What’s the difference between yoga nidra and meditation? Aren’t they the same thing?
Hey there! If you’ve been around the yoga community for awhile, I’m sure that you have probably heard and maybe even tried out yoga nidra and meditation. And maybe you’ve wondered what the difference is between the two practices. Isn’t yoga nidra just like guided meditation? Well sort of.
What makes yoga nidra unique?
At a basic level, yoga nidra is conscious sleep or sleep with awareness and os often simply called “yoga sleep” or “yogic sleep”. It is a systematic method of guiding our awareness from the external to the internal, the physical to the subtle. It moves through the five koshas or “sheaths”. The koshas are the annamaya kosha (the physical body), the pranamaya kosha (the energetic body), the manomaya kosha (the mental body), the vijnanamaya kosha (the wisdom body), and the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body). I won’t get into the koshas too much here. I have a whole blog post that explores each of the koshas in depth. You can check it out here.
Yoga Nidra Withdraws Our Awareness
This process of moving inward shuts down the thinking mind and into a state of pratyahara (hallelujah! — please tell me I’m not the only one whose brain likes to do, do, do). Pratyahara, known as the practice of sense withdrawal, is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga. And yoga nidra provides a systematic approach to withdraw our awareness. In yoga nidra we disengage the parts of our mind that are linked to sense perception. The only sensory input we keep “open” is the auditory channel and perhaps a little “feeling”.
To me, yoga nidra is a passive practice of awareness and receptive consciousness. It doesn’t matter if your mind drifts off. It doesn’t matter if consciousness falls away and the subconscious comes forward. The practice still works, so there is no need to force your awareness. With the mind quiet and receptive, the thoughts pause and we enter a state of pure consciousness (even if it’s just for a moment or two). In this receptive state, it is possible to work with healing old samskaras that no longer serve us and by using a sankalpa we can create new, healthy samskaras.
And finally, yoga nidra slows down our brain waves and helps us enter a space of deep rest. In a way, I think of yoga nidra as a game of “follow the leader” for the brain because the practitioner guides the entire experience. The mind doesn’t work to maintain focus, it’s just “follows the lead” of the teacher. The practitioner is like a gondolier or river guide, yoga nidra is the boat, and the student is the passenger.
What makes yoga nidra and meditation different?
On the other hand, meditation has become a bit of a blanket term for any practice that helps us gain insight and awareness. It’s important to realize that meditation practices span many different traditions and lineages, so it’s a bit challenging to compare yoga nidra and meditation.
However, especially when meditation is a brand new practice, it requires effort, there is basically no effort in yoga nidra, except to not fall asleep. Meditation is an active practice of training the mind to one-pointed focus, whether that’s a mantra, an object like a flame, your thoughts, your breath, or something else entirely. With this intention, the mind is brought back to the object of meditation when it loses focus and “wanders off”.
Yoga Nidra and Meditation are Complementary Practices
Yoga nidra and meditation both have numerous benefits and the two practices complement one another well. As a matter of fact, scientists on multiple continents are studying these two ancient practices and finding that they reduce stress, improve sleep, relieve menstrual discomfort and so on. Check out my other blog posts if you would like to learn more about the scientific benefits of the two practices.
Hey beautiful soul. Have you ever wondered what to do with your hands during meditation? You’ve probably seen meditators, yogis and even the Buddha himself using hand positions called mudras for meditation, but you’re not sure what they mean or why they’re making shapes with their hands? When I began my yoga journey, nearly 20 years ago, I didn’t even know there were meditation hand positions and I certainly didn’t understand their significance. These days we have so much more information at our fingertips (pun sorta intended) and I thought I would share some meditation hand positions that I’ve found profoundly impactful in my own meditation practice.
Welcome to the Practice of Mudras: Hand Positions for Meditation
Hand mudras are hand positions for meditation. However, they can be incorporated into your yoga practice off the cushion — when you’re commuting, navigating a challenging situation, or even when you’re doing your asana practice. These mudras are more than just shapes that you make with your hands. Ayurvedic practitioners have been using these mudras therapeutically for hundreds, if not thousands, of years!
Mudra is the Sanskrit word for gesture. Just like a gesture in your daily life, each mudra has a meaning or intention. Much like a mantra, they can be used to focus your mind on an intention and direct your energy internally. The energy I am referring to is called prana. It is often called our life force energy. It is the energy that flows through our nadis and chakras.
If you’re familiar with the Eight Limbs of Yoga you can easily use these mudras during dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). Check out my book The Little Book of Mudra Meditations if you want to learn how to incorporate 30 different mudras into your practice. You’ll find practice guides and guided meditations.
Let’s get started.
Gyan Mudra (Gesture of Knowledge)
The most iconic meditation hand position is gyan, also spelled jnana, gyana, gian. Gyan is nearly identical to chin mudra and these two mudras are used interchangeably and although different, there isn’t much consensus on their distinguishing features. Go figure. I’ve done my best to outline the differences between chin and jnana mudra in another blog post you can find here.
You’ve likely seen Hindu deities, the buddha, sages, yogis, and meditators all demonstrating Gyan mudra.
How to Practice Gyan Mudra or Chin Mudra
Bring the tip of the thumb and the tip of the index fingers to touch and extend the middle, ring and pinky fingers long. Rest the wrists on the thighs/knees and turn the palms of the hands upward to create openness and receptivity or turn the palms of the hands down toward the earth for more grounding. I also like to bring one hand in front of the heart and one hand to the thigh.
In this mudra the thumb represents divine wisdom or universal wisdom and the supreme soul, while the index finger represents the individual soul. With that in mind, uniting the thumb and index finger unites the individual soul with that of the supreme soul. If the thumb is brought over the top of the index fingernail it represents the surrender of the individual soul to the supreme soul.
Dhyana Mudra (Gesture of Enlightenment)
The Buddha was often depicted practicing Dhyana Mudra while seated in meditation. In Dhyana Mudra the right hand is always placed on top of the left hand. It represents wisdom and enlightenment and the left hand represents the illusory world of maya. Use Dhyana Mudra in your meditation practice when you need a little extra help with focus and concentration. I find that this mudra helps me find calmness, clarity, and a sense of peace during times of stress.
How to Practice Dhyana Mudra
Bring your hands in front of your lower abdomen. With your palms facing upward, place your right hand on top of your left. You can bring the tips of the thumbs to touch to form a circle or triangle, but it’s not necessary. Hold the mudra for the duration of your meditation practice.
Buddhi Mudra (Gesture of Perception/Intellect)
Buddhi Mudra is another great hand position for meditation. This mudra assists our meditation practice by improving our intuition, psychic development, mindfulness, clarity and understanding. Use Buddhi Mudra in meditation when you’re seeking wisdom, insight and guidance and when you’re feeling lost, stuck or need answers to big questions.
Like Varuna Mudra, it works on the water element in the body and it can help manage disease related to lack of water in the body, think kidney and bladder health.
How to Practice Buddhi Mudra
Bring the tip of your pinky finger to touch the tip of your thumb. Extend your index, middle, and ring fingers long. Rest your hands on the tops of your thighs with your palms face up.
Varada Mudra (Gesture of Generosity)
Varada Mudra is a “new to me” mudra… well it’s new to my practice. Hindu deities are often depicted with this “boon granting” mudra… think Lakshmi and her golden coins. I like this hand position for meditation because it feels kind and loving and generous. It feels like the name implies. Varada translates as “boon giving”. It’s a mudra for abundance, generosity, compassion and charity. It symbolizes an offering and also a welcoming. I personally like to incorporate this mudra into a loving-kindness or heart chakra meditation.
To Practice Varada Mudra
With your right hand, bring the back of your right wrist to your thigh, open your palm and gently stretch your fingers down toward the earth so the palm of your hand faces away from you. Your left hand can take another mudra that resonates with you. Personally, I like to place my left hand over my heart and think of love flowing into my heart space through the palm of my left hand and love flowing through my right hand to those who need it. A gentle cascade of love flowing to me and through me.
Vajrapradama Mudra (Gesture of Unshakeable Trust)
And finally, my favorite mudra, my go-to, Vajrapradama Mudra. This is the mudra for unshakeable trust. It’s grounding and heart-centered. It calms the nervous system and helps us find and trust the wisdom of our heart. It’s particularly potent during times of challenge or frustration.
To Practice Vajrapradama Mudra
Bring the hands in front of your heart. Interlace your fingers and rest your open palms on your heart.
If you would like to deepen your meditation practice hop into my upcoming yoga teacher training. You’ll find a supportive community, inspirational practices, and accountability.
As always, feel free to reach out with questions about mudras, meditation or yoga teacher training. I’m here for you.
I’m happy you’re here. If you’ve been on retreat with me before, you know how much reverence I have for the natural world. Today I would like to share with you a yoga nidra script inspired by nature, one of my regular retreat destinations and cowritten by fellow retreat leader Toni Larson and myself. It’s also one of the yoga nidra scripts that my yoga teacher training students learn in their yoga nidra module.
This short yoga nidra script will take approximately 20-25 minutes and its format is inspired by the teachings of the Bihar School in India and it follows an inward journey through the koshas, from annamaya kosha to anandamaya kosha.
Yoga nidra has so many benefits… from relieving stress to improving sleep and accessing that bliss state, ananda. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of yoga nidra, check out this blog post here.
A Few Tips For Teaching and Practicing Yoga Nidra
Remember that when you’re preparing your yoga nidra script, you want your language to be simple and precise. When you’re reading or reciting your script, avoid too much inflection in your voice. Speak clearly, with an even volume and tempo.
Yoga nidra is a wonderful and fertile space for working with a sankalpa. Formulate your sankalpa as a positive “I am” statement. If one doesn’t come to mind, I encourage you to use the sankalpa, “I am the witness”. You may just discover that your sankalpa was hidden within this whole time.
If you are facilitating yoga nidra, make sure that you are seated upright in a position that you can be still in. Make sure that you are comfortable. If you are distracted by discomfort in your body, that distracted energy will carry over to your students.
If you are practicing yoga nidra, make sure that you are comfortable. Use a pillow or folded blanket under your head and a cushion or bolster underneath your knees will help release your lower back. The body temperature does drop while yoga nidra, so drape a blanket over your body. You want to be as still as possible, so make sure that you’re as comfortable as possible.
Yoga Nidra Script Inspired by Nature Written by Autumn Adams
We will practice yoga nidra in Savasana, lying on your back. Please take a moment to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Use any props you have available to support your body.
Before we begin, bring into your mind’s eye your sankalpa, your “I am” statement. Repeat it quietly and internally to yourself three times. [PAUSE]
As you settle into Savasana, bring your awareness to the spaces between your body and the earth beneath you. Invite your body to soften and rest. As you begin to surrender into relaxation, notice the spaces between your body and the earth beneath you becoming smaller and smaller. Your body relaxed, lying on the floor.
We will begin a rotation of awareness. All you have to do is allow your awareness to follow my voice as I guide you from point to point within your body.
Option #1: An Abbreviated Rotation of Awareness — Perfect for when you’re short on time
Right heel. Left heel. Right calf. Left calf. Right knee. Left knee. Right thigh. Left thigh. Right hip. Left hip. Both hips together. Lower back. Middle back. Upper back. Back of right hand. Back of left hand. Right wrist. Left wrist. Right forearm. Left forearm. Right elbow. Left elbow. Right upper arm. Left upper arm. Right shoulder. Left shoulder. Both shoulders together. Neck. Back of head. All points of contact with the earth. [PAUSE]
Option #2: Long Form Rotation of Awareness
Move your awareness to your mouth. Become aware of your tongue. Lower jaw. Lower row of teeth. Upper row of teeth. Gums. Upper lip. Lower lip. Space between your lips. Both cheeks. Right ear. Left ear. Forehead. Both temples. Top of the head. Back of the head. Tip of the nose. Right nostril. Left nostril. Right eyelid. Left eyelid. Right eye. Left eye. Right eyebrow. Left eyebrow. Space between the eyebrows. Now go to the right hand. The right hand thumb. Second finger. Third finger. Fourth finger. Little finger. Palm of the hand. Back of the hand. Wrist. Forearm. Elbow. Upper arm. Shoulder. Right armpit. Ribs. Waist. Hip. Right thigh. Knee. Calf. Ankle. Heel. Sole of the foot. Top of the foot. Right big toe. Second toe. Third toe. Fourth toe. Little toe. Go to the left hand. The left hand thumb. Second finger. Third finger. Fourth finger. Little finger. Palm of the hand. Back of the hand. Wrist. Forearm. Elbow. Upper arm. Shoulder. Left armpit. Ribs. Waist. Hip. Left thigh. Knee. Calf. Ankle. Heel. Sole of the foot. Top of the foot. Left big toe. Second toe. Third toe. Fourth toe. Little toe. Groin. Right buttock. Left buttock. Lower back. Mid-back. Upper back. Right shoulder blade. Left shoulder blade. Back of the neck. Back of the head. Right inner ear. Left inner ear. Roof of the mouth. Throat. Right collar bone. Left collar bone. Right chest. Left chest. Middle chest. Upper abdomen. Navel. Lower abdomen. Groin. Whole spine. The whole head. Right arm. Left arm. Both arms together. The whole right leg. The whole left leg. Both legs together. Whole front body. Whole back body. Be aware of the whole body. [PAUSE]
Now bring your awareness to your breath. Follow the gentle tide of your breath without altering it. Now, envision your breath as a golden light flowing up and down your spinal column. With your inhale, the golden light flows from the tailbone to the crown of the head. And with your exhale, it flows from the crown of the head back down to the tailbone. A cosmic tide of prana. Stay with your breath as it flows up and down your spinal column, golden, vibrant, radiant. [PAUSE]
Now bring awareness to the sensation of heat. Your right leg warm. Your left leg warm. Both arms warm. Torso warm. The whole body becoming hot. [PAUSE]
All at once, your body becomes cold. Legs cold. Arms cold. Torso cold. The entire body cold. [PAUSE] Now let that go. [SHORT PAUSE]
Guided Imagery Journey
Imagine that you are standing outside in nature You feel your bare feet on the earth You’re standing in an open meadow surrounded by a lush forest You tip your face upward to feel the warmth of the sun Smell the wildflowers in the air In the distance you see a path leading into the forest You walk toward the path and step into the forest Once inside the forest, your eyes adjust to the shade of the trees The path continues in front of you and winds easily up the hillside Sunlight shines through the trees, birds sing in the distance You continue on the path as it climbs steadily uphill Near the top of the hill you see a small opening in the side of the mountain This opening is a cave You feel drawn to the cave and walk toward it Within the cave you see a single lit candle You realize you’ve stumbled into a sacred temple You sit down upon the earth A sense of calm washes over you, you feel at peace with all that is You need nothing from the outside world, you gaze into the candle flame You drop into deep meditation In the middle of the flame you see the purest golden seed, untouched by the flame On the surface of the seed, see your sankalpa inscribed. Gaze into the flame once again The seed is no longer in the flame The seed is now in your heart Repeat your sankalpa 3 times, quietly, internally and with meaning. [PAUSE FOR FIVE MINUTES]
The practice of yoga nidra is now complete.
Gently guide your awareness back to your physical body, lying on the earth. Become aware of your breath. Your body slowly breathing in and out. Without opening your eyes, become aware of your surroundings. The earth beneath you. As your awareness comes back, invite your breath to deepen. When you feel ready, stretch your arms long overhead, extend your legs long, point your toes and take a full-body stretch. Slowly roll over into the fetal position on your right side. A posture that resembles a newborn child or fertile seed, a posture that symbolizes new beginnings. Take a moment here. When you’re ready, gently press up to a comfortable seat.
So many of you have asked for a recording to practice with, so I’ve just recorded this yoga nidra script and put it up on YouTube. Here it is. Enjoy!
Please feel free to reach out with questions. Happy healing!
This use does not convey the right to borrow from this script or to reproduce it in any way. No part of this script may be reproduced, distributed, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, digital copying, print, audio or video recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
I haven’t been writing much recently. Primarily because I’ve been weighed down by the collective pain and sadness of living in this time of Covid, systemic racism and injustice, and a struggling economy. I’ve simply grown weary. My natural reaction is to run away, to hide, to escape, but I’m making the conscious decision to sit with the pain, the trauma and the fear.
As I sit, I am reminded by the words of a fellow yoga teacher, wise beyond her years, to “love for love’s sake.” And so today, I sit, I use my tools, and I choose to love for love’s sake. Here I will share one of my favorite mudras, the shape of it is stunning, but even more importantly, it is a mudra for a fearless heart and a mudra for love in all its forms.
If you’re just beginning a mudra practice, make sure to check out all the mudras on my website (there are tons). The Chopra website also has a great roundup of beginner mudras.
What Does Abhaya Hridaya Mudra Mean?
Abhaya: without fear
Hridaya: spiritual heart
If you look at the roots of hridaya, the meaning goes even deeper. Hri “to give”, da “to take”, ya “balance” and can be translated as “that which gives and takes in perfect balance”. A perfect balance of giving and receiving, of mutual balance, respect, and reciprocity. Have we forgotten how to love through the uncomfortable and the ugly. Let’s relearn love and put love into action.
How to Practice Abhaya Hridaya, A Mudra for Love
With your wrists crossed, bring the backs of your hands to touch in front of your heart space. Interlace your pinky, ring and middle fingers. Then bring the tips of your index finger and thumb to touch and create a circle shape.
Benefits of Abhaya Hridaya Mudra
This mudra helps work with the third and fourth chakras, Manipura and Anahata, respectively. The list of benefits of this mudra goes on and on. It helps us
love fearlessly through the uncomfortable and messy
cultivate the courage to stand up for what is right
heal from past trauma and balance strong emotions, so we can see clearly
embrace our inner truth
bring clarity to our values
invite love into all parts of our being
see the unity and interconnection of all beings
A Meditation to Practice With This Mudra For Love
I would like to share a meditation based on a meditation practice from my book, The Little Book of Mudra Meditations. I simply call it the Fearless Love Meditation. It is loosely based on Metta meditation or loving-kindness meditation.
To begin, find a comfortable space to sit quietly. Make sure that it is a space you feel safe and supported in, whether that’s your patio, your bedroom, or perhaps your bathroom. I like to practice this meditation in an upright seat, but feel free to practice it lying down or in any other posture that feels nurturing (and non-distracting).
Once you find your meditation posture, soften your gaze or close down your eyes and take a few cleansing, clearing breaths by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each exhale breath, see if you can let go of any worry or stress from your day.
Bring your hands into Abhaya Hridaya Mudra. If at any point your shoulders, arms or hands feel fatigued, release the mudra and come back into it when you feel ready.
Opening to love
Now, “imagine someone who radiates love, who loves you unconditionally, sitting right in front of you. This person could be a parent, friend, child, pet, teacher, or guru” or god/deity. “Now imagine a bright white light flowing from their heart to your heart. This radiant light fills your heart with unconditional love. Your heart is filled with love that knows no bounds. Release any resistance to receiving this love. You are worthy of love.”
“Feel a weight lifted off your shoulders.” Feel unconditional love pour into every cell of your being. Feel tension release from your face — your brows, your jaw, your tongue. Now bring your awareness to the luminous cavern of your heart space and feel your heart soften as it is bathed in luminous, radiant love.
We cannot pour from an empty cup, fearless love begins with loving yourself first and the inner knowing that you are worthy of love, so again release any resistance you may be holding on to.
Abundant love for all
With your eyes still closed, hold the vision of another in front of you, this person again could be a loved one, a person who challenges you, a group of people, there is no limit. Hold their image steady in your awareness.
Now see the luminous light of fearless love flowing from your heart space right into theirs. As the cavern of their heart space fills with this radiant white light, witness stress, worry and fear release from their face, their neck, their shoulders. See their shoulders soften as the weight of sorrow, anger, and fear is lifted. Witness the space of their heart soften. Listen quietly as peace fills every fiber of their being. Witness them soften into love.
Hold the images of these light, love-filled beings in your heart space. Practice for as long as you would like. When you’re ready, open your eyes and begin the mindful transition out of your meditation practice.
This post meditative space is fertile ground for journaling and putting love into action.
If you’ve attended a yoga class or visited a Hindu or Buddhist temple you have likely heard the mantra OM or AUM being chanted. The Om mantra is the most sacred mantra in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, Om is also said to be the primordial sound of the Universe. The Om mantra is the most elemental of vibrations and is considered the sound of the void.
According to Patanjali, Om, the original sound, is a direct expression of isvara or God. Therefore, when we chant Om it provides a direct link to the Divine and divine knowledge. Om connects us to the Divine in vibrational form and makes our prayers and mantras more effective by increasing pranic energy.
Where did the Om mantra originate?
Om, an ancient Sanskrit letter, first appeared in the Vedas between 1500 and 1200 BCE. The main teaching on Om from the Vedas, Upanishads and Yoga Sutras is to experience non-dual awareness.
How do you pronounce Om?
The common pronunciation of Om is to pronounce the mantra with the same “o” sound as in “home”. But there are actually three sounds that make up the mantra: A-U-M or “aaah”, “oooh”, “mmm”. The sound of OM/AUM begins at the back of the throat with the “aaah” sound and ends at the lips with the “mmm” sound. When chanting the mantra OM, it fills the entire mouth from back to front, which represents the entire Universe. Similarly, when chanting Om, one can feel its vibration deep within the body. At the end of chanting AUM there is a pause or a moment of silence. This pause represents the state known as Turiya, or Infinite Consciousness.
What does the Om symbol mean?
If you look at the symbol for OM you will see three curves, one semicircle, and a dot at the top. In addition, each portion of the symbol contains not only the sounds of the mantra but deeper symbolism and meaning.
The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A.
The middle curve signifies the dream state, U.
The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M.
The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya.
The semi-circle at the top represents Maya or illusion. Therefore, it is the illusion of Maya that is an obstacle to accessing our highest self.
The three sounds of the om mantra represent the various trinities:
Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (creator, preserver, destroyer)
The past, present, and future
The waking, dreaming, and dreamless states
Heaven, earth, and underworld
In David Frawley’s book, Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound, he says:
“Om is the prime mantra of the Higher Self, or Atman. It attunes us with our true nature. It is the sound of the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, who is also the inner guru and prime teacher. It reflects both the manifest and un-manifest Brahman, sustaining the vibration of being, life, and consciousness in all worlds and all creatures.”
The mantra Om is directly linked to the sixth and seventh chakras, Ajna and Sahasrara respectively.
Sound and vibration are powerful tools for healing and transformation. Exploring the mantra OM, and the power of sound can remind us to treat our words and thoughts as sacred, creative, and divine. What we think and say, we manifest.
Nikola Tesla said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”