Seeking more energy, focus, and creativity? Learn how to recharge with a form of guided relaxation called yoga nidra. In Yoga Journal's year-long Master Class program, you’ll access workshops and live webinars led by nine master instructors, starting with Yoga Nidra 101 taught by legendary teacher Sri Dharma Mittra. Sign up today!
Yoga nidra, often called yogic sleep, has all the trimmings of a nice nap: Your teacher guides you through complete relaxation as you recline in savasana, possibly with the support of plush bolsters and warm blankets. It even offers the benefits of up to four hours of deep sleep. So it’s only natural to drift off into dreamland, right? Not so fast. “The difference between deep sleep and yoga nidra is that in yoga nidra we stay 100 percent alert and awakened,” says Dharma Mittra, who leads a yoga nidra workshop in YJ’s Master Class program.
After all, you can’t sleep through a practice meant to help you achieve self-realization. “When you fall asleep, you are totally unconscious and unable to learn anything because you cannot see what is going on. A little bit of consciousness must remain in order to witness and experience the lack of activities in the mind and body,” Mittra says.
So what’s the trick to staying awake? Making the effort to remain alert and pay lots of attention to your teacher. Luckily, by design, yoga nidra is a guided exercise, expertly steering your attention throughout your body. “The teacher also usually makes some sound, such as the clap of a hand or ringing of the bell, to keep the student awakened,” Mittra explains.
Much like you may, in spite of mental distractions, observe the pattern of your breath in mindfulness meditation or focus on a mantra in Tantric practices, the heart of yoga nidra is in cultivating that constant awareness—over time.
“With constant practice, you’ll never lose your consciousness, or maybe for a few seconds. But you’ll always awaken and enjoy the absence of activity. It’s an amazing state of bliss,” Mittra says. “The ability grows slowly as we gradually get closer to our own nature. The mind and body become inactive, but we are a portion of this great [universal] intelligence. The self never sleeps.”