People with PTSD, depression, anxiety, histories of crime and violence and other mental health issues are increasingly finding relief through a newly popular form of meditation called yoga nidra. Though yoga nidra may be new to the West, it’s an ancient practice that has been practiced by yogis and yoginis for centuries.
Yoga nidra isn’t your typical school of yoga—in fact, during a session of yoga nidra, no movement is required at all. The term “nidra” can be translated as “sleep” in Sanskrit, designating yoga nidra as the equivalent of yogic sleep. It’s an intensely relaxing and meditative technique that focuses on examining the physical, conscious and emotional selves—and it’s doing wonders for people with mental health issues.
What Is Yoga Nidra?
A typical yoga nidra session is guided by an instructor. Practitioners lie on the floor, relaxing comfortably, responding to the instructor’s verbal cues as they progress through the meditation. Usually, the instructor will ask participants to focus on feeling a particular body part. The session will then move through the body as participants bring their consciousness to each body part.
This allows practitioners to observe the reality of their physical selves. The instructor will also ask participants to observe other things, such as their set intention, emotional state and individual reality.
The Philosophy of Yoga Nidra
In addition to being incredibly relaxing, yoga nidra invites practitioners to discover who they are. It’s a complex philosophy, but the idea is basically this: As practitioners observe their physical and emotional selves, they learn to detach these perceived realities from the ultimate reality, which is the divine, unified self.
This belief has roots in Buddhist and Hindu thought (as is the case with most yogic philosophy). The idea is that perceived aspects of reality are illusory, and that by practicing yoga nidra and observing them, yogis can transcend their physical senses and discover that everything is made of the same divine reality.
“In the context of Yoga Nidra then, the yogi is one who, whether asleep or awake, understands the fundamental nature of Reality. He and she embody the understanding that all things are inherently One,” writes Richard Miller, PhD for Healthy.net. “Everything is made of the same substance. So Yoga Nidra is a play on words. It means the “sleep of the yogi” but implies that the yogi is one who is wide-awake to the real Truth or Reality of life.”
Additionally, one of the eight limbs of yoga is pratyahara, or sensory deprivation. By learning to accept the sights, sounds and smells around us as part of ourselves, we can transcend those senses and focus internally. Yoga nidra is essentially pratyahara put into practice—when we focus so closely on our physical and emotional selves, we transcend our senses, leading to a deeply meditative state.
The Relaxation Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Is all of this a little too New-Agey for you? That’s OK—you can still reap the relaxation benefits of yoga nidra.
“Yoga nidra allows us to reach the most profound level of relaxation possible,” Rod Stryker, the founder of Para-Yoga, says. “It opens a doorway to a place where we can see ourselves and our lives in the most positive light.”
This explains why so many veterans, suffers of depression and anxiety, and convicted criminals are finding relaxation and self-betterment through yoga nidra.
Yoga nidra is a practice that is best done with a qualified instructor, but you can also find some great yoga nidra content online. Start there and see how you like it! Maybe you’ll find the key to a regular meditation practice through this deeply relaxing activity.