the practice of Yoga Nidra is much deeper than normal sleep. Once you have recovered your vitality and removed exhaustion, you can use Yoga Nidra meditation to dive deep into the mind, psyche, and spirit. Then, you can discover all the great powers and abilities hidden within you.

The other problem is that when people turn their attention inward, their usual habit is to sleep and become unconscious. Overcoming this habit requires some training and the removal of tensions and exhaustion.

Eventually, once the negative effects of stress have been repaired, you can remain awake and aware while internalizing your awareness to access higher states of consciousness. Over time, you train yourself to go into a deep sleep state and remain aware. When you can do this, Yoga Nidra transitions from a wonderfully effective relaxation technique into a potent form of meditation. 

The complete Yoga Nidra experience occurs in three main stages:

Stage 1. Rest, recuperate, and rejuvenate

Yoga Nidra meditation involves lying down in a comfortable position as an instructor guides you through various steps to reach a state of conscious relaxation. Because it is practiced in the lying position, and because most people who start to practice yoga Nidra are stressed and exhausted, they will often sleep during the practice. This is the first stage of Yoga Nidra practice, the stage of recuperation from stress and exhaustion.

When you emerge from the practice, you feel like you have had the equivalent of several hours of sleep. This stage’s benefits are mainly the improvement in physical health.

Stage 2. Manage old patterns, undigested negative memories, emotions, and desires

Once you have rested and rejuvenated yourself, you can begin to work on any negative mental and emotional patterns that have accumulated from adverse childhood experiences and traumas, as well as undigested memories and desires. You can work on old traumas while experiencing the beginning of a blissful connection to your deeper Self.

By cultivating deep relaxation and a sense of inner control, old, outmoded patterns of feeling and thinking are released from the body-mind.

Once negative feelings and old conditioning have been released, self-development becomes more manageable and much more enjoyable. Positive qualities emerge, progressively revealing your intuitive and creative abilities. You intuit what your deeper self wants and are freed from feeling trapped in the superficial desires of your lower, sensory-based thinking mind. You begin to access your higher, knowing, intuitive mind.

Stage two primarily improves mental and emotional health, which has the added benefit of greatly improved physical health. Once you master this stage, you move on to the next and final stage.

Stage 3. Awaken to the experience of your deeper self and your life purpose

In this stage, you can remain aware during the deep sleep state, experience your highest Self, and cognize your reason for being, which is your life purpose. The benefits of stage three are primarily spiritual.

According to Swami Satyananda, the ultimate relaxation is spiritual. “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 Saraswatī.[1]

[1] Satyananda, ibid.

Even though Yoga Nidra has an exalted level of practice, linking you back to the highest Self, its primary use in everyday life is relaxation and healing, that is, stages one and two.

Is Yoga Nidra a Form of Meditation?

There is a misconception that Yoga Nidra is different from meditation. Many people think of meditation as mindfulness or a process of focusing awareness on the body or breath or repeating a mantra. However, there are many more forms of meditation than these.

The key to understanding lies in the fact that both words, yoga and meditation, mean connection. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that is a general term for the connection of any two (or more) things. Meditation is an English word that means the connection between the meditator and the object of meditation, often as a result of a meditation technique. Therefore, yoga and meditation are synonyms.

Yoga Nidra, therefore, is a meditation practice that unites the meditator with the states of consciousness experienced in the different phases of sleep. In its more advanced stages, a skilled meditator is able to remain conscious while in the deep sleep state. This is, however, a highly advanced state. This is why Yoga Nidra is mainly used for rest, recuperation from stress, as an antidote to exhaustion, as a way of improving sleep, and to support healing from illness, surgery, and so on.

Confusion also often arises because people believe that meditation requires sitting in a specific posture for an extended period, while Yoga Nidra can be practiced lying down comfortably. So, Yoga Nidra is meditation in the lying position and typically includes body scanning and visualization techniques commonly found in other forms of meditation practice.

The Origin of Yoga Nidra

Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga, India, developed the form of Yoga Nidra that we teach. He began developing the technique in the 1960s while living with his guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India.

Yoga Nidra has been rebadged by various groups who have tweaked the original system with minor variations. It has also been given different names, such as Non-Sleep Deep Relaxation (NSDR). At the same time, there is a lot of confusion about the term Yoga Nidra and who developed the technique.

The problem is that the term Yoga Nidra has two different and distinct meanings. It is used to describe:

  1. The state of Yoga Nidra – which is a sophisticated Indian philosophical concept.
  2. The technique of Yoga Nidra – which is a method of relaxation meditation derived from the tantras designed to achieve physical and mental health and the state of yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra, as a relaxation meditation technique, is a modern practice developed in the 1960s by the great yogi Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga.

1. An Indian philosophical concept

There is a misconception that Swami Satyananda’s relaxation meditation technique, Yoga Nidra, is the same as a state called Yoga Nidra mentioned in various ancient Indian texts, such as the Upanishads and the Mahabharata.

The word Yoga Nidra has been widely used, for example, for a goddess named Yoganidra, who appears in the Devīmāhātmya. This goddess is responsible for the dissolution of the universe at the end of one age so that the god Vishnu, who is responsible for maintaining the universe, sleeps. When Vishnu awakens, the universe comes back into existence.

Yoga nidra is linked to meditation in Shaiva and Buddhist tantras, while some medieval hatha yoga texts use “yoganidra” as a synonym for the deep meditative state of samadhi. However, these texts only refer to the state of Yoga Nidra, the sublime a sublime state of super consciousness. There is no mention of Yoga Nidra as a relaxation meditation technique.

2. A Yoga-tantra deep relaxation meditation technique

Yoga Nidra, as a relaxation meditation technique, is a modern innovation derived from ancient yoga tantra texts by Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga. He modified powerful but challenging tantric techniques, initially designed for higher spiritual purpose, to make them more accessible for modern life. He saw that these techniques have great potential to uplift humanity, physically, mentally, and spiritually. He knew that this was especially important to remedy the adverse effects of our busy modern lives, with all its stresses and challenges was resulting in more and more chronic physical and mental illness. He created Yoga Nidra as a way of inducing deep body-mind relaxation with the ultimate goal of increasing self-awareness.

Swami Satyananda created Yoga Nidra as a practical and easily accessible form of meditation that creates deep relaxation for health, mental peace, and higher awareness. For more information on the Origin of Yoga Nidra, read this blog post.

Global Influence

In recent decades, Yoga Nidra has gained popularity worldwide due to its effectiveness in promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Its integration into mainstream wellness programs, yoga studios, and even healthcare settings underscores its universal appeal and relevance in today’s fast-paced world.

As time progressed, the term Yoga Nidra has become part of the modern lexicon. It has evolved from a term that describes an exalted state of consciousness to being a widely accessible technique for holistic well-being. Modern adaptations have integrated scientific principles into the practice, emphasizing its benefits for mental health and stress reduction.

For more information on the Origin of Yoga Nidra, read this blog post.


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