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What is Yoga Nidrā? A Primer on the Science of Yogic Rest and Relaxation

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

Yoga Nidrā is a state of sublime relaxation, wherein one’s body goes into deeper states of progressive relaxation, while the mind remains fully awake, and aware.

In his treatise entitled Yoga Sūtras, the sage Patañjali outlines the primary aim of the science of yoga: cessation of alternating vacillating waves of consciousness. When a large pot of water becomes agitated, the reflection of light becomes distorted and disturbed, making it difficult to see forms and shapes being reflected therein. Similarly, the primal core essence of our being becomes distorted through the turbulence of emotions and the monkey mind of restless thoughts. When we can calm these, through the lens of projected awareness, we can slowly start to perceive the conscious essence of our being, which is transcendental -- beyond the body, and mind. In this lucid state of awareness, we can work through our intentions in a better way to support our healing.

The paths wherein one attains that aim of yoga (the word "yoga" literally translates into the English language as “Union”) are many. Mantras, breathwork, selfless service, devotion, or esoteric meditation techniques are all ways of uniting the limited aspects of our consciousness with the supreme awareness which lies beyond all thoughts.

Yoga Nidrā (literally Union through deep slumber) has been described in passing references in yogic texts and has taught for millennia through a number of techniques.

In present day and time, it has increasingly grown popular through the emergence and proliferation of yoga in the West. Understandably so, as it is relatively safe and easy to adopt as a practice, and lends itself to significant bodily relaxation (something we all need in turbulent times), as well as promoting mental well-being, and feelings of connectedness to spirit.

Through its rise in popularity, Yoga Nidrā is being studied increasingly through the lens of modern science. Without much surprise, the science also supports that it is a beneficial practice for physical and mental health, and longevity. Here are a number of research articles and papers, which I’d like to share as well for further reading. As a proponent of this practice, it’s always exciting for me to see modern science catching up with ancient wisdom.

Here are a few articles:

In summary, the practice of Yoga Nidrā increases deeper Alpha and crosses over into Theta wave territory, and lowers stress levels, thereby increasing the bodily immune response and stimulating blood flow to the brain. The brain mimics sleep patterns although the mind remains in an aware state.

Of course, as the great sage Paramahansa Yogananda used to say, some people content themselves with simply reading about and studying an orange. But to truly understand what an orange is, it’s juiciness and sweetness, one must taste it. Similarly, with Yoga Nidrā, one must practice it to understand how it feels and can benefit you.

I invite you, dear reader, to take a chance and try it sometime. I do host online and group practices from time to time, and can also offer private sessions if you are interested, feel free to contact me through my website for more details. Also – I have a recording available if you’d like to start practicing today.

In good health and well-being,

Om Vishnave Namah

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