Yoga Nidra

What Is It, Method, Health Benefits, and More

Author:Anna Hernández, MD

Editors:Alyssa Haag,Ian Mannarino MD, MBA,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C

Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS

Copyeditor:Stacy M. Johnson, LMSW

What is yoga nidra?

Yoga nidra, a Sanskrit term meaning yogic sleep, is a relaxation technique that aims to induce complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation through exercises that shift awareness away from the external world to one’s inner realm. 

Yoga nidra is a systematic practice consisting of sequential perceptual exercises usually guided by a master of the practice or yoga teacher. To begin yoga nidra, the individual lies down on the ground with the eyes closed and the arms and legs extended in a yoga posture called Shavasana, or corpse pose. Hands should be held apart from the body, with palms facing upwards to minimize the touch sensation. The individual is guided to produce and release tension in the hands and legs by tensing and stretching opposite parts of the body. This is typically followed by thinking of a Sankalpa, a heartfelt intention or mantra, resulting in a state of mind that will help guide future actions. Examples of Sankalpa are “I am strong,” “I am grounded,” “I am capable,” or “I am present.”

Individuals are then asked to perform a body scan, focusing their attention on different body parts and releasing tension from that body part. Throughout all these exercises, they are encouraged to breathe slowly, yet deeply, allowing their bodies to drift into a state of relaxation. Afterward, individuals are asked to shift awareness to the breath and concentrate on active breathing. They may also be asked to shift their focus to their bodily weight. First, they are asked to feel the heaviness of their body on the mat and then are instructed to feel light, as if their body is weightless. 

The practice often ends with visualizing calming images, such as a deep forest, the waves of the sea, or a green garden. Individuals are again encouraged to think about their Sankalpa. Following this, they are asked to slowly transition back into normal awareness by bringing some gentle movement to the body

Person assuming the yoga nidra position, called Shavasana.

How is yoga nidra different from meditation?

Meditation is an umbrella term used to describe a practice or state of mind where an individual's level of awareness is heightened. Traditionally, meditation is done sitting while keeping the spine upright. Contrary to most meditation practices, yoga nidra is performed in a lying position. In addition, while meditation is fully awake, yoga nidra is practiced in an altered state of consciousness that occurs just before falling asleep. 

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What are the health benefits of yoga nidra?

Yoga nidra is thought to affect both physical and mental health positively and is being increasingly recognized as a useful practice in holistic medicine. It has been suggested that yoga nidra can help relieve stress and anxiety and improve related health issues (e.g., sleeping disorders, and tension headaches). Some individuals who practice yoga nidra claim it can also help to achieve personal resolutions, enhance creativity, and improve one’s learning ability by increasing focus and attention. Finally, practicing yoga nidra regularly has been shown to decrease blood pressure in several studies, suggesting it might help prevent and treat hypertension. The physiological effects of yoga nidra may be related to an activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, a part of the autonomic nervous system that controls bodily functions when an individual is at rest. 

What are the most important facts to know about yoga nidra?

Yoga nidra is a deep state of relaxation between wakefulness and sleep. It is usually induced by a guided meditation technique led by a yoga teacher or master of the practice. While lying on the floor, it consists of mindful exercises, like focusing on one’s breath or specific body regions. Some benefits of yoga nidra include decreasing stress and anxiety; improving sleeping problems; increasing creativity and learning abilities; and improving cardiovascular health. 

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Related links

Nervous system anatomy and physiology
Parasympathetic nervous system
Anxiety disorders: Clinical practice

Resources for research and reference

Datta, K., Tripathi, M., & Mallick, H. N. (2017). Yoga Nidra: An innovative approach for management of chronic insomnia - A case report. Sleep Science and Practice, 1(1).

Devraj, J. P., Santosh Kumar, B., Raja Sriswan, M., Jagdish, B., Priya, B. S., Neelu, S. B., Desai Rao, V., Kumar, M., Geddam, J. J. B., & Hemalatha, R. (2021). Effect of yoga nidra on blood pressure, Hs-CRP, and lipid profile of hypertensive subjects: A pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: ECAM, 2021, 2858235.

Moszeik, E. N., von Oertzen, T., & Renner, K.-H. (2022). Effectiveness of a short Yoga Nidra meditation on stress, sleep, and well-being in a large and diverse sample. Current Psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.), 41(8), 5272–5286.

Pandi-Perumal, S. R., Spence, D. W., Srivastava, N., Kanchibhotla, D., Kumar, K., Sharma, G. S., Gupta, R., & Batmanabane, G. (2022). The origin and clinical relevance of yoga Nidra. Sleep and Vigilance, 6(1), 61–84.