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.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for awhile chances are you’ve heard of yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is “yogic sleep” or as my husband calls it “advanced napping”. Sounds pretty good, right? You get to lie in Savasana (corpse pose) the whole time while you’re systematically instructed through a deep relaxation exercise. Yoga nidra guides you through the koshas, or layers of your being and drops you into deep relaxation where healing and true restoration can occur. The sequence of cues relaxes the body and awakens the unconscious and subconscious mind. The benefits of yoga nidra are plentiful and range from better sleep to reduced stress and beyond.
You don’t need to know what the koshas are to get all of the benefits of yoga nidra. Benefits of the practice are numerous and range from better sleep to stress reduction and beyond. Plus, anyone can practice yoga nidra and therefore receive its benefits.
The practice of yoga nidra can trace its roots back to India, where it was developed and expanded upon, most notably by the Bihar School. Yoga nidra has been studied across continents and the practice is backed by science… and I’m not talking about pseudoscience. In this post I will list out just a few of yoga nidra’s benefits. Also, if you’re interested in a free guided yoga nidra you’ll find a yoga nidra script here and a nature inspired yoga nidra recording here. Don’t worry if you fall completely asleep during the practice, it just means that your body needs to rest.
1.) Yoga Nidra Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Yoga nidra has been proven effective in reducing stress and anxiety. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that yoga nidra was more effective than meditation at reducing both cognitive and physiological symptoms of anxiety. In the United States there has been a dramatic increase in hospitalizations due to stress in both men and women. Chronically elevated stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine lead to increased inflammation, heart disease, fatigue, stroke, sleep disorders, and chronic prain. It’s important that we make time for our health now, so we don’t have to make time for our dis-ease later.
Another study looked at Heart Rate Variability, which is a sign of autonomic nervous system balance and found that yoga nidra (alone or preceded by an asana practice) improved Heart Rate Variability. The practice of yoga nidra shifted the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what governs our relaxation response, commonly referred to the “rest and digest” response.
2.) Your Body Has An Opportunity to Heal: Yoga Nidra Slows Down Your Brain Waves
Yoga nidra guides the student into the deepest state of sleep where the brain produces theta (4-7 hertz) and delta waves (1-3 hertz), but the student remains conscious throughout. According to Theta Healing, “Theta State is a state of very deep relaxation; it is used in hypnosis and during REM Sleep. The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second…Theta waves are always creative, characterized by feelings of inspiration and very spiritual. It is believed that this mental state allows you to act below the level of the conscious mind.”
Delta waves on the other hand, are the slowest waves at 1-4 cycles per second and are experienced during deep dreamless sleep. When our brain waves have slowed down to the delta level, it is when our body has an opportunity to rest, restore and heal.
3.) Yoga Nidra Can Help Heal Trauma
Yoga nidra can be used to heal from trauma. According to an article in the Boston Globe, “In 2006, the Department of Defense conducted research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the efficacy of yoga nidra on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. This led to the incorporation of yoga nidra into weekly treatment programs for soldiers in several VA facilities across the country.”
4.) Yoga Nidra Reduces Chronic Pain
Our bodies naturally want to heal and yoga nidra gives our body the time to do just that. Remember those delta waves I mentioned earlier? And the parasympathetic nervous system? Yoga nidra helps switch us out of doing and into being so we can rest. According to the same Boston Globe article before “the US Army Surgeon General endorsed yoga nidra as an intervention in treating chronic pain”. The practice of yogic sleep gives the body time to rest, recover and restore, which thereby brings down inflammation and improves the function of the immune system.
5.) Reduces PMS Symptoms
There have actually been a handful of studies on the efficacy of yoga nidra’s ability to reduce PMS symptoms. According to one recent study, “… patients with menstrual irregularities having psychological problems improved significantly in the areas of their wellbeing, anxiety and depression by learning and applying a program based on Yogic intervention (Yoga Nidra).”
So if you’re feeling low energy, anxious, depressed, or irritable carve out a little time for yoga nidra. When aunt “Flow” is in town, I’ve found it to be super beneficial. I’m less agitated, my energy improves, and I’m overall more “even” emotionally.
Yoga nidra improves sleep and reduces insomnia. Insomnia and sleep deprivation contribute to mental disorders, stress management (or lack there of), and immune suppression. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults and young adults get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Yoga nidra trains the mind and body to relax and move more easily into the deeper states of sleep. Forty-five minutes of yoga nidra is equal to up to 3 hours of sleep!
Sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing. Poor sleep and insomnia can lead to more than just irritability and bags under your eyes. If you’re sleeping crummily (is that even a word?) you might experience:
poor memory and trouble concentrating
heart disease, heart attack & stroke
increased blood pressure
a weakend immune system
Yoga nidra is a good way to supplement your sleep if you’re not sleeping well at night. You could try yoga nidra during your lunch break or give it a try right before bed — go ahead and crawl into bed and prepare yourself for a restful night of sleep.
7.) Reduces Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
The benefits of yoga nidra and other deep relaxation practices may even extend to those with type 2 diabetes. According to a recent Huffington Post article, “A recent study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found yoga nidra may reduce the symptoms of diabetes and help control blood glucose levels.”
8.) Plant The Seeds of Future Growth
The work done in yoga nidra with a sankalpa (an intention or positive affirmation) can facilitate life altering changes in one’s thought patterns, relationships and achievements. It is a tool that the yogis have been using for many many years to achieve great feats. Working with a sankalpa helps create new sattvic impressions in the mind and can move us to a state of clarity, aligned with our dharma, and connected to the wisdom of the divine. Examples of popular sankalpas are “I am love”, “I am the witness”, and “I am radiant, divine light”, but feel free to come up with your own.
As you can see, the benefits of yoga nidra are numerous. If you haven’t tried it already, I encourage you to give it a shot. It doesn’t require any special props, you can practice at home in your pjs, and you can’t really do it wrong. I encourage you to find a recording that resonates with you and practice that. There are many resources out there! I even have a yoga nidra recording on my YouTube channel and I have a couple of yoga nidra scripts (one yoga nidra inspired by nature and the other inspired by the ocean) that you could use to make your own recording. Join my newsletter if you want to hear about live Zoom yoga nidra classes or upcoming trainings.
Welcome beautiful human! I’m excited to share this yoga nidra inspired by the ocean with you. This yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, is inspired by my short time living by the sea in Santa Barbara, California. I used to love taking the pups over to the beach for a romp in the surf and when the tide was just right I would find all kinds of little gems — sea glass, perfect little shells, and polished stones. We often saw dolphins and seals (or sea lions?) playing in the surf. I often wondered if they were just as enchanted by us as we were by them. It was a beautiful place to call home.
If yoga nidra is new to you, check out some of my other yoga nidra resources:
We’ll practice yoga nidra in shavasana. If you’re not comfortable in shavasana, find a comfortable seat or lie on your side. For shavasana, slide a bolster or folded blanket underneath your knees and another blanket or pillow underneath the back of your head. The body temperature tends to drop during yoga nidra, so a blanket over the top of your body is usually really nice too. Let’s drop into this ocean-inspired yoga nidra.
Preliminary Relaxation For This Yoga Nidra Inspired by the Ocean
Take the next couple of minutes to get really comfortable. Adjust your props, your clothing and remove any distractions from your space. Once we’re in the practice of yoga nidra, you will want to remain still for the duration.
Settle in. Take care of any last-minute wiggles and invite in a sense of stillness and calm. Close down your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Without changing your breath, simply witness it. Witness the rise and fall of your breath at your belly. Witnessing this sacred, natural rhythm. Unhurried. Unrestricted. Stay with the rise and fall of your breath.
Witness its ebb and flow. Your inhale releases into your exhale and your exhale surrenders into your inhale. PAUSE
Yoga Nidra Sankalpa
In yoga nidra we work with a sankalpa. A sankalpa is a positive “I am” statement that is true at the core of who you are. It is your essence simplified into a short positive “I am” statement. Bring into your mind’s eye your sankalpa. Once it has formed, repeat it quietly and internally to yourself three times. PAUSE
Remain aware of my voice and be still throughout the remainder of practice. The practice of yoga nidra begins now.
Rotation of Consciousness
Remain aware of my voice and do not sleep. I will guide you through a rotation of consciousness all you have to do is follow along and move your awareness from point to point within your body.
Move your awareness to your mouth
Become aware of your tongue
Lower row of teeth
Upper row of teeth
Space between your lips
Top of the head
Back of the head
Tip of the nose
Space between the eyebrows
Now go to the right hand
The right hand thumb
Palm of the hand
Back of the hand
Sole of the foot
Top of the foot
Right big toe
Now Go to the left hand
The left hand thumb
Palm of the hand
Back of the hand
Sole of the foot
Top of the foot
Left big toe
Right shoulder blade
Left shoulder blade
Back of the neck
Back of the head
Right inner ear
Left inner ear
Roof of the mouth
Right collar bone
Left collar bone
The whole head
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
Breath as Prana
Now bring your awareness to your breath. Experience your breath as it is. Follow its natural tide without altering it. Experience the pranic tide of your breath as if your whole body is breathing. Vibrant, white light flowing in and out with each cycle of breath. Waves of sparkling light washing over you with each inhale and falling away with each exhale. Each inhale peaking like a wave of prana cresting and then giving way to the exhale. Experience the peaks and valleys of your breath like the waves of an ocean. PAUSE.
Now count each breath. Count down from 54 to 0. Inhale 54. Exhale 53. Inhale 52. Exhale 51. If you lose count simply begin again. PAUSE
Now bring your awareness to an experience of pleasure. Welcome the feeling of pleasure into your being. Hold your awareness on the experience of pleasure.
Now bring your awareness to an experience of pain. Meet the feeling of pain with equanimity. Experience it fully. Hold your awareness on the experience of pain.
Now bring your awareness to your body. Feel your body, mind and soul contracting. Becoming smaller and smaller.
All at once, the body expands. The mind expands. And the soul expands. Body, mind, and soul expanding into the infinite, boundless.
Now bring your awareness to the experience of holding tightly. Experience the gripping in your body and mind.
Now bring your awareness to the experience of letting go. Experience the release in your body and mind.
I will now describe images to you. Experience them without attachment and allow them to wash over you.
Your bare feet on the earth
You see a meandering path
Tall tufts of grass line the trail
Follow the path toward the sound of the ocean
You glimpse the ocean’s glimmering waves
The sea is calm
Your path gently gives way to a wide stretch of golden sand
You see the vast expanse of sea stretches out before you
The sun dances off the crest of each wave
Your breath in sync with the rhythmic pulse of the ocean
Miles of shimmery sand in each direction
Seabirds dart and dive
Puffs of clouds drift overhead
Dolphins play just beyond the waves
You walk over to the edge of the water
With each step little crabs scurry away
You stop and roll up your jeans
The water flows over your toes
Tiny shells, little gems, and sparkly stones turned and tossed by the gentle sea
A perfect shell washes up to your feet
You reach down and pick it up admiring its perfection
You peacefully slide it into your pocket and walk along the beach toward distant cliffs
A large piece of driftwood provides a spot to sit and rest
You turn your gaze toward the horizon and you take in your surroundings
A sense of ease washes over you
You reach into your pocket and pull out the shell
You turn it over in your hands, one, two, three times
You see a tiny inscription — it’s your sankalpa
Now, repeat your sankalpa internally to yourself. Speak it into the deepest layers of your being with meaning and intention. PAUSE
Gently bring your awareness back to your physical body lying on the earth. Experience your breath as the waves of an ocean. Sensation coming back. Arms. Legs. Torso. Head. Without opening your eyes, find a bit of movement. Little movements to start and finally a full body stretch. The practice of yoga nidra is complete. When you’re ready, roll over onto your side and pause there for a breath or two before coming up to a seat.
I hope you enjoyed this yoga nidra inspired by the ocean and beaches of sunny California. If you would like to learn more about yoga nidra, join me for a yoga teacher training or retreat. Both are great ways to learn more about this immensely healing practice.
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.
There are many, many different types of meditation practices. When you google “types of meditation” the results can be pretty overwhelming, especially when you’re not sure what you’re looking for or what you like. This is a paired down list of popular meditation practices. The most popular type of meditation in recent history is mindfulness meditation with it’s many health benefits and abundant research.
Nine Meditation Types For Beginners
Since mindfulness meditation is the most popular meditation practice today I’ve put it in the number one spot. You’ve probably heard of it before, but may not know what it is or how it is different from other meditation practices. Mindfulness meditation is simply paying attention to the present moment and being aware of all the sensations, thoughts, etc. that arise without judgement or attachment. Here is a cool video from Jon Kabat Zinn about how a mindfulness meditation practice lights up different parts of the brain and here is a link to get you started with a mindfulness practice.
2. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental meditation doesn’t seem to be as popular today as it was in the past, but there is still a substantial community worldwide. Transcendental meditation (TM) was made popular by the Beatles who learned the technique from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It has it’s roots in religion and involves mantra (sound) repetition for 15-20 minutes twice daily. Transcendental meditation teachers are required to undergo a certified training before they can teach and share the practice and students are initiated into the practice.
Much research has been done on the technique, but the research has been poorly conducted and unfortunately is of little scientific value. But honestly, any form of meditation is likely to create positive changes in your life, so why not try TM.
3. One of my favorite meditation practices: Mantra or Japa
Similar to Transcendental Meditation, mantra and japa meditation involve the repetition of a mantra, sound or divine name. This type of meditation practice is often practiced with a mala. A mala is a necklace, similar to a rosary, with 108 beads on it. The mantra is repeated 108 times either softly spoken or internally repeated. This type of ancient meditation practice is used in many different religious traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. You could even say it is similar to praying with a rosary.
A handmade green sandalwood meditation mala.
4. Guided Meditation: Chakras, Third Eye, Breath, Journey & More
Guided meditations are wonderful for those who need a bit more guidance and whose minds tend to wander off. Guided meditations can focus on visuals, energetics, sounds, the breath, emotional states and much more. There are many apps you can use on your phone or ipad. Choose your length of practice, the teacher, the focus and get started.
5. Trataka Meditation (also spelled tratak)
Trataka is a form of meditation where one focuses the eyes on one point. Very commonly trataka is performed while gazing at a candle flame. Eventually you may want to close the eyes. When the eyes are closed envision the candle flame in all of it’s detail. Hold this vision of the flame as long as you can and when it dissipates you may end your meditation practice. Slowly open your eyes. Don’t look directly at the flame again right after your meditation. You may need eye drops if the eyes feel dry or strained.
6. Focused Attention- Zazen, Breath, Mantra, etc.
In focused attention meditation the mind is focused on one thing; that one thing could be the breath, sensation in the body, a mantra, an object, etc. The attention is held on this one thing. As thoughts come up, and they will, the mind’s focus is guided back to it’s original point of focus.
7. Metta- Loving Kindness
Metta, or loving kindness, meditation is a practice of sending love to oneself, a good friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, all four of them equally and then eventually to the entire universe. This exercise is excellent for cultivating compassion. Here is a Loving Kindness Meditation with Jack Kornfield.
Loving kindness meditation is kind of like a hug for the soul.
Vipassana often begins with awareness on the breath and then moves to a practice that includes noting external stimuli without becoming attached to the source of the stimuli. An example could be if you hear a motorcycle drive by label it “hearing”, not motorcycle or if you notice a sour taste in your mouth instead of labeling it sour note it as “taste”. Noting the sense that recognized the external stimuli. It is very common to attend vipassana retreats where one has the opportunity to delve deep into a meditation practice.
9. Yoga Nidra
I hesitate to include yoga nidra on this list because I don’t necessarily consider it a meditation practice. Yoga nidra is “yogic sleep” and it is a way to access the unconscious and subconscious mind. It is a guided practice, similar to that of a guided meditation. Yoga nidra induces a state of deep relaxation and yoga nidra has a multitude of benefits. If you’re wondering what yoga nidra is or what it is like, I have a yoga nidra script inspired by the natural world here.
Not sure where to start? Google your local community and see what’s available. You might be surprised to find local meditation groups and meditation teachers that would be more than happy to take you under their wing. Another option is to go on a yoga and meditation retreat. On retreat you’ll often practie a few different meditation practices and you’ll have an opportunity to talk to others and share experiences.
Good luck on your meditation practice. Feel free to shoot me a private message if you have any questions via our contact form.
Stress is so pervasive in today’s world. Just about every person I meet is struggling with stress and stress management. We have so many demands placed on us daily and in our strive for perfection, for climbing to the top we forget to slow down, to get off of our computers and take time for relaxation. Sometimes as a yoga instructor I feel like I’m expected to be perfect, to have my shit together, when really there are some days where I am literally just hanging on by a thread…. just like everyone else. Sometimes I forget to practice what I preach, so maybe that’s why I am writing this blog post. To remind myself that reducing stress can be utterly simple… it’s just a matter of using the tools we’ve been given.
The physiological signs of stress are the same for everyone: increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and constricts peripheral blood vessels. How it outwardly manifests varies from person to person. Some react to stressful situations with an overexcited stress response characterized by being quick to become fired up or by being quick to express agitation or anger. Others may react with an under-excited stress response characterized by depression or by shutting down in stressful situations. Your “typical” stress response will determine what kind of activities you need to truly reduce stress. Those with overexcited stress responses will need activities that are quieter, while those with under-active stress responses will need more stimulating exercises.
Maintained high levels of stress are associated with all sorts of health problems including, but not limited to: obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. High levels of stress may also lead to adrenal fatigue, accelerated aging and premature death. If stress management isn’t part of your daily routine now may be the time to start.
The following is a short list of activities for stress management.
Focus on your breath. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Become aware of the quality of your breath and the texture of your breath. Begin to lengthen your breath. Inhale for a count of 4 or 5 and exhale for a count of 4 or 5 and allow the breath to deepen without strain. If you find it hard to focus on your breath place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Witness the breath for 3-5 minutes. Notice how you feel afterward.
Move your body. Go for a walk. Practice a few yoga postures (1/2 sun salutations or more) in which you can connect breath with movement.
Get some fresh air. Eat your lunch outside. Leave your phone in the office. Take a walk around the block. Go for a hike/bike ride before or after work.
De-clutter your workspace. Having a clean workspace means you aren’t wasting time shifting things around on your desk. It also means that those pesky tasks that are piling up won’t be staring you in the face.
On the same note. Get organized… perhaps even hire someone to help you become organized. Time management is a huge part of stress management. You’ll be able to spend more time doing the important tasks and less time doing the menial tasks.
Reach out to a calm friend that is also a good listener and enjoy a little face time…. real face time, not the cell phone version.
Make time for meditation. Any type of meditation. There are plenty of apps that you can use if you’d like a guided meditation. Some option are listed here in my meditation blog post. You don’t need to meditate for 20 minutes or an hour. Start with 5 minutes and work from there. Taking just a few minutes a day for quiet meditation is proven to work wonders.
Yoga nidra is another technique that can be used for stress management. There are many recorded classes on YouTube of varying quality and length, I have a downloadable yoga nidra on offer for those that subscribe to my newsletter. You may also find that some of the local yoga studios and wellness centers offer live guided yoga nidras.
Massage. The power of touch is phenomenal. Whether you visit a professional for a massage or give yourself a 5 minute massage you will feel much more relaxed afterward.
Drop into a yoga class. A good class will include plenty of movement, breath work, meditation and also time for rest.
Autumn founded Ambuja Yoga in 2014 to share her love of adventure, yoga, and travel with her fellow yogis. Ambuja Yoga has morphed into more than she could have ever dreamed and she is thrilled to have a "job" she loves. She is forever grateful for the opportunity to facilitate personal growth and self love through yoga while taking yogis to off-the-beaten-path destinations worldwide. Follow Autumn on Instagram @autumnadamsyoga.