Yog Sadhana

Yog Nidra (Yogic Sleep)


There is an ancient technique in the field of yog called Yog Nidra translated as yogic sleep. The term Nidra means sleep. In recent times the name has become popular, with few, really understanding what it is all about. Few teachers really understand it completely, yet even rarer are the few, who are adepts at this technique. Some people look upon the technique as a relaxation technique, but it is really much more than that. Yog Nidra is not an exercise as practised by most, but a state of mind where the body sleeps and the mind rests, but the mind remains fully conscious of its surroundings.

Every day we go to sleep; sleep being a habit of the body and mind. Without sleep most of us feel tired, heavy and disturbed. After more than a certain number of hours of wakefulness, we feel sleep deprivation, the body feels heavy, lethargic and tired. We become forced to sleep, and have become used to this habit of sleeping. Most people have little or no awareness over all of their waking, dreaming and sleeping time, however for yogis, one aim of many yogis is to overcome sleep because from amongst other things, they want to be aware of each minute of their life and existence. There are some rare yogis who consciously strive not to sleep; to always remain awake. These yogis use Yoga Nidra to rest and maintain complete and conscious control over each moment. The time thus gained by using this practice is used by the Yogis for spiritual practices and other spiritual quests.

What the body and mind need after they have been put to work is—rest. For these yogis, it is possible to obtain this rest by the practice of this special technique-Yog Nidra. Each day we go to sleep, it is like opening a door on a path within one’s mind to enter into a private cabin that gives us rest. The mind and body both relax and we get re-energized. The technique of Yog Nidra requires the practitioner to locate that door and pathway through which we travel to this cabin within our minds, each day, when we decide to take rest. This is a state of yog, where the body sleeps, but the mind remains awake. Though the mind remains awake, yet it is able to get deep rest, similar to sleep. We could say that Yog Nidra is bringing wakefulness to the state of sleep or bringing sleep to the state of wakefulness.

The practice of Yoga Nidra helps the practitioner to work longer hours while taking little rest. In Yoga Nidra, the practitioner gets deep rest in very little time in comparison to sleep and re-energizes the body and mind very quickly thus enabling one to maintain longer working hours. Regular practice of Yoga Nidra reduces stress as well as lowers blood pressure. It also helps strengthen the immune system by reducing stress and relaxing the mind and body deeply. It is an excellent practice for all people who work long hours, for those who have high blood pressure, for those who are exposed to stress, as well as all those people who have immunity problems. Through this technique, by entering into a deeper level of the mind, while in this state, adepts are able to heal their bodies, as well as, they are able to use it to learn different topics and languages much more quickly than the norm.

To understand the principle behind Yog Nidra, we need to understand the process of sleep. The body and mind both need rest. If we were to lie down and not sleep, it may give the body rest, but it does not rest the mind. As a result the person feels tired. Often, we wake up in the morning and say, today I slept well or today I slept badly. In a certain sense sleep is like death for it has the effect of disconnecting us from the conscious world and yet we are not entirely unconscious. For example, when we sleep we do not fall off our beds. There is a part of the mind that keeps the body on the bed and ensures that we do not fall off. Similarly, while we sleep, if a mosquito bites us, automatically in our sleep we start scratching the spot where we were bitten; sometimes in sleep we even kill it. Effectively, that means that a part of the mind is always aware of the body and observes it constantly.

Modern science says that the mind produces six different kinds of brain waves. In the state of relaxation when we are drowsy the mind produces theta waves, whereas when we sleep, the mind produces delta waves. The idea is that when we sleep and the mind produces delta waves, the mind should be conscious of its surroundings. That is the real Yoga Nidra.

Here is a brief explanation on brain waves.


Name of Brain Wave





0.1-4 Hz

Deep Sleep


Theta (Type 1 and 2)

4-7 Hz




8-12 Hz

Wakeful relaxation with closed eyes; Deep relaxation



8-13 Hz

Sensory Motor Rhythm


Beta (Beta High, Beta, Beta Low)

12-30 Hz

Normal waking Consciousness, Reasoning, Logic



25-100 Hz

Peak concentration, extremely high levels of cognitive functioning, high levels of information processing, bursts of insight.

Another aspect of our body that we take for granted is breath, however according to the different activities that we perform, our breathing changes. Most people rarely pay any attention to the breath, most of time taking it for granted. The breathing patterns play an important role in regulating our body and mind. If we observe our breath as we fall asleep, we will see, that the breathing becomes heavier and longer. It is control on the breathing patterns and thereby control over the mind that helps one to achieve the state of Yog Nidra.

A well known ancient Yogic text that deals with and explains different breathing patterns is called Shiv Swarodaya. From this text, if one reads shlok (verse) 223, then it says that the prana (breath) exhalation is normally 12 fingers in length and shlok (verse) 222 says that when we sleep it becomes 100 fingers. So during sleep the exhalation is 88 fingers longer than our usual breathing.  First, in part, in Yoga Nidra the student has to control the breath. If we were to consciously elongate our breath to the same pattern as our sleep, then our breathing would be close to the state of sleep. But the breath alone is not the entire key, as in Yoga Nidra the body must relax and the mind should remain conscious. So secondly, for the body to sleep and the mind to be able to take deep rest we must also go through a process of systematic relaxation. The third and the most important part is to not fall asleep while establishing that heavier breathing rhythm and undergoing deep relaxation, to always remain conscious of one’s surrounding.

Here it is important to mention that the phenomenon of sleep is not as easy to understand as it may seem. During the process of sleep, each one of us goes through a process known as sleep paralysis. Modern science however dubs this as a sleep disorder and states that a very large number of people may experience it. However, most people who practice Yog Nidra often tend to encounter this state. This happens possibly at the border of the theta and delta states. In this state, a person loses control over the body movements and is unable to move the body. Since most of us are used to controlling our movements, this state is scary to most persons. One is lying on the mattress and is aware of the world around but is unable to move a single muscle. The mind tends to throw up fear primarily because of the loss of control; this fear is sometimes very acute.

The mind also has numerous pathways through which it controls the body’s functions. Some functions are automatically controlled while others are controlled by our command. The pathway that controls sleep is the path that we use every day to fall asleep. Most of the time when we fall asleep, this following the pathway of the mind, happens unconsciously and automatically. With regular observation of the mind, we can observe the path that the mind uses to fall asleep. Once we are able to do this, then we can use this to practice Yoga Nidra. However, the great and wonderful yogis of India have developed certain special systematic exercises that help one to relax, eventually leading to the establishment of our wilful control over our sleep and entry into the state of Yog Nidra.

In the practice of Yoga Nidra one must lie down on a woollen blanket in the shavasan (corpse) pose. First, we must go through the process of establishing diaphragmatic breathing. Then, through the process of systematic relaxation, after this, there is a subtler exercise of point wise relaxation. In the next step, one must go through a special technique of calming the breathing and thereby the mind. Finally, one enters the state of Yoga Nidra. As always all such techniques have to be practised under an able Guru who has himself learnt and practised the process through the tradition. Usually, during the practice, a transmission of energy and the state itself is needed to achieve deeper states of mind.

In the tradition, from amongst many practices, Swami Rama of Rishikesh was an adept in the practice of Yog Nidra. He underwent experiments at the Menninger Foundation in the United States that were done under strict scientific supervision. Samuel Moffat, writing under the title “Psychic Boom” in the 1973 Encyclopaedia yearbook of science and the future, observed:

Experienced Eastern Mystics who truly have mastered meditation techniques can do much more than manipulate their alpha waves. In 1970 researchers in the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, spent several weeks examining an Indian Yogi, Swami Rama of Rishikesh, and the Himalayas. The Swami could voluntarily maintain his production of theta and delta brain waves, Theta waves (four to seven cycles per second) often appear when a person becomes drowsy and eases towards sleep; delta waves (about one per second with very large amplitude) are usually associated with deep sleep. During one five minute test, Swami Rama demonstrated theta waves 75% of the time. The next day he deliberately produced delta waves for 25 minutes; he appeared to sleep and even snored gently but afterwards he could repeat almost perfectly, things said in the room at that time.

These are not just exercises but have the potential of teaching science some of the as yet unexplained workings of the human brain. When in the theta state (with alpha and beta also present 50% of the time) Swami Rama became aware of many unconscious thoughts he normally suppressed. The Swami maintained that when in a state of deep reverie he could heal himself of certain ailments by giving the body suitable instructions in the form of images. Elmer E. Green, who directed the research at Menninger, also reported that Swami Rama “could diagnose physical ailments very much in the manner of Edgar Cayce (an American psychic who made thousands of medical diagnoses, while in hypnotic trance) except that he (Swami Rama) appeared to be totally conscious”.
One of the other much ignored facets of the practice of Yog Nidra has to do with death, which is why Yogi’s have such great respect for the practice of Yog Nidra. Each Yogi’s wants to die fully conscious and aware of himself and his surroundings. This practice of Yog Nidra helps a yogi remain awake at all times, to maintain complete consciousness while living, at every moment and as a result while dying. This allows the Yogi the choice to choose their destination and journey after death.


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