So...what exactly is yoga nidra?
The experience of yoga nidra is hard to explain. When someone asks me what it is, I start with the most basic description - it is a meditation and relaxation technique practiced in a comfortable position, usually lying down. The intent is to completely relax the body while staying awake (but you might fall asleep 😉).
But this description is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that is happening below the surface, in the mind of the person practicing.
As you are guided through yoga nidra, your brain begins to ‘power down’ from its daily, thinking state (dominated by beta brainwaves) into a more coherent, unified, and peaceful state (with more alpha or theta waves). So instead of hanging out in the monkey-mind (with thoughts like: I have to remember to call my friend back...what should I eat for dinner?...I need finish this before the deadline), you naturally slip into the same brain state that experienced meditators enter into and hang out there. (Sounds great, right?)
By hanging out in this state, you are literally giving your brain a break. This is why people feel so refreshed and rejuvenated after nidra. Just like exercise improves your aerobic capacity, nidra improves your capacity to let go.
I’ve also found that nidra is can be more accessible than traditional meditation for many, because it uses a methodical journey through the khoshas to calm the mind down. The khoshas, according to yogic philosophy, are the different layers of the body, starting from the most gross (the physical body) to the most subtle (the psychic body). Rather than have participants immediately focus on their breath or a mantra, which can be a struggle for the busy mind, nidra systematically brings us inward with the khoshas. Once relaxed, you are guided to keep your mind alert - and this is where more magic happens.
Nidra allows you to craft your own story. The subconscious mind that is typically not accessible during your waking hours emerges. You witness your unconscious patterns - deeply held beliefs or habits, and begin to reprogram what no longer serves you. It is also a powerful time to plant intentions for manifestation. In this calm, deeply receptive state, what we visualize during nidra plays out in our minds as if it has already happened. In my own practice, for example, I’ve come to understand where I still play small and show up more unapologetically.
This combination of physical/mental relaxation and reconnecting with your inner self is why people say they feel amazing after a yoga nidra class (even if they have no idea what happened)! However deep you go, you will receive the benefits of being more rested by calming your brain down to an alpha-state. With practice, you’ll learn to surf between the states of wakefulness and sleep and develop a deeper connection to your intuitive, authentic self.