Get the most out of yoga nidra with this exclusive preparatory practice from Sri Dharma Mittra.
While yoga nidra technically doesn’t require any warm-up—one of its charms is that anyone can drop into it at any time—preparing the body and mind with a short asana practice, meditation, or pranayama will allow you to settle in more quickly and get straight to the deeply relaxing benefits of psychic sleep.
Step one, says Sri Dharma Mittra, is staying healthy and fit with daily exercise of any kind—Sun Salutations, running, or calisthenics. Then, as you’re ready to try yoga nidra, start with the following postures, breathwork, and meditation to clear the mind and body of any additional tension and stress. Practice within your zone of comfort (meaning just because Dharma can do these poses, doesn’t mean you have to). Take modifications that keep your body safe. When you are done, rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose) for at least 10 minutes. And then transition seamlessly into yoga nidra.
Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), find a focal point in front of you and shift your weight into your left foot. Bend the right knee, and from the inside of your right leg, grab your right foot. Stay here and focus on finding steadiness, with your left hand either on your left hip or your arm extended. You can experiment with extending your right leg out to the side, too (pictured). Hold for 5–10 breaths before switching sides; if the hold is shorter, repeat the pose twice. This posture demands present-moment awareness and concentration.
Now, we’ll shift perspective and take the same shape from a different plane, building arm and shoulder strength and testing balance even more. The focus remains on finding steadiness. From Plank Pose, with your shoulders above your wrists, and your lower abdomen pulled in and up, pivot your left toes in and shift your weight onto your left foot and left hand as you extend your right leg toward the sky. Extend your right arm as well, and if you can, reach for your right toes with your right hand and gaze up and back. Hold here for 5–10 breaths, or take 2 rounds with fewer breaths each, as you find balance and ease.
To come out of Side Plank Pose, release your right toes, place both hands to the earth, and gently swing your right foot in between your hands. On an inhalation, lift your torso and sweep your arms up alongside your ears, coming into High Lunge. Exhale and twist to your right, bringing your palms together at the center of your chest. Keeping a strong back leg, and your front knee over your front ankle, stay here or go for the bind (pictured), gazing up. Hold for 5–10 breaths, release the bind on an exhalation, and return to Plank Pose. Next, practice Side Plank and Bound Side Angle on the other side.
After you come out of Bound Side Angle on the left, keep your left foot forward and gently lower your right knee to the earth. Inhale to lengthen your spine and extend your arms alongside your ears. Stay here, feeling a stretch in the right hip and quadriceps muscles. Or bend your back leg and place the sole of the right foot in the crook of your right elbow as you clasp hands and take a backbend (pictured). Be mindful of keeping length in the spine; avoid crunching the lower back. Gaze upward. Hold your version of the pose for 5–10 breaths before switching sides.
From a Low Lunge with your right leg in front, slowly start to move your right foot forward and your left foot back, finding your version of yogic splits. Try to keep your hips squared toward the front of your mat, and use blocks under your hands to keep your torso upright. If you desire, and if your torso is supported, you can bring your palms together at the center of your chest or extend them overhead. Be mindful of the hamstring stretch, feeling expansion but not pushing yourself too far. Stay here for 5–10 breaths. To come out, plant your palms and walk your hands forward, coming back to a Low Lunge. Slowly switch sides, noticing how Hanuman asana with the left leg in front feels different—or the same. After the second side, rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose) for several breaths.
Sit tall in a comfortable seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. Bring the tip of your left index finger and thumb together in Jnana Mudra on your left thigh. This prevents dissipation of energy. Fold the index and middle fingers of your right hand into the palm. Next, exhale all your breath through both nostrils and close your eyes. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale through the left nostril, watching the breath travel down to the base of the spine. (The rhythm of the breath should be natural.) Close the left nostril with the right ring finger then release the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril, watching the breath travel up your spine and out your nose. Then, inhale through the right and exhale through the left. Continue these cycles for up to 10 minutes, ending with an exhalation out of the left nostril.
Sit up tall either in a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair. Gaze gently at the tip of your nose. Don’t cross your eyes or engage in any physical action that produces tension. If you can’t find the tip of your nose, simply imagine you are focusing your gaze there. Remain unconcerned. Don’t “do” anything. Leave the mind alone. This sort of one-pointed meditation will calm the mind, allowing you to more easily follow the instructions for yoga nidra and completely relax. Try to practice this meditation for at least 5–10 minutes each day, or 20 or more minutes if you are naturally calm or have some meditation experience.
When you are done with meditation, find your way to Savasana (Corpse Pose) and close your eyes for 10 minutes or longer. Now, you are ready to experience yoga nidra. Your nervous system is calm; your body and mind are clear of stress and tension. For yoga nidra, the body must be comfortable, so use any props you like (e.g., a blanket under your head and a cushion under each elbow and knee). The temperature should be comfortable, too, so add blankets as needed. When ready, feel your entire body sinking into the floor. With every exhalation, pretend to watch your body falling into a deep, dreamless sleep. Then, tune into a guided yoga nidra practice. (Register for a Master Class membership at yogajournal.com/masterclass for three different yoga nidras from Sri Dharma Mittra.) As you listen, remain a witness, aware of how your body and mind respond.
Legendary yogi Sri Dharma Mittra, founded one of the early independent, and longest-running schools of yoga in New York City in 1975. Known as “The Teacher’s Teacher,” and “The Rock of Yoga,” he has taught hundreds of thousands of students over a half century and created more than 300 popular yoga postures and variations. Sri Dharma Mittra is the author of The Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures, ASANAS: 608 Yoga Poses, and the Maha SadhanaDVD series. He continues to disseminate the complete traditional science of yoga through daily classes, workshops worldwide, and his Life of a Yogi Teacher Certification programs at the Dharma Yoga Center.