Relieve Stress with Yoga Nidra: The Yoga of Deep Rest

Image of young woman relaxing on yoga mat. Female practicing Savasana-or yoga nidra that looks like Savasana.

Article At A Glance

Are you experiencing stress in your life? If so, Yoga Nidra might provide some relief. Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation also known as “yogic or psychic sleep” or “effortless relaxation.” It’s usually practiced lying down with a yoga teacher guiding the session. The body is completely relaxed while the mind is awake and focused inward. Read about how Yoga Nidra works, and the 8 stages of practice.

What’s causing stress in your life? Maybe you’re experiencing an illness, a difficult family situation or professional change. For me, a second breast cancer diagnosis followed by a double mastectomy certainly took my stress to peak levels. At times like this, the practice of Yoga Nidra has been a refuge for me, and I’m convinced this practice sped up my healing process.

Yoga Nidra (pronounced “nih-drah”) is a form of guided meditation also known as “yogic or psychic sleep” or “effortless relaxation.” It’s usually practiced lying down with a yoga teacher guiding the session. The body is completely relaxed while the mind is awake and focused inward. It is one of the most accessible yoga practices I know of and a great boon to anyone who is recovering from surgery, feeling stressed or just needing a really good rest.

Origins of Yoga Nidra

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, created the modern relaxation technique Yoga Nidra in the early 1960s. Satyananda took inspiration from earlier important, but little-known practices that already existed in the yoga tradition, and modified them to create techniques accessible to everyone.

Yoga Nidra is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, induced by guided meditation. Practitioners follow oral instructions in which the mind is directed to focus on different sensations or images while remaining completely awake and alert. Practitioners may appear asleep, but their consciousness is actually operating at a deeper level of awareness.

Woman practicing yoga meditation in the morning at her home.

How Does Yoga Nidra Differ from Sleep and Traditional Meditation?

Yoga Nidra is not the same as the sleep that you get when going to bed. In fact, when practicing you will be asked to avoid falling asleep! However, a key similarity is that the goal of both is relaxation and recovery, where your mind, body and senses are all resting.

Yoga Nidra and meditation are two concepts that often get confused with one another. Meditation is the overarching term for any form of practice that allows you to focus your mind and gain awareness of both your mind and body. Yoga Nidra is a type of meditation. 

Key Differences Between Yoga Nidra and Meditation

  • Physical position: Whereas meditation is traditionally practiced in a seated position, Yoga Nidra is practiced in Relaxation Pose (Savasana) lying down on your back.Young woman practicing yoga Savasana ,Corpse Pose, or Yoga Nidra that looks just like Savasana.
  • Attention: During meditation, you consciously place your thoughts on a single focus point, such as the breath or a mantra. By contrast, during Yoga Nidra your attention shifts as you are guided by the instructor. The teacher helps you maintain a conscious connection to the outer world by having you focus on the different koshas, or layers, of your inner self.
  • State of consciousness: In traditional meditation, you remain in the waking state. In Yoga Nidra, you are in a hypnagogic state, the state just before falling asleep. During sleep we lose consciousness, which is why we are not aware of what’s happening around us. By contrast, during Yoga Nidra your conscious mind is alert and active, as you are in the state of consciousness between being asleep and awake. Although you are in a deep state of relaxation you can assume control at any time and bring yourself out of this state.

8 Stages of Yoga Nidra

Creative representation of the five energy subtle bodies (the 5 Koshas) of man as a covering of the AtmanAlthough there are many different ways of practicing, there are certain stages of Yoga Nidra common in every practice. The following eight stages are designed to help your mind and body become gradually more relaxed. Each step systematically guides you through the layers of consciousness (koshas) which takes you into a deeper state of consciousness.

  1.  Initial Relaxation/Settling

    This first stage is about settling into the practice by relaxing your body and turning your attention inward. You’ll be prompted to get into a comfortable position, become aware of any sensations or tension, then turn your attention to your breath.

  2. Setting an Intention

    A sankalpa is an intention you set for your practice, just as you may do in an asana practice. It can be a general feeling or quality you want to cultivate or a specific goal you have. Setting a sankalpa helps train your mind to stay focused and brings more purpose and direction into the practice.

  3. Rotation of Consciousness

    Often starting from the toes and ending with the face, this stage is a body scan that involves systematically relaxing every part of the body and releasing any tension you find there. Because you have to focus on following the teacher’s guidance, this stage is excellent at settling an overactive mind and shifting to internal awareness.

  4. Breath Awareness

    Building from the body scan, breath awareness involves counting each breath backward to promote deeper relaxation. You breathe normally while counting down each inhalation and exhalation until you arrive at one. This draws you into an even deeper state of relaxation, while simultaneously moving your attention inward and away from the external world. Photo of man lying in what looks like Savasana Pose, but is actually Yoga Nidra or the stress-relieving yogic sleep exercise.

  5. Experience of Opposite Sensations

    This stage involves experiencing opposite feelings and sensations in your body. Two common examples would be hot and cold and heavy and light. Shifting between opposite feelings like this harmonizes the brain’s two hemispheres and prevents your mind from wandering.

  6. Visualization

    In this sixth stage, the instructor will guide you to envision specific images or scenarios to remove any mental disturbances. The teacher may list a series of objects or sights, and ask you to bring to mind each thing. Or you may be asked to visualize yourself in a scenario, such as climbing a mountain path, with much more detail.

  7. Revisit Sankalpa

    As you move toward the later stages of Yoga Nidra, you will have reached the borderline state of consciousness between sleeping and waking. Revisiting the Sankalpa that you made at the start of the session enables it to sink deeply into your subconscious. This allows your subconscious mind to regularly remind you of your deepest desires, making you more likely to act on them

  8. Externalization

    Because Yoga Nidra takes you into profound states of consciousness, it’s essential to take some time to come out of it. In the externalization stage, you’ll slowly bring your awareness back to your breath, the body and finally, the external environment to reawaken.

Savasana or Yoga Nidra body scan exercise for deep stress relief.

Getting Started

No experience necessary!  Easy to get started! Good for all!

Anyone, young or old, no matter of physical fitness can practice Yoga Nidra and you can literally do it anywhere.  Either with the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher or using recordings found online and as part of many meditation apps. Whether you are practicing at home or in a class, here are a few tips on how you can get cozy, comfortable and enjoy your session from start to finish.

Tips for Practicing Yoga Nidra 

  • First of all, come as your genuine self. If you’re feeling uneasy about trying something new, it’s okay. You cannot practice Yoga Nidra wrong, so try to relax and enjoy the experience.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and have a pair of socks plus a sweater, long-sleeved shirt or cozy blanket to keep you warm. 
  • If you’re worried about accidentally falling asleep, don’t be. There’s no need to feel guilty or embarrassed if it happens—and it does, a lot! It’s also natural to be distracted by random thoughts. Accept your thoughts and let them come and go.
  • Ensure your body is supported while lying down, especially if you suffer from lower back pain or are recovering from a recent injury. Make use of bolsters, blankets and pillows.  When practicing at home, consider lying on your bed rather than the floor. 
  • Then, when you’re all settled in, take a deep breath, relax, and continue to follow the sound of your instructor’s voice. 

Frequent practice will help you access the important benefits of Yoga Nidra, leaving you feeling well-rested, relaxed and energized. I am convinced, both as a yoga instructor and practitioner of Yoga Nidra, that consistent practice of this technique is what allowed me to heal so much faster after my surgery.

Reprinted with permission from Beverly Davis-Baird/WisdomTreeYoga.
Beverly Davis Baird

Beverly Davis-Baird, MA, e-RYT200/RYT 500, C-IAYT is a New Jersey-based yoga therapist, writer, and educator. She specializes in making yoga accessible for adults 50+, offering classes and workshops for back care, arthritis, bone health, balance, posture, and healthy aging. An educator at heart with over 20 years of experience as a public school teacher, Beverly brings her knowledge of individual learning styles to her classes, providing instruction that is clear, concise, inclusive, and compassionate. Bringing over 30 years of experience and training, she considers herself a lifelong learner and believes that the practice of yoga should bring spaciousness and release from tension, not create it. As such, she strives to make yoga accessible to people of differing abilities, believing the real benefits of yoga come from what is taken with you outside of class and into your life. To read her blog or learn more about her teaching schedule and latest offerings, please visit

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