What's the Difference Between Yoga Nidra and Normal Sleep?

Karen Costa
What's the Difference Between Yoga Nidra and Normal Sleep?

You may have heard of the practice of yoga nidra, which, along with yoga and meditation, has been growing in popularity in recent years. It is increasingly recognized as a practice to quiet the mind, relieve stress, and to promote healing and relaxation.

Yoga nidra can be practiced on its own, at home, in a class, or as part of a traditional asana practice. Read on to learn about this powerful, ancient practice.

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra is also known as yogic sleep. It’s a deeply restful state where you enter a space in between sleep and wakefulness.

Have you ever noticed that when you are dozing off at night that you sometimes catch your thoughts flowing in new and unexpected ways? I often know that I'm about to fall asleep when I'm in this dozing state. In that space, you are beginning to access the unconscious mind.

In a yoga nidra practice, that state of mind is intentionally sought as you are guided into this almost hypnotic energy where you are dancing in the transition between the conscious and unconscious minds. The intention is to stay in that space for an extended period of time without waking up or falling asleep.

How is Yoga Nidra Different Than Normal Sleep?

Imagine yourself sitting comfortably in a quiet room in state of relaxation. You feel calm, but you are completely aware of your surroundings. Now imagine yourself in a sound sleep. When sleeping, you have no awareness of what's going on around you. Yoga nidra can be thought of as the middle point between being calmly awake and deeply asleep.

Rather than thinking of this as a state outside of us that we can achieve or strive toward, we can see yoga nidra as a practice that helps us to return to our truest selves. In normal sleep, we are completely separated from our conscious minds. In yoga nidra, we hold onto a thread of consciousness while we fall deeper and deeper into the most relaxed possible energy.

What’s a Yoga Nidra Class Like?

Another way to think of yoga nidra is as the perfect combination of yoga and meditation. In a typical yoga nidra class, you’ll be set up in a comfortable and well-supported posture, often using props like blankets, blocks, and/or bolsters.

Then, your teacher will lead you through a guided meditation that is intentionally designed to help you access a state of deep relaxation. You’ll leave a yoga nidra class feeling calmer, restored, and with sense of peace that you can carry with you off the mat.

How Can I Benefit from Yoga Nidra?

Practices like yoga nidra are an important part of an overall spiritual practice. Yoga nidra has been found to heal trauma, decrease stress, promote healthy sleep, along with a host of other benefits.

The important thing to note about yoga nidra is that because it connects intentionally to the unconscious mind, it can help to heal and release blockages that you might not be aware of or that have been persistent challenges in your life.

How Can I Start Practicing Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra is a state of mind. It can be viewed as a personal spiritual practice or you can access it by taking a class or workshop in yoga studio.

Some students seeking relaxation might prefer a restorative yoga class where there’s mostly silence. However, if you struggle to let go and release in restorative yoga, the guided aspect of yoga nidra might be a great fit for you.

Yoga nidra is a growing practice, but is not yet offered at all yoga studios. Do some research in your local area to find a teacher specializing in yoga nidra. Sometimes, it might not be offered as a regular class but rather as a standalone workshop. Another option for new students is to explore online videos or to download guided yoga nidra recordings. As with any practice, allow yourself 2-3 attempts before you decide if yoga nidra is right for you.

For modern yoga students, practices like yoga nidra and meditation might seem quite different at first; in our culture we are often used to moving and trying to feel productive. However, with daily practice, yoga nidra will grow to feel more natural. The feelings of calm and happiness will be self-reinforcing, encouraging you to return to this amazing yogic sleep on a regular basis.

Image credit: Dan Morgan