by Kamakhya Kumar, Ph.D.
School of Yoga & Health, Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya, Haridwar, India
Yoga nidrā is a state of consciousness that is neither in sleep nor awakened, and is neither concentration nor hypnotism. It can be defined as an altered state of consciousness. Yoga nidrā is practiced as a best-known technique to induce complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation.
The author of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, great yogi Swatmarama, classifies Yoga nidrā as the state of turiya1 or the state of ‘fourth dimension’, that is the all expansive and encompassing state of consciousness in which Shakti, or Divine Supreme (feminine) Energy, neither contracts nor expands, but remains in union with Shiva, or Divine Supreme (male) Consciousness.
// Abhyaset Khecharim Tavadyavat Syadyoganidritah /
/ Sampraptyoganidrasya Kalo Nasti Kadachana //
This verse (shloka) means that Khechari [mudrā] should be practiced until yogic sleep occurs. For one who has attained yogic sleep, time becomes non-existent. Here, the term yoga nidrā has been used as the state of Samādhi, the last limb or stage of Patanjali’s 8-limbed Asthanga Yoga Marg , or Path. Yoga nidrā, Yogic sleep, is the state of consciousness in which the conscious mind subsides, but awareness remains.2
Yoga nidrā is considered to be a simplified version of one of the Tantra Kriya-s designed by Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga (at Munger) in its present form.3 It was proven, through a series of studies conducted at Charing Cross Medical School (London, UK), that Yoga nidrā is a technique in which one can alter the states of consciousness by changing from beta to alpha and then to delta brainwaves. Therefore, the practitioner knowingly enjoys the different states of consciousness. It is a pratyahara (the 5th stage of Asthanga Yoga), which also opens the door for meditation.4
Yoga nidrā also brings about simultaneous relaxation by inducing alpha brainwaves in both hemispheres of the brain and altered the state of consciousness. It has been further proven that it is a safe and sure method to bring about alter state of consciousness in human beings, particularly for the management of psychosomatic illnesses.
In Yoga nidrā, it is not necessary to concentrate. One should just keep the mind moving from point to point and be aware of every experience. Yoga nidrā means sleep with a trace of awareness, also known as “conscious sleep.” Various studies have been conducted in different parts of the world for observing the effects of this state of consciousness induced by Yoga nidrā. In one important study, it was observed that Yoga nidrā significantly lowered the levels of serum cholesterol in cardiac patients.5
In conclusion, it can be stated that Yoga nidrā is a state between sleep and samādhi, a half-sleep-half-waking state that removes fluctuations from all planes of the mind, inducing relaxation and helping insomniacs by stimulating sleep.
- Swatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Chapter 4, verse 49, page 467: Bihar School of Yoga, Munger (1985, 2000), p. 467.
- Sw. Muktibodhanda Saraswati, Hath Yoga Pradipika. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger (1985, 2000).
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga nidrā. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger (1963).
- Sw. Mangalteertham Saraswati, Altered State of Consciousness, Yoga nidrā, “Yoga nidrā.” Bihar School of Yoga, Munger (1988).
- Cooper, M.J. & Aygen, M.M., A relaxation technique in the management of hypercholesterolemia. J. Hum. Stress, pp. 24-27. Dec (1979).