The 8 Stages of Yoga Nidra

by | Nov 9, 2022 | Nurturing Your Practice

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Many people are familiar with the ancient art of meditation and the various ways that it can contribute to healthy minds. But there is a lesser-known practice that can produce equally profound benefits for mental and emotional well-being that even seasoned practitioners are not very familiar with, and it is known as yoga nidra.

Yoga nidra does its work in the mysterious realm lying between the conscious and dream states. Like meditation, the goals of yoga nidra are to achieve heightened relaxation and profound calmness but only deeper. This ancient art requires a structured eight-stage approach to reap its full benefits.

Often referred to as yogic sleep, yoga nidra seeks to achieve the highest form of relaxation, a rarefied mental state that can best be described as conscious dreaming but without the dreams. Master these eight stages of yoga nidra and profound, life-affirming relaxation awaits.

What Is Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra is a relaxation practice that by some accounts is as old as the ancient art of yoga and dates back thousands of years. The term yoga nidra comes from Sanskrit origins and means “yogic sleep” or “psychic sleep”, which is an accurate description because it is performed from the corpse pose (shavasana) where practitioners lie down flat on their back.

A typical yoga nidra session lasts approximately 45 minutes and involves a very structured approach comprising 8 carefully sequenced stages (more on this later). Practicing yoga nidra can yield benefits that have profound effects on your mental well-being. These include:

  • Yoga nidra allows you to reach a profound trance-like state of relaxation
  • It produces a deepened sense of self-awareness
  • Yoga nidra stimulates the release of the stress-reducing hormone melatonin
  • Heightened immune system response to illness
  • Increased mental focus and improved cognitive function

Although it shares some attributes with meditation, such as emphasizing relaxation and breathing techniques, yoga nidra ventures deeper into the psyche in order to reach the realm of yogic sleep.

What Happens During Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra has been practiced for many centuries and countless practitioners have enjoyed its life-changing benefits. Now, research is starting to pull back the curtain on this mysterious art and explain what happens during yoga nidra and how regular sessions benefit your mental state. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Yoga nidra keeps the body’s sympathetic nervous system in check, suppressing the primal “fight or flight” instinct 
  • It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, fostering calmness and self-assurance
  • Yoga nidra enables practitioners to harness the restorative power of delta brainwaves which are normally found when people fall into a deep, restful sleep
  • By stimulating the pineal gland yoga nidra can trigger the release of the hormone melatonin and help regulate the body’s sleep and wake cycles
  • Yoga nidra has been found to have a significant effect on reducing stress and anxiety

While research into the benefits of yoga nidra continues, there is mounting evidence that it may be even more beneficial to mental health than meditation.

What Are the 8 Stages of Yoga Nidra?

One of the keys to reaping the benefits of yoga nidra is to understand how it works and respect its ancient methodology. Each session of yoga nidra is a process that requires a very structured approach. Are you interested in learning yoga nidra? These are the 8 stages that you need to know.

1. Positioning

Prior to engaging in the mental exercises that comprise yoga nidra, it is important to properly position your body. This means getting into shavasana, otherwise known as the corpse pose. Lying down on your back in this manner will ensure that your body, and thus your mind, are fully relaxed.

2. Mental Affirmation – The Sankalpa

The next stage is performing a mental affirmation – known as a sankalpa – to provide a mechanism that is used to unlock the passive state through which your consciousness becomes detached from your surroundings. A sankalpa can be any type of personal mantra or decree that is repeated in your mind.

3. Bodily Visualization

The third stage of yoga nidra is a mental exercise by which each part of the body is visualized. You begin with the right side, starting from your fingers and ending at the toes. This exercise is repeated for the left side. The back of the body from head to toe is then visualized as is the front in the same manner, and in so doing, the practitioner becomes acutely aware of the entire body.

4. Breathwork

Proper breathing techniques are an important part of yoga nidra. Recommended practice is to count breaths and take note as they are drawn in and let out through the nostrils. Conscious breathwork should also involve the throat, chest, and abdomen.

5. Sensory Consciousness

The fifth stage of yoga nidra is an association exercise where sensory experiences are linked to mental or physical stimuli. A common approach to performing this sensory consciousness phase is to focus on extremes such as hot and cold, dry and wet, light and heavy, and so on.

6. Visualizing the Chidakasha

The next stage of yoga nidra is another visualization exercise, this time involving the chidakasha, which is the dark space that lies in front of your eyes when your eyelids are closed. Practitioners are encouraged to visualize a vibrant scene within the chidakasha.

7. Revisiting the Sankalpa

In the seventh stage of yoga nidra, practitioners are instructed to recall the sankalpa they recited in stage two and to repeat it three more times.

8. Returning to Your Surroundings

As the yoga nidra session comes to a close, the eighth and final stage is where practitioners are slowly reacclimated to their surroundings. Emerging from a yoga nidra session is much like awakening from a deep, restful slumber.

How Can I Learn More About Yoga Nidra

Learning yoga nidra is all about embracing a process. Aside from following the sequence of the eight stages outlined above, reaping the benefits of yoga nidra also requires having the right mindset. Centuries ago, the process of learning yoga nidra would have involved instructors and pupils put together in a face-to-face setting.

Fortunately, the digital age has brought about with it the opportunity to learn the intricacies of yoga nidra through online resources like My Vinyasa Practice’s Online Yoga Nidra Certification course. With an extensive library of on-demand digital resources like video lectures and study materials, this learn-at-your-own-pace program is perfectly suited for anybody who wants to learn more about this ancient art.

Conclusion

Yoga nidra is a complex practice that typically requires guided sessions, even for experienced practitioners, to fully appreciate its many benefits. The eight stages of this ancient relaxation exercise represent a journey into a realm where the subconscious and the dreamy state of deep sleep come together.

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