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The Art & Science of Yoga Nidra: A Q&A

Yoga Nidra

What is yoga nidra?

Yoga nidra combines a body scan with breath awareness, and adds a visual and sense component. It’s often called yogic sleep, because it induces states of mind that are between being asleep and being awake, resulting in deep relaxation and rejuvenation. Most of the elements and principles of yoga nidra originally come from traditional teachings on yoga, breath awareness, and the koshas, and many teachers have created their own approach to the practice. There are eight stages to Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra, and as you move through the stages, you’re also moving through the five koshas, or layers, of your being. Each stage opens the doorway to the next stage, as you move deeper into relaxation.

What are the physiological effects of yoga nidra?

When you consciously relax, you’re switching off the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze) and switching on the healing qualities of the parasympathetic nervous system. We spend most of our time in active (sympathetic) mode, and not enough in relaxation mode, which can lead to chronic conditions like insomnia, allergies, asthma, and digestive issues. It’s one of the best ways to shift the nervous system into healing mode.

What are the benefits of yoga nidra during seasonal changes?

Yoga nidra is a step-by-step way to induce pratyahara—withdrawal of the senses, going inward. As in nature, where everything goes beneath the ground and prepares to emerge in the spring, we, too, become fortified and revitalized when we go within. It’s an amazing practice to do in winter because it’s so deeply restorative and renewing. It’s just natural to rest more when it’s darker and cooler, and, because yoga nidra strengthens the immune system, it’s great for helping ward off the flus and bugs going around in the cold season. It works best when practiced daily, and it doesn’t have to be for long; 20 minutes of yoga nidra are said to equate to three hours of sleep.

How can yoga nidra enhance your life and yoga practice?

Everybody loves to relax, and everybody needs to learn how to relax through all levels of their being, because it often does not come naturally. There are many people for whom silent, seated meditation is not accessible—because of chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or PTSD—and yoga nidra is an accessible, user-friendly way for them to learn about and experience meditation.

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