Transformation Without Trying: Yoga Nidra

A few months ago, a friend asked me if there was a yoga that would help her insomnia and stress. Without hesitation, I suggested she try Yoga Nidra, a meditative practice also known as Yogic Sleep, in which you remain in Savasana while a teacher guides you through a series of awareness exercises. Given how knotted up my friend felt, I thought a passive practice would be a good first step toward bringing her some release.

In Yoga Nidra, you do two things: first, you choose a Sankalpa, a present-tense affirmation of desire or intention; and second, you allow yourself be led on an introspective dig. The Sankalpa is repeated (quietly, to yourself) at the beginning of the session as a way to invite this desire into your awareness. Throughout Yoga Nidra, this Sankalpa travels through the successive, subtle layers of your being (Koshas,) impregnating each layer with this wish. Your Sankalpa is repeated again toward the end of the session, a time during which you are optimally relaxed, and the gates of your perception are wide open.

“Your body knows what to do to attain, and maintain, perfect health and equilibrium. All you need to do is [turn] on the healing switch.”

Are you freaking out about the Sankalpa part? Don’t freak out! A Sankalpa doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a declaration as simple as “I am healthy” or “I am peaceful.” The one thing your Sankalpa does need to be, though, is true, so spend some time contemplating your most heartfelt wish. You’ll see that it will surface quite naturally.

Anyway, during Yoga Nidra, your body remains prone and your eyes closed, while your mind keeps busy with little assignments given by the teacher: one minute you might bring your attention to your physical body, the next you might imagine a galloping horse; you might count your inhales and exhales, then visualize what you would look like from alternative vantage points… Through body scans, visualizations, pranayama, sense-memory cues, and tuning your hearing to the sounds around you, you delve deeper and deeper into your own topology.

As you lie there in a twilight state between awake and sleep, Yoga Nidra acts like a geological survey, delving into your nervous system, recharging Ojas (remember that?), loosening and smoothing stress, and bringing you a deep sense of relaxation. You emerge from the session refreshed and lucid, like you’ve had the best, most rejuvenating nap of your life. As Yoga Nidra teacher Jennifer Reis says, “Your body knows what to do to attain, and maintain, perfect health and equilibrium. All you need to do is [turn] on the healing switch.”

Yoga Nidra is the button that can activate the body’s own ability to repair and regenerate, from crust (Annamaya kosha) to core (Anandamaya kosha.) How cool is it that you hold the key? And that it can take as little as 20 minutes?

Many yoga teachers close their classes with a bit of Yoga Nidra during savasana, to help students deepen their relaxation after a dynamic practice. If you would like the full Yoga Nidra experience, check out the recommendations below:

Where to practice Yoga Nidra in Paris:
Espace Nataraja 
Satyanandashram Centre Culturel de Yoga (I sent my friend to Nivedita’s Wednesday evening class which is excellent!)
Yoga & Co 
Yoga & Meditation Paris (Yoga Nidra is included as part of each 2.5 hour class)  
Casa Yoga  

Practice Yoga Nidra at home with CDs + MP3s:
• Pratiques de Yoga Nidra avec Micheline Flak  
Yoga Nidra : A l’approche du sommeil avec Kiran Vyas 
Relax Into Greatness with Rod Stryker 
Deep Relaxation: Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Reis  

Practice Yoga Nidra FOR FREE:
Yoga Nidra avec Christian Möllenhoff 
Yoga Nidra: Healing Chakra Chorus with Jennifer Reis 
A search on YouTube for Yoga Nidra will return a ton of results, so don’t worry if the first one you click doesn’t work for you. There are many options!