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How to Perform Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep)

If your body-mind is slow to wind down to get its well-deserved rest, here’s a potent technique to catch up on your sleep. Yogic Sleep is a very powerful relaxation technique that you can do after you gain some control over the relaxation response. When practiced successfully, this technique is as restorative as sleep — except you remain fully aware throughout.

To induce Yoga Nidra, you must listen to a set of instructions, similar to guided meditation. You can listen to a friend reading the instructions, but listening to a recording by someone else or by you yourself is more practical.

One feature of this practice is to focus in relatively quick succession on individual parts of the body. Mentally name each part and then sense it as distinctly as possible.

In the beginning, you may find actually feeling certain body parts difficult. Don’t let this setback dismay you; continue to rotate your awareness fairly swiftly. With practice, you can include in this circuit even the inner organs and all kinds of mental states.

Practicing Yoga Nidra before sleep is best because it’s an excellent technique for inducing lucid dreaming and out-of-the-body experiences during sleep. Lucid dreaming refers to the kind of dream in which you’re aware that you’re dreaming. Great Yoga masters remain aware even during deep sleep. Only the body and brain are fast asleep, whereas awareness is continuous.

Yoga Nidra serves as a potent tool for reprogramming your brain. If you do it correctly, it can accelerate your inner or spiritual growth. It allows you to cultivate good habits and attitudes. First consider which specific habit or attitude you really want to replace with a more positive habit or attitude. This phase is called formulating your intention. Take your time to consider what you want to change.

Phrase your chosen intention in the following way: I will become more this or that. This wording affirms your life’s future trajectory by enlisting the unconscious mind. Worthy intentions may be to become more patient, more tolerant, or more loving. Also, make your intention realistic and specific.

An intention like “I will become enlightened” is specific enough but perhaps not very realistic. By contrast, an intention like “I will become a better person” is too vague. A better intention is something more along the lines of “I will become more relaxed within myself, or “I will become more patient.” You want your intention to be something you can stick with until you realize it.

When formulating your intention, try to evoke the corresponding feeling inside you so you know what it feels like to be loving, patient, forgiving, or whatever.

After you set an intention, you formally apply it during the actual Yoga Nidra exercise by repeating it when prompted.

The following steps show you how to perform Yoga Nidra:

  1. Choose a clear intention and lie flat on your back, with your arms stretched out by your sides (or whatever feels most comfortable).

    Place a pillow or folded blanket behind your neck for support and another pillow or folded blanket under your knees for added comfort.

  2. Close your eyes.

  3. Repeat the clear intention you chose in Step 1 three times.

  4. Take a couple of deep breaths, emphasizing exhalation.

  5. Starting with your right side, rotate your awareness through all parts on that side of your body — limb by limb — in fairly quick succession.

    Follow this progression: each finger, palm of the hand, back of the hand, the hand as a whole, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder joint, shoulder, neck, each section of the face, ear, scalp, throat, chest, side of the rib cage, shoulder blade, waist, stomach, lower abdomen, genitals, buttocks, whole spine, thigh, top and back of knee, shin, calf, ankle, top of foot, heel, sole, each toe.

  6. Be aware of your body as a whole.

  7. Repeat the rotation in Step 5 on the left side, ending with the whole-body awareness as described in Step 6.

  8. Repeat Steps 5 through 7 one or more times until you achieve an adequate level of relaxation.

  9. Continue to be aware of the whole body and the space surrounding it, feeling the stillness and peace.

  10. Reaffirm your initial intention three times.

  11. Mentally prepare to return to ordinary consciousness.

  12. Gently move your fingers for a few moments, take a deep breath, and then open your eyes.

No time limit applies to your Yoga Nidra performance, unless you impose one. Expect to come out of Yogic Sleep naturally, whether you return after only 15 minutes or a whole hour. You may just fall asleep. So if you have things to do afterward, make sure you set your wristwatch or clock for a gentle wake-up call. Don’t rush up! Take your time to reintegrate with the ordinary world.

This practice is the most powerful yogic technique for personal change at the beginner level. Only the ecstatic state (samadhi) is more transformative. Several good recordings for practicing Yoga Nidra are available, but don’t be surprised to discover that the instructions vary from recording to recording.

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