Nearly everyone these days suffers from stress or anxiety at some point in their lives. Here in the UK in 2016/17, 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety according to figures published by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive). That’s a heck of a lot of days.
So what can be done about it?
Yoga is often cited as a way to combat stress, but even yoga teachers get stressed (believe it). If only there was a way to circumnavigate our short-circuited fizzing brains and tap into the deep inner peace that is always there, but tantalisingly out of reach…
And there is! The answer to our stress-related problems could well be Yoga Nidra.
What is it?
Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation. It can be practised by anyone, whether you have previous experience of yoga or meditation or not.
Yoga Nidra provides the tools to access the deep rest and relaxation of sleep, while staying in a conscious state, in fact ‘nidra’ literally means ‘sleep’.
This guided meditation allows the body to access the deep rest-like state controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. The breath rate slows, the heart rate slows and the nervous system is given a well-needed rest.
A Potted History
In ancient texts the term yoganidrā was also used as a synonym for a profound state of meditation, known as samādhi – the eighth and final limb of yoga. It is also thought of as a way to access the ‘fourth state’ of consciousness, the other three being wakefulness, dreaming and deep sleep.
In recent history Yoga Nidra has been reformulated by Swami Satyananda, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. When the Swami was a young student in India in the 1940s he fell asleep near to a group of yogis chanting mantras. When he awoke he seemed to know the mantras, despite his deep sleep. His guru Swami Sivananda explained that his ‘subtle’ body had heard and absorbed the mantras.
From this experience, Swami Satyananda developed the modern day form of Yoga Nidra that is accessible to all.
What does it involve?
Each Yoga Nidra session varies according to the teacher guiding the session, but there is a general structure, which most Yoga Nidra mediations will follow.
Firstly, the student is invited to find a comfortable position lying down, usually in savasana, or corpse pose.
Then you are gently guided to relax and let go of every part of their physical body, from the top of the head to the toes. You are then taken through the 5 senses and bring your awareness to each one separately.
Then you will be asked to choose a ‘sankalpa’ or ‘intention’. Once you’ve chosen your sankalpa you repeat it a few times, ‘planting’ the good intention in the soil of your consciousness.
Towards the end of the session you are gradually transitioned back to full consciousness.
How can I do it?
After all this info I know that you will be itching to try out this heavenly-sounding practice for yourself. Well, fear not, we thought that might happen, so we’ve put together some of our favourite – and absolutely FREE – online Yoga Nidra guided meditations. So get comfy, put your headphones on, and drift away on a sea of bliss.
- Richard Miller – 8 minutes
If you’re short on time, look no further than this 8 minute Yoga Nidra from Richard Miller. Richard Miller is a big name in Yoga Nidra. He discovered the practice back in the 1970s and was hooked. He has since gone on to set up the Integrative Restoration Institute – iRest, for short – with the aim of bringing Yoga Nidra to the masses.
Miller’s soft voice guides you quickly to a place of rest. First he asks you to imagine your body as ‘a radiant field of sensation’, with yourself as the observer of all those sensations. He then asks you to repeat the phrase, ‘I am aware, I am at ease, I am safe and secure with myself.’ While short, this Yoga Nidra gets you straight to the heart of the matter. There is also a longer 20 minute session available.
- Jennifer Raye – 30 minutes
Jennifer Raye is a multi-faceted, holistic practitioner, being a licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist, acupuncturist, holistic nutritionist and highly qualified yin yoga teacher.
Her gentle, singsong voice guides you through this calming Yoga Nidra. She softly guides you to ask yourself questions such as, ‘What drew you to practice today?’ and ‘What is your deepest heartfelt longing in this moment?’
This is a very gentle, slow practice, with plenty of spaces in the guided meditation for quiet.
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – 20 minutes
If you’re looking for the authentic voice of India, this Yoga Nidra meditation from Sri Sir Ravi Shankar is about as authentic as you can get. Shankar is a humanitarian and spiritual leader who set up the non-profit organisation, The Art of Living in 1981.
The Art of Living offers many educational programs to aid stress-relief and bring deep and lasting peace. Its goal; ‘to uplift human life everywhere’ is ambitious, but admirable.
The session begins with the twanging atmospheric music of India, which continues in the background throughout. The instructions are clear, simple and systematic, instructing you relax and let go of every part (literally) of the body.
- Jennifer Piercy – 22 minutes
Jennifer Piercy is an American yoga practitioner and the founder of Sacred Sleep Yoga. She’s passionate about sleep, and about how the lack of sleep and true rest is damaging us and the planet.
Her Yoga Nidra for Sleep is a soothing, soporific session, designed to induce sleep. Her voice, gently echoing, guides you to aid your essential sleep patterns through following the natural rhythms of your own mind.
She asks that you let your breathing, breathe you, until you drift away on a gentle tide of your incoming and outgoing breath.
- Rod Stryker – 27 minutes
Rod Stryker is also a big name in the world of Yoga Nidra. He has been teaching Yoga Nidra since the mid-1990s and is the author of ‘The Four Desires’ and founder of ‘ParaYoga’, which is an educational form of yoga covering the ancient traditions of yoga, meditation, and tantra.
His Yoga Nidra session is an energising journey into the realms of your consciousness. His confident, almost booming voice cuts through any distracting thoughts you might have. His Yoga Nidra takes you on a journey that ends with your consciousness flying up to the clouds before dissolving into them. It sounds a little trippy, but the experience is masterfully structured to give an intense feeling of freedom.