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3rd March, 20213 min read

What is yoga nidra and how does it work?

Medical reviewer:Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 01/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

If you do yoga and you like savasana (corpse pose) – where you lie down at the end of your practice – you’ll love yoga nidra.

Also referred to as ‘yogic sleep’, yoga nidra is a guided meditation technique that’s believed to encourage deep relaxation, improve sleep and reduce stress.

Practising yoga nidra involves lying down (or sitting) and breathing deeply while following cues from a trained practitioner, sometimes for up to an hour.

How does yoga nidra work?

While yoga nidra is not a substitute for sleep, many who practise yoga nidra claim they feel more rested as a result.

It’s suggested that the breathing techniques used in yoga nidra, combined with body sensing techniques – where you bring attention to different areas of the body – work to trigger a relaxation response in the brain.

As the body begins to relax during the practice, the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for excitement) is suppressed, while the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for relaxation) is stimulated.

During this shift, beta-wave activity in the brain is slowly replaced by alpha-wave activity. Beta waves are associated with being mentally alert, while alpha waves indicate mental relaxation.

In simple terms, yoga nidra may cause the brain to go from being alert to relaxed, all while you’re still conscious.

What are the benefits of yoga nidra?

More research needs to be done to prove whether yoga nidra really improves overall wellbeing, but there is some evidence to suggest that practising yoga nidra regularly may help to:

  • improve sleep quality
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce stress
  • increase self-esteem

How to practise yoga nidra

If you’re new to yoga nidra, there are plenty of ways to get started. Most yoga studios offer classes and there are lots of videos and how-to guides online, too.

In general, a yoga nidra session will start with you lying on your back on a yoga mat. Your teacher will begin to gently guide you into an initial state of relaxation.

Your teacher will also prompt you to set an intention or affirmation (for example, ‘My body is strong’ or ‘I am loved’) and repeat it a few times in your head. You’ll then be guided through a full body scan, bringing your attention to each area of your body, one by one.

Throughout the meditation, you’ll feel a deep sense of relaxation, but you should resist falling asleep. Towards the end of the session, as you start to regain awareness of your surroundings, you’ll likely be asked to reaffirm your initial intention before opening your eyes.

Key points

  • yoga nidra is a type of guided meditation
  • it may reduce stress and anxiety levels
  • it’s often practised to help improve sleep
  • you don’t need equipment to practise yoga nidra, only a yoga mat if you want to use one
  • there are lots of online resources that can help you get started with yoga nidra
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