Yoga Nidra: The Sleep Meditation for Restorative Rest and Relaxation

It's a unique state where you’re neither awake nor asleep

<p>Verywell Mind / Getty Images</p>

Verywell Mind / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS

In the chaos of our daily lives, we’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions and stretched so thin, it feels like we might snap at any second. We often find ourselves craving some rest and relaxation, so that we can feel restored and rejuvenated. Enter: yoga nidra.

"Yoga nidra is a guided meditation rooted in ancient yogic traditions that follows a systematic relaxation process, putting us in a very relaxed state that is somewhere between being awake and asleep," says Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis.

"It’s a practice for deep relaxation, healing, integration, and wholeness on all levels of being," says Karla Helbert, an internationally certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT) and author of “Tips for Calming Body and Mind: Breathing Lessons.”

If you’re curious about yoga nidra, we’ve got you. In this article, we explore how yoga nidra works, the benefits it offers, and some tips to help you get started with it.

At a Glance

Yoga nidra is a form of guided meditation that involves elements like a body scan meditation and visualizations.

What’s super cool about it is that researchers who have studied it have found that the brain goes into a unique state where it is asleep, while we’re actually awake and conscious. Apart from being deeply relaxing, being in this state also unlocks several mental, physical, and emotional benefits.

So go on, get comfy, and come with us on a relaxing yoga nidra journey!

Tell Me More About Yoga Nidra

As old as yoga itself, yoga nidra is a meditative practice that was first recorded in ancient Hindu texts known as the Upanishads, which date as far back as 600 BCE.


In Sanskrit, the term ‘yoga nidra’ means ‘yogic sleep,’ but the practice is really meant to help us hover between a state of sleep and wakefulness—it’s essentially awareness in a fully relaxed state, Helbert explains.

If you’re worried it involves something complicated, you can relax (pun intended!). Unlike other forms of yoga, yoga nidra typically doesn’t require any complicated asanas, or poses. It simply involves lying down in a comfortable position as your guide takes you through the meditation.

"Yoga nidra consists of a deceptively simple set of practices for enhancing health, healing, resiliency, and well-being at all levels of body, mind, and spirit," says Richard Miller, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of "Yoga Nidra: The iRest Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing."

"There are different styles of yoga nidra, but all include a body scan and an awareness of breath," says Helbert. She adds that many may also include imagery or visualizations of different kinds, such as nature, colors, or representations of the elements, like earth, air, water, or fire.

How Yoga Nidra Works


While many other forms of meditation help us relax, yoga nidra represents a unique state where we’re fully conscious but we demonstrate all the symptoms of a deep, non-REM sleep with delta brain waves.

Helbert explains that in this state, the parasympathetic nervous system—the rest, relax, and digest side of our nervous system—is activated, and the sympathetic nervous system—the fight or flight mode—is able to deactivate.

The mind remains awake and aware, open and receptive to the messages of healing and creativity shared during the meditation, Helbert adds. She explains that this is powerful because the words, images, and suggestions of healing can sink deep into our consciousness and subconsciousness, resonating within.

In some ways, yoga nidra is similar to a hypnotic state, but it’s not quite the same thing. A 2022 study that examined participants' brain waves during yoga nidra sessions found that some parts of the brain were asleep, while other parts of the brain were awake.

What Does Yoga Nidra Do?

Research shows us that yoga nidra offers several mental, physical, and emotional benefits:

  • Improves mood

  • Boosts confidence

  • Increases resilience

  • Reduces stress levels

  • Boosts concentration

  • Improves cognitive processing

  • Increases alertness

  • Boosts memory

  • Enhances self-awareness

  • Reduces anxiety

  • Reduces depression

  • Reduces PTSD

  • Improves anger management

  • Increases motivation

  • Reduces insomnia

  • Improves sleep quality

  • Reduces pain

  • Relieves headaches

  • Regulates heart rate

  • Lowers blood pressure

  • Improves blood sugar levels

  • Corrects hormonal imbalances


A 2023 review notes that yoga nidra shows potential as a noninvasive, cost-effective, and easily accessible approach to help treat many health conditions, as a complementary form of treatment along with primary treatment.

Related: How Meditation Impacts Your Mind and Body

Getting Started with Yoga Nidra

You can do yoga nidra at home, using a guided meditation recording. Or, you can do it in a yoga studio, with a teacher who will guide you through the steps.

Either way, these tips can help you get started with it:

  • Wear something comfortable: The aim of yoga nidra is to help you get as relaxed as possible. Wear something loose that you’re comfortable in. Avoid tight or restrictive clothing.

  • Find a quiet spot: Choose a warm, quiet, and comfortable spot where you won't be disturbed.

  • Minimize disruptions: Power down your devices, leave them in another room, or silence your notifications, so they don’t disturb you.

  • Keep your props handy: Keep a cushion, bolster, or blanket on hand, in case you need them to get comfortable.

  • Create a peaceful environment: If you’re doing it at home, you can set the mood by lighting an aromatherapy candle, dimming the lights, and playing soft, serene music to create a peaceful environment.

  • Use the bathroom: It can be helpful to use the bathroom before you get started, so you can enjoy an uninterrupted session without needing to take breaks.

  • Pick a meditation program: There are several yoga nidra meditation programs to choose from, ranging from five minutes to 60 minutes. You can choose one of them, join a class, or follow the step-by-step guide below.

Resources to Get You Started

Here are some free resources to help you get started with yoga nidra:

Step-by-Step Guide to Yoga Nidra Practice

If you’d like to give yoga nidra a try, here’s a step-by-step guide to doing it on your own:

  • Lie down comfortably: Lie down on your back in savasana (corpse pose), with your legs slightly apart and your arms by your sides. Adjust yourself until you’re comfortable. Use the props for support, if needed. Settle into your body until you feel grounded, says Helbert.

  • Focus on your breath: Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly, as you feel your body start to relax.

  • Set an intention: If you like, you can set a sankalpa (positive intention or affirmation) for your session. A sankalpa is ideally a short statement that is in present tense and in positive language—stating what you want, not what you don’t want, says Helbert. She explains that an example might be, “I am calm and at peace,” or “I am well in mind and body,” or “I flow through life with ease and grace.” You can choose anything that appeals to you.

  • Scan your body: Bring your attention to the tips of your toes. Breathe into them and relax them. Slowly, move your focus upward, working your way up your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, stomach, chest, shoulders, arms, neck, face, mouth, eyes, and head, stopping at each point to take a few breaths and relax that part of the body completely.

  • Visualize something soothing: In your mind, picture something that makes you feel happy, calm, and peaceful. It could be a serene lake, a flowing stream, a bright flower, or a beautiful sunset. Notice everything about it, like the colors and shapes you see, and the way it makes you feel.

  • Observe any sensations: Notice any sensations, feelings, or thoughts that you experience. Observe them without attachment or judgment.

  • Maintain conscious awareness: Relax and maintain conscious awareness during the session. Try not to fall asleep—although if you’re tired and nod off, that’s OK too!

  • Repeat the sankalpa: If you set an intention at the beginning of the practice, repeat it in your mind now, as you bring the session to an end.

  • Return to the present: Slowly, bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Gradually reintroduce movement to your body by moving your fingers or wiggling your toes. When you’re ready, open your eyes slowly. Sit up by turning to your right side and using the support of your right arm to get up.

  • Acclimate yourself: Yoga nidra can create a non-ordinary state of consciousness, so it can be helpful to stretch, move your body, drink some water, or eat a snack before you return to everyday activities, says Helbert.

  • Tap out if you’re uncomfortable: If you are uncomfortable at any point during the process, Helbert says to tune out the meditation, return to your breath, shift your position, or even sit up and take a sip of water. “Remember that you’re in control of your own experiences, so you don't have to follow the meditation if it’s making you uncomfortable."

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Chakra Meditation

Modifications and Variations of Yoga Nidra

These are some ways to adapt your yoga nidra practice according to your needs.

Yoga Nidra for Specific Purposes

If you would like to use yoga nidra for a specific purpose, such as better sleep or stress-relief for example, here are some options:

  • Choose a script that addresses your needs: Helbert recommends choosing a script that is written for the purpose you are seeking. The messages and imagery in the script can penetrate your conscious and unconscious brain during yoga nidra, making it a powerful medium of suggestion.

  • Set your intention accordingly: Another way to address your needs is by including your purpose or desired effect in your intention setting and choose your sankalpa accordingly, says Helbert. For instance, you could say: “My sleep is deep and restorative,” or “I am at peace with myself and the world.”

Yoga Nidra for Different Populations

These are some tips that can help you adapt the yoga nidra practice for different needs:

  • Children: Kids tend to have shorter attention spans, so shorter meditation sessions may work better for them. It can be helpful to incorporate playful and imaginative elements into the guided visualizations, using stories, animals, or nature themes to capture their interest.

  • Seniors: Opt for a slower pace, giving yourself plenty of time to transition between different stages of the practice. Choose a seated or lying down position that’s comfortable and accommodates any physical limitations you have.

  • Beginners: Choose simpler meditation programs that don't have complex visualizations. Start with shorter sessions and gradually introduce more elements as you get more familiar with the practice.

  • Pregnant people: Lie on your side and use pillows for support if you need them, particularly during the later stages of your pregnancy. Focus on gentle, mindful breathing, instead of longer, deeper breaths that may prove to be more challenging.

  • Athletes: Focus on bodily repair, recovery, healing, and strength during the body scan and visualizations. Pay attention to any aches, pains, or soreness you experience, focusing your healing energy there.

Dr. Miller recommends working with a trained yoga nidra teacher who can adapt the practice to you, in order to empower you while respecting your age, culture, religious orientation, occupation, and mental and physical health.

An experienced teacher can change the language of the script or use particular kinds of imagery for different groups, Helbert says.

Different images, different points of focus, or different voices will all result in different experiences for each of us, so it can be helpful to explore what works best for you, Helbert adds.

Tips for a Successful Yoga Nidra Practice

We asked the experts for some tips to help us establish and maintain a successful yoga nidra practice. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Give it a few tries: If you’ve tried yoga nidra and didn’t love it, it might be helpful to give it another shot. When we’re doing something new that we’re not used to, our minds and bodies can feel a bit uncomfortable with it, so it’s important to give it a few tries, says Helbert.

  • Work your way up: The principal ingredients of growing and nourishing a routine of yoga nidra include patience, persistence, and perseverance, says Dr. Miller. He recommends learning by practicing often, with shorter sessions until you work your way up to longer ones. You can start by doing just five minutes per day.

  • Be consistent: Consistency is key, so make it a point to practice yoga nidra regularly, Dr. Harris says. She recommends practicing at the same time every day, so it becomes a part of your daily routine.

  • Let distractions pass: It’s normal to feel distracted, get bored, or have your mind wander sometimes. Helbert recommends simply noticing these feelings with as much compassion and as little judgment as possible. Let these feelings pass and gently work to bring your attention back to the session, says Dr. Harris.

  • Make yourself comfortable: We know that staying still for a long time is not easy. “If you're feeling restless or uncomfortable, try adjusting your position,” Dr. Harris says. It’s alright to give yourself permission to move gently as needed to be comfortable and remember that you don’t need to force anything on yourself, Helbert adds.

  • Reflect on your sessions: After you finish your session, take a few minutes to reflect on it and process your thoughts and feelings. If you like, you can write your insights in a journal, to help you absorb and integrate them, says Helbert.

  • Find your community: It's helpful to have a mentor/teacher as well as like-minded peers who also engage in the practice of yoga nidra to form a solid support system around you, says Dr. Miller. He explains that having a community can help you integrate the principles of yoga nidra into your daily life, relationships, work, and play activities.

Related: Guided Meditation for Sleep: How to Get Started

Safety Considerations and Contraindications

While yoga nidra is generally considered safe for most individuals, there are certain safety conditions and contraindications to be aware of.

If you're pregnant, have had recent surgery, or have chronic/serious health issues, Dr. Harris recommends proceeding with caution. “Listen to your body, and if something feels off, stop and check with your doctor.”

Other potential contraindications may be for those who may have had any mental health crises, traumatic experiences, or severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, says Helbert. “Yoga nidra creates a non-ordinary state of consciousness and in that state, you may feel a lack of sense of self which can feel unsettling or even scary.” Sometimes, the practice can also bring up deep fears, difficult memories, or frightening visualizations, she adds.

When Should You Not Do Yoga Nidra?

You should definitely not listen to a yoga nidra—or really any guided meditation—while driving or operating machinery, or simply if you need to be paying attention to what is happening around you, Helbert says.

Keep in Mind

Yoga nidra is generally considered safe and can be customized for different needs. However, it may not be safe for people living with certain mental and physical conditions, so it’s best to proceed with caution and only attempt it under the guidance of a healthcare provider and an experienced instructor if it’s contraindicated for you.

Read Next: What Is Yoga Therapy?

Read the original article on Verywell Mind.