An ancient form of guided meditation practiced while lying down, yoga nidra is said to create a deep sense of relaxation that extends from the physical body all the way to your more subtle, energetic layers.
And while it used to be something you’d only find at super-traditional yoga studios, the practice is appearing on schedules at more and more locations and gaining crazy followings—especially in New York City and Los Angeles.
One of those spots is Love Yoga in Venice, CA, where instructor Jana Roemer’s weekly yoga nidra classes are always filled to capacity. So what’s the big draw? “Yoga nidra is the practice of conscious sleep,” explains Roemer. “Essentially, we’re figuring out how to allow the body to fall asleep while keeping the mind awake. When we go into yoga nidra, we downshift into an alpha brain wave state. Here, [levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are reduced] and we go into a state of healing.”
Given that a lot of us are more burned out than ever, it's not surprising that a practice like this is undergoing a renaissance in the West.
Keep reading for more on the science behind yoga nidra, what to expect from your first class, and a video you can try at home first.
The method behind the meditation
While all meditation is designed to put you into alpha mode, what’s different about yoga nidra is that instructors follow a very specific road map for getting you there. “We go through layers of the body—from [relaxing] the physical body to [tapping into] the energetic body, the mental/emotional body, the intuitive/creative body, and the bliss body,” says Roemer. It's best to do it lying down. Covering up with a blanket, putting a bolster under your knees, and propping up your head are all optional.
Along the way, students meditate on a sankalpa, or an intention of something they’d like to manifest in their life, and Roemer insists it’s super powerful. “I’ve seen people move out of insomnia, decrease anxiety, open up their creative potential, and overcome major blocks,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘I want to be doing XYZ, but I can’t’— and then they start practicing yoga nidra, and everything starts working out.”
The hardest part, by far, is not letting your mind fall asleep. (I've personally never stayed awake for a full 30–60 minute session.) But Roemer insists sustaining alpha state is something that just requires practice, and that trying it once a week is a good place to start. “It’s like learning a handstand,” she says. “You have to spend some time figuring out what it is—that mind state between wakefulness and sleeping—before you really get it.”
The benefits of yoga nidra
Even if you fall asleep, experts say your subconscious mind is still taking in the information and reaping the benefits. According to instructor Hilary Jackendoff, who teaches yoga nidra at The Den Meditation in Los Angeles, there are a lot of benefits to be had. Yoga nidra helps to regulate the sleep cycle and lower blood pressure and release anxiety, she says, adding: “It has been formally recognized by the US Army as a complementary alternative therapy in treating PTSD and chronic pain. And for those of us who stick with yoga nidra, we experience a greater emotional equilibrium and a deeper connection to, and acceptance of, our bodies.”
While you can find group classes at studios like Love Yoga and The Den in LA and Pure Yoga and Dharma Yoga Center in NYC, this is a practice that works just as well solo—there are plenty of guided sessions on YouTube (like the one above from Roemer), sites like Yogaglo, and even apps pre-loaded with recordings.
So next time you hit an afternoon slump, says Jackendoff, you should give it a try instead of reaching for a cup of coffee. “Look, there’s no substitute for sleep,” she says. “But a good nidra session gives my body and mind the chance to really rest and allows me to function as though I just slept for two or three hours. It’s the best!” You snooze...you win.
Got anxiety? (Who doesn't?) Check out these tips from wellness blogger Tara Mackey on how to beat it naturally, beyond meditation. And for a more active form of stress relief, try Gabrielle Bernstein's go-to remedy.
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