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.
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.
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