Yoga Nidra: How it Works
If you’ve enjoyed guided meditation, you know that yoga nidra is a meditative, peaceful yogic approach that can help nourish body, mind, and spirit. Yoga nidra provides insight and awareness as a meditative practice. There are both physiological and spiritual underpinnings to the practice, combining yogic philosophy elements and the various practices that come from it.
Yoga nidra is a form of guided meditation derived from the perspective of Samkhya philosophy. Samkhya philosophy underlies the contemplative traditions of South Asia. Here the elements of the universe are separated into the distinct roles of the Seer and the Seen. The Seen is inclusive of the flow of the universe, the various aspects of the mind, senses, capacities for action, and the building blocks of the known universe–the five elements. In the practice of yoga nidra, the participant is asked to sense or observe various aspects of the Seen.
A receiver of yoga nidra begins to explore their own five senses, the rising and falling of the reactions and actions that have become inherent to them in this life, as well as beginning to explore themselves as the Seer. These practices inevitably lead to more profound practices of mediation.
When looking at ashtanga, or Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga, yoga nidra builds upon the groundwork of ethical precepts or yama and niyama, postural discipline of asana, and breath control practices of pranayama. Here yoga nidra can begin to open up the possibilities of sensory understanding and withdrawal in pratyahra. It also starts to train the mind in dharana, or attention practices. One may experience moments of prajna, or insight, beyond the stages of pratyahara and dharana akin to the stages of dhyana and samadhi in deep meditation.
Practically speaking, yoga nidra is a powerful tool with regard to stress and anxiety. As we see the rise of inflammatory ‘life-style diseases’ in the West, stress reduction has become of great interest to western medical practitioners. Stress is seen as the primary trigger for the onset of ‘life-style diseases’ that include heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
The practices of pranayama and yoga nidra are the most effective yogic practices for reducing the effects of stress. Pranayama can be utilized to calm the central nervous system, and then yoga nidra helps individuals experience and understand their own patterns of sensory uptake to transform them. These sensory uptake patterns, and the resulting reactionary output, are a part of each individual’s habituated stress loop.
Through the practice of yoga nidra, habituated patterns of knee-jerk reaction can transform. With practice, these reactions can become thoughtful responses as skill in action.
Trained yoga therapists have been using yoga nidra to reduce perceived symptoms of trauma disorders, chronic pain, and during recovery periods in cancer treatment and other strong medical interventions.
As an entry-level modality of meditation, yoga nidra is accessible for anyone. Whether you are a student in savasana or at a group yoga nidra session, the experience of yoga nidra has something to offer to everyone. Yoga nidra is an exploration of what it is to be a human by exploring the body/ mind we have here in this life. Taking the time to observe and sit with the feelings in our body, the sounds around and within us, and other sensory perceptions is a way of befriending our minds and understanding what it is to be uniquely us. It is a way to quietly get to know how the sensations we perceive move through our central nervous system, into the various processing functions of our minds, back out through the central nervous system, and into our interactions with all around us. Instead of looking to outside influences to learn ‘how to be,’ yoga nidra asks us to look within our own body/ mind/ spirit to unfold the truth of who we are and function with resilience in this life. This is an easily accessible tool for transforming the self, through the self, towards authenticity and an experience of our true natures.
For the wise person the body serves as a vehicle that can transport him swiftly in this world, and it is known as a chariot for attaining liberation and unending enjoyment.
Since the body affords the wise person the experience of sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell as well as prosperity and friendship, it brings him gain.
Even though the body exposes one to a whole stringful of painful and joyous activities, the omniscient sage can patiently bear all experiences.
The wise person reigns, free from feverish unhappiness, over the city known as the body, even as Vasava [the god Indra] dwells in his city free from distress.
Yoga-Vasistha 4.20-4.23 (Feuerstein)
Feuerstein, G. (1998). The Yoga Tradition. Chino Valley, AZ, USA: Hohm
Interested in experiencing yoga nidra?
Dive even deeper with Live Stream Yoga Nidra Teacher Training May 15th & 16th 2021
This 14-hour live-stream training is ideal if you are a yoga teacher or student who wants to explore Yoga Nidra to add to your teaching repertoire or your personal experience of yoga. You will learn the theories behind Yoga Nidra practices as well as study relevant points about exteroception, interoception, and other meditation tools. You will explore how to guide Yoga Nidra classes as a supportive, safe, and deep inner exploration.
About the Teacher & Author: Kari Ross-Berry, RYT 500
Kari Ross-Berry, M.A., is educated in practical, philosophical, and historical Yoga and its various lineages both East and West, having obtained her Masters of Yoga Arts through Loyola Marymount University. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a continuing education provider for the yoga community at large (YACEP).
Her mission and experience are in teaching Yoga philosophy, asana, pranayama, and guided meditation to help students understand their unique mind-body complex in order to overcome obstacles. Compassionately helping others to expand their mental and physical well being includes stress reduction and mind-body acuity. Designing and delivering courses, classes, and workshops from an Ayurvedic point of view, and actively striving to meet students where they are at, whether in a group or private setting. In this manner, enabling others to think and act creatively from an authentic sense of self through the practice of Yoga. Kari’s interests and research include the conjunction between Yoga and art.