Deep relaxation with Yoga Nidra
How you can quickly reduce stress with the help of Yoga Nidra
Does this sound familiar: You notice that you are stressed, and you know that it would do you good to practice a relaxation method. You may have tried different ones, but either the desired effect does not materialize, or the technique does not integrate well into your daily routine. So you are looking for a method that is quick to learn and easy to practice.
I have tried everything possible over the years: Progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, relaxation with singling bowls, yoga, reiki, meditation, mantra singing, and yoga Nidra. Some of them had no effect on me — like autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation. Some had some impact. Professionally, I was traveling a lot at times — partly by train. To take a singing bowl, a yoga mat, or a meditation pillow with me on my travels was sometimes just too tedious.
The only method that worked really well for me and that I still use regularly is Yoga Nidra. Since I was interested in Yoga Nidra, I even became a Yoga Nidra teacher in 2014.
Learn what Yoga Nidra is, what results from regular practice, and how to apply Yoga Nidra.
What means stress for you?
Stress arises from two components. On the one hand, there are stressors.
These can be high-performance requirements, difficult social contacts, conflicts, time pressure, disruptions, too much work, and the like. However, these stressors do not automatically lead to stress or lead to stress for one person but not for another. What is the reason for this? This is where the second component comes into play: the personal stress intensifiers.
Personal stress intensifiers can be the following:
- You are the lone fighter and want to do everything yourself.
- You want to please everybody, you want to be liked.
- You think it’s terrible when things don’t run smoothly and problems occur.
- You have very high standards.
- You tend to avoid any risk.
- You want to be perfect.
If stressors occur, such as a high workload and time pressure, and if you are a guy who wants to do everything on your own and deliver a perfect result, you will experience stress to which you react physically, emotionally, and/or mentally.
To be able to deal well with stress, it is essential to know your personal stress intensifiers. Go through the above points for yourself. Which ones apply to you? And in combination with which stressors do they lead to stress for you? It is best to make notes. With Yoga Nidra, you can release tensions and work on your personal stress intensifiers. We will come to that later.
How do you react to stress? More physical, emotional, or mental? You notice physical reactions in the form of muscle tension. Emotional stress is triggered by feelings. You may feel how angry you are at your boss or yourself. Mental stress is a whirlpool of thoughts that won’t go away. You may notice that you can’t concentrate well and can no longer manage to do simple tasks yourself.
Origin and development of Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation technique that allows you to completely relax in half an hour.
Nidra means translated sleep. Yoga Nidra, therefore, stands for the sleep of the yogi. The techniques used by yogis have been developed and handed down in India over centuries. Yoga Nidra also originated from this. During Yoga Nidra, the body oscillates between relaxation and twilight, but one is conscious all the time.
It is said that Swami Satyananda held night vigils in a school during the time with Swami Sivananda and slept from 03:00 to 06:00. From 04:00, the students recited mantras. And Swami Sivananda was surprised that the verses, which he later heard again, seemed familiar to him, although he had never consciously read or heard them before. He continued to study the phenomenon by combining various traditional practices. Eventually, a sequence of different relaxation elements was created, allowing deep relaxation and regeneration.
The Yoga Nidra exercise is available in several variations. If you start with Yoga Nidra, begin with Yoga Nidra 1 and do the exercise over a more extended period (about 3 months). After that, you can move on to the intermediate or advanced practices. The general procedure is the same for all levels — you are guided through the process with one voice. Swami Satyananda Saraswati describes in his book “Yoga Nidra” Yoga Nidra 1 to 5 and Yoga Nidra for children.
What effect does Yoga Nidra have?
With Yoga Nidra, you can relax on a physical, emotional, and mental level.
Yoga Nidra has five main effects:
- Positive influence on sleep: Yoga Nidra has a relaxing and activating effect at the same time. Many people report that they get by with less shock when they practice Yoga Nidra. By practicing regularly, it also promotes better sleep and sleep through.
- Serenity: By practicing regularly, you can face life with more serenity. It is possible to react more calmly to the challenges of everyday life. The ability to cope with stress becomes greater.
- Better concentration: Concentration and creativity are improved. This makes mental work in particular easier.
- Strengthening of intuition: The perception is sharpened, and decisions are more straightforward.
- More stable health stress causes many physical and psychological complaints. By reducing stress, the state of health becomes more stable.
Why does Yoga Nidra work?
During the Yoga Nidra exercise, you oscillate between relaxation and twilight sleep. In these states, our brain shows different electrical activities. These brain activities can be visualized with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) by measuring the voltage fluctuations on the head’s surface and then recording them graphically.
The voltage fluctuations are measured in Hertz (Hz), the oscillations per second.
The following graphic shows the five areas that are distinguished: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta.
When we are awake, beta waves appear. Alpha waves appear more intense when we are in a light state of relaxation. Theta waves occur when we are in a twilight state just before falling asleep. The deep sleep phase is characterized by delta waves.
In Yoga Nidra, the brainwaves are often in the alpha range. This shows the relaxing effect of this technique. During the exercise, the thoughts become calmer. Sometimes, however, you fall into the state you know shortly before falling asleep. Here, theta waves appear during the exercise. These ensure that one feels physically and mentally refreshed after the practice.
A deep sleep (delta waves) is not desired in Yoga Nidra. However, due to the exercise structure, it is also almost impossible to really fall asleep.
Can anyone practice Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra can be practiced by people in all situations. The standard procedure, for which I provide source information below, can be practiced by young people from about 14 years of age.
In the meantime, some techniques suitable for children from the age of three are available. Yoga Nidra is especially beneficial if you are exposed to stressful situations and want to regain more peace and strength.
The only thing you need for practicing Yoga Nidra is a quiet place where you can lay down, half an hour, and a possibility to play an audio file or CD. Without audio support, Yoga Nidra is hard to do. Once you are in the theta state, it is hardly possible to continue the process internally without audio support.
How does Yoga Nidra work?
Yoga Nidra is practiced in the back on a mat. The backrest is called Shavasana and is a traditional back relaxation position. The feet lie hip-wide apart. The toes fall outwards loosely. The arms lie a little bit away from the body, the palms of the hands point upwards. The eyes are kept closed.
During Yoga Nidra, you are guided through the exercise. When you attend a class, the teacher will tell you the different parts. It is the same with an audio file or CD. The texts that lead through the exercise can be various, but some key elements are mandatory.
The Sankalpa is a resolution that is expressed in a short positive sentence. It serves as affirmation and directs life in a positive direction.
Above I talked about stress intensifiers and mentioned that you can work on them with Yoga Nidra. Precisely this is what the Sankalpa can be used for. Choose one of your stress intensifiers that you want to work on. And now formulate a short positive sentence. Make sure that the sentence is in the present, positively formulated, and simple.
Examples of the stress intensifier risk avoidance:
- I am courageous and calm.
- I welcome changes in my life.
In addition to stress intensifiers, other topics can also be addressed with a Sankalpa. These include personality development, health, career, family, and relationships.
Think of a Sankalpa and write it down. Then you can simply recall it from memory during Yoga Nidra. Stay with one Sankalpa for at least three weeks if you practice daily. If you practice less often, longer accordingly.
During Yoga Nidra, the Sankalpa is processed twice.
The circling of the consciousness
As the consciousness circles through the body, attention is directed to the different parts of the body. You do not have to consciously relax the individual body parts, but the relaxation is automatic.
This part of the exercise relaxes not only your body but also your mind.
In this part, you will be instructed to count backward in the rhythm of your breathing. You start at number 27. If you have miscounted, you begin again at 27. If you practice Yoga Nidra for a longer time, you will notice that you count down for different lengths of time, depending on how relaxed you are.
When counting backward, you often reach the theta phase for a short time and feel of falling asleep. But consciousness returns quickly by merely concentrating on perceiving the announcement.
In this part, opposing body perceptions are evoked. These include cold/heat and lightness/heaviness.
This part of the exercise increases physical, mental, and emotional flexibility.
In this part, you let different images rise before your mind’s eye. It is not necessary to see the pictures clearly or to perceive details. It is enough if you feel a sensation in connection with the picture. The images used represent symbols that radiate certain positive qualities and energies. Through visualization, the energies can be released and integrated into life.
The pictures include a candle, the starry sky, the moon, and the sea.
The advanced version (from Yoga Nidra 2 on) brings one’s perception into the inner space behind the closed eyes (Chidakasha). There, images of the subconscious can rise. These can be things that you have experienced and from which you can now free yourself, or images that arise from intuition and point the way for your further life.
Also, only from Yoga Nidra 2 on, the third eye is activated by focusing on the center of the eyebrows (Bhrumadhya). Through this, the intuition is activated, and creativity is increased.
Finally, you will be asked to slowly move your body again and open your eyes. During Yoga Nidra, the blood pressure drops, and pulse and breathing rhythm slow down. Therefore the body touches for a moment to return to the waking state.
Further reading / CDs
As written above, to practice Yoga Nidra, you need an appropriate audio file. If you search for CDs or audio files, you will find some, but it is not easy to find a really good one. With Yoga Nidra, however, it is the rhythm and pitch of speech that counts. Also, not every music is helpful as background. The English audio files from the Satyananda Ashram Italia are outstanding. The audio files are also available in Italian and Spanish.
- Audio File: Yoga Nidra & Meditation (Swami Satyananda Saraswati)
- Audio File: Beginners’ Yoga Nidra (Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati)
When you listen to the two audio files, you may wonder why they are not spoken in a soft, quiet voice. With Yoga Nidra, it is essential to stay awake. So the voice pitch is just right.
In German, there are very good CDs from the Ananda publishing house.
For more information about Yoga Nidra, I recommend the book “Yoga Nidra” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
How to start?
- Choose a fixed time when you want to practice Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra can be practiced at any time. But because it has an activating effect, some people find it inconvenient before bedtime. Others, however, report that they can fall asleep very well after Yoga Nidra. Try out which time is right for you. You should be able to lie down for 30 minutes without being disturbed.
- Get an audio file with Yoga Nidra I. Use this audio file for at least three months. This helps to build a routine because your mind gets used to the procedure and text.
- Think of a Sankalpa, a resolution, and write it down.
- Practice regularly, preferably daily.
- After some time, reflect on what has changed, especially concerning your Sankalpa.