What is Yoga Nidra or NSDR?

Feb 23 · 4 min read

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Stemming from yoga’s ancient origins, Yoga Nidra doesn’t feel like your typical yoga practice. Mostly because there is no physical movement involved.

This practice, also known as NSDR or non-sleep deep rest, is more of a meditation than your traditional Asana practice. This “yogic sleep” promotes relaxation, stress management, and deep rest, allowing your body to receive the benefits of sleep while maintaining your awareness throughout the practice. In these guided meditations, done in corpse pose, or Savasana, you have the option to fall asleep, or wake up afterward. There is no wrong answer.

How it works

Yoga Nidra works by tapping into the autonomic nervous system. This aspect of your nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is your fight, flight, or freeze mode that activates when you are in danger or under duress. The parasympathetic system is your rest and digest mode and is where healing takes place.

Yoga Nidra and NSDR soothe the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. While many meditation practices allow your brain to tap into theta brain waves, this practice allows you to tap into delta brainwaves, which are the brainwaves indicative of restorative sleep, and the healing and restoration that come with it.

Read more about brain waves and meditation here: Your Brain on Meditation


The Benefits of Yoga Nidra and NSDR

The benefits of Yoga Nidra run deep, as you tap into higher levels of consciousness and intentionally put your body in a healing state.

Some of the more commonly known benefits include…


Many practitioners use Yoga Nidra to help with insomnia. Because the body is falling asleep and the brain is producing delta waves during this practice, the body can receive the benefits of sleep although the mind is awake. Sleep experts believe this practice can help people fall asleep faster and sleep deeper, while also improving sleep through reducing stress and pain.

Stress Reduction

Yoga Nidra has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety.

As the body and mind release tension, a sense of calmness and relaxation emerges. Different studies have shown that people who practice Yoga Nidra have fewer symptoms of stress and anxiety than those who don’t, and even those who practice more basic meditation.

Anxiety Reduction

Other studies have shown Yoga Nidra and non-sleep deep rest are effective in reducing anxiety. This particular study examined the effects of Yoga Nidra on symptoms of anxiety in college professors, compared to a control group as well as a group practicing seated meditation.

The results showed that Yoga Nidra was more effective in reducing both the cognitive and physiological symptoms of anxiety.

Increased Creativity

While these last two benefits aren’t necessarily studied by modern-day science as we know it, they are long-known benefits that many people reap from the ancient practice.

Yoga Nidra can be utilized to increase creativity. Creative thinking tends to require conscious or alert thinking, followed by a trance-like unfocused thinking, or flow state.

The practice of Yoga Nidra, particularly in stages four and five (keep on reading to learn about these), can allow hidden knowledge to emerge, and stage five, the visualization stage, can stimulate the part of the brain associated with creativity.

Read more about flow states here: Why Flow States Matter and How to Find Yours

Increased Connection with your Intuition, or Inner Guidance

As your body delves into a state of deep relaxation and mindfulness, your awareness increases and you become more attuned to unconscious patterns and behaviors that block you from accessing your intuition.

In this practice, we connect to the deepest part of ourselves, the part that lies beyond the ego and is connected to our inner guidance, connecting us with the inner wisdom that already lies within us and gives us a greater sense of clarity and purpose.


The Seven Stages of Yoga Nidra/NSDR…

To begin the practice, set up your Yoga Nidra nest. Yoga Nidra is often done on a yoga mat with a blanket, pillows, and bolster for comfort. It can also be done lying in your bed or on a couch. The idea is to remain aware as you move through the practice unless you’re using it to fall asleep, so if you desire to maintain your awareness, practice somewhere where your body is not used to falling asleep.

Stage One: Setting your Intention

The first step before beginning the practice is to set your intention, or Sanskalpa.

A Sanskalpa, or the Sanskrit word for intention, is an affirmative statement or personal mantra that is repeated in your mind to set the stage for practice. It is said in the present tense to call this affirmation into the present being.

Examples include, “I am grounded,” “I am supported,” or “I am healthy, healed, and whole.” Once you’ve set this intention, set it aside for the duration of practice.

Stage Two: Sensing the Body

This stage is to systemically rotate awareness through the physical body, known as the annamaya kosha.

This process attunes you to the subtle energetic resonances that make up the physical body. It often starts on the right side, moving through each limb and joint to the left side. Some practices start in the mouth.

Stage Three: Breathwork

Once you’ve attuned to your subtle energetic body (pranamaya kosha), it gives life to the physical body. Here, you become aware of your breathing and how it’s intricately connected between both the physical and energetic bodies.

This stage involves counting breaths as they enter and exit your body, and often consciously engages the stomach, chest, and throat.

Stage Four: Awareness of the Body of Intellect

In this stage, you become aware of the body of intellect, or vijnanamaya kosha. Pairs of emotional opposites, opposing beliefs, or entire stories may spontaneously arise that are associated with your unconscious personal or collective forces.

Here, you learn to welcome all sensations to the table. If frustration arises, invite in its opposite, ease, not to push out that frustration, but to hold both sensations in equanimity.

Stage Five: Visualization

This stage relaxes the mind and develops mental awareness by asking you to visualize a variety of different images. The last image typically involves something that evokes tranquility. This leaves the mind open to positive suggestions.

Stage Six: Revisiting your Intention

Now that the mind is relaxed and receptive, and you are in touch with your energetic body and the interconnectedness of the energetic field that surrounds you, you revisit your Sanskalpa, or the intention that you set at the beginning of practice. Mentally repeat this three times.

Stage Seven: Coming Back

Awareness is guided back into the body slowly at this stage. First, you become aware of your breathing, your physical body, and your inner state, then, you sense your surroundings and environment. Keep your eyes closed as you land back in this space. When you’re ready, gently and mindfully arise.

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