I was floating on a cloud, not sleeping but not awake. Every muscle in my body felt relaxed and my mind was drifting from one peaceful thought to another. The kind of thinking that doesn’t feel like thinking because it takes no effort. This memory, recounted from my first yoga nidra experience, is crystal clear in my mind yet it happened over ten years ago. I attribute this to the fact that it was such an unusual experience and totally unexpected.
In Sanskrit, “yoga” means union and “nidra” mean sleep. In yoga nidra the body and mind are in a state of complete relaxation. This relaxed state allows the subconscious and unconscious mind to open and become receptive. Purposely tapping into the mind in this way can be a very beneficial way to clear our mind/body of stress and its associated disorders such as depression, hypertension, insomnia, digestive issues, etc…
The concept of yoga nidra is prevalent in the ancient traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Swami Satyandanda Saraswati made the experience of yoga nidra more assessable to the mainstream during the mid-1900s when he introduced a systemized approach to achieving the altered state of mind. Two well-known yoga teachers, Rod Stryker and Richard Miller, have recently popularized yoga nidra in the west. In Richard Miller’s book, Yoga Nidra, he discusses the technique of moving through the layers or koshas within the body, in order to reach the innermost layer, a place where one finds innate joy and peacefulness. Yoga nidra has long been viewed as a spiritual path whereby karma is released and the unconscious mind purified eventually leading to a state of Samadhi.
Thanks to the advances in science, researchers are now able to help us better understand the positive physiological effects of yoga nidra. A research team, led by researchers, Dr. Hans Lou and Dr. Troels Kjær from the Kennedy Institute in Copenhagen used the PET scanner to capture the brain activity of participants as they moved through four Yoga Nidra practices. Throughout the test, measurements of brain activity were also recorded using an EEG. The theta activity rose significantly (11%p) on all the twenty-one electrodes. The reduction of the alpha activity (2% NS) was insignificant. The results show that this meditative state is completely different from that of the sleeping state. The participants were fully conscious, not drowsy and in a state of deep concentration. The PET scanner images taken while the participants were just laying in a restful state, prior to beginning yoga nidra, did not show the same level of deep and effortless concentration.
The doctors profoundly pointed out the power of yoga nidra when they said, “It proves that the 1.5 kg (brain mass) with the unknown content can control its own activity in an astonishingly precise manner. From a holistic point of view, it indicates that the soul and body act in unity”.
There are several ways you can experience this rejuvenating practice:
- Find a yoga nidra class in your area. If you live in Austin, I highly recommend this class.
- Order a yoga nidra cd such as, Resting in Stillness: Integrative Restoration – iRest Yoga Nidra
- Watch a yoga nidra YouTube video.
- Read about yoga nidra. As mentioned above, Richard Miller’s book, Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing, offers an excellent explanation of the practice.
I’d love to hear your yoga nidra experiences. Comment below or feel free to send me an email.