Relax, Restore, Recalibrate: The transformative power of Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra, also known as “yogic sleep”, is a practice of deep relaxation through guided meditation. Originating in India, Yoga Nidra has been used to reduce stress, improve mental focus, and generate emotional balance. It’s suitable for all levels of physical ability as it is practiced in complete stillness.

Nidra is the ideal antidote to our busy, task-oriented lives. In deep relaxation and meditative states, we can actually change the frequency of our brain waves from Beta (intense alertness) to Theta (a dream-like state where we can access our unconscious) or even Delta (deep relaxation and a feeling of oneness).

The transformative power of Yoga Nidra lies in its ability to tap into our subconscious and literally re-write the “programming” that guides our day-to-day conscious life by working with a sankalpa, or resolve. If you’ve ever set an intention at the beginning of a yoga practice, you’re already somewhat familiar with sankalpa. In a Yoga Nidra practice, a sankalpa is always phrased as a positive, present-tense affirmation – such as, “I am completely healthy and well”. Planting this seed of sankalpa when the brain is in a relaxed, aware and receptive state is the key to transformation.

Yoga Nidra is practiced while taking the pose of savasana, or corpse pose. It is important to support the body with cushions and blankets, and practice in a quiet dark place so that the body and mind are able to completely relax.

In the structure of a typical Nidra practice, we move through the five koshas (layers or sheaths of our being)  in a specific order.

The first sheath, Anamaya Kosha, is the physical body: the temporary shell that is our outer presentation to the world. Through systematic guided relaxation, Yoga Nidra brings each part of the physical body into the field of our awareness and then releases it.

As we move deeper into the second layer, Pranamaya Kosha, we focus on the more subtle energetic body: our breath, circulation and the life force within. Yoga Nidra uses breathing techniques to draw awareness to these subtle undercurrents.

The third layer, Manomaya Kosha, takes us into the depths of the mind, emotions and nervous system. Through a series of visualizations, we cultivate relaxed acceptance of the wide spectrum of emotional experience.

Underneath our thoughts and emotions is the fourth layer, Vijnamaya Kosha or the wisdom body. As we enter a state of awareness and insight, we can connect with our deepest heart’s desires and uncover inner wisdom that we may  have forgotten.

Finally, at the centre of it all is the Anandamaya Kosha, or “bliss body”. We’ve all accessed this layer when we’ve felt a deep connectedness with other beings, the dissolution of worries and conflict, and the feeling of being “in the flow”.

Before and after exploring these five koshas, we plant the seed of our sankalpa or affirmation and allow it to work its magic. It can be helpful to work with the same sankalpa over a series of Yoga Nidra practices until you feel you have fully explored or manifested that particular affirmation.

After a Yoga Nidra practice, it’s common to feel a deep sense of relaxation and well-being. The more often you practice, the deeper your journey and your insights will be. These techniques have been truly rewarding to me as a teacher and a student, and I am forever grateful to my teacher Tanis Fishman for introducing me to the inner world of Yoga Nidra.