How to Use Yoga Nidra for Sleep and Anxiety

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Yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety
Author Name: Lucas Cook
Date: Thursday June 15, 2023

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When you hear the word “yoga,” your mind might turn to various stretching and strengthening postures — but that’s based on the Western concept of this ancient practice. The word means “union” and encompasses mind, body and soul. Although you won’t perform a single pose in yoga nidra, it’s fabulous for sleep and anxiety. 

Yoga nidra translates to “yogic sleep.” It’s a series of techniques for inducing a deep state of relaxation, altering your brain waves and promoting sublime rest. Some practitioners claim that one hour is as restorative as a full night’s rest, as you achieve a delta wave state that many people with insomnia don’t get enough of. 

It’s also a fabulous way to help you get more Zzzs. Additionally, this method can help you regroup when panic strikes, knocking you seriously off-kilter. Could you use this healing practice in your life? Here’s how to use yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety. 

How Does Yoga Nidra Work? 

It helps to understand the process to know why yoga nidra is so effective for sleep and anxiety. It works through the science of brain waves. You have several types, the big four being:

  • Beta: Awake and consciously thinking or engaged in an activity. 
  • Alpha: Relaxed and lucid but not thinking — your default state. 
  • Theta: Deeply relaxed and meditative. 
  • Delta: Deep, dreamless sleep.

The entire goal of yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety is to gradually move you into a deep state of relaxation through a series of mental exercises that take your brain out of the active beta state and progressively move you through theta into delta wave activity. 

To get you there, yoga nidra moves you through eight distinct phases. However, you might only go through the first few, depending on the intent of your practice. Here’s how the process works. 

The Stages of Yoga Nidra 

The eight stages of yoga nidra are as follows. 

1. Settling

This is your “nesting” phase. It’s when you prepare for your practice by getting snug and cozy. The best place to practice? Your bed! 

Many practitioners take savasana, sometimes placing pillows beneath their knees and heads to increase comfort. Others prefer to curl up in their favorite sleeping position. Whichever position you choose, do everything you can to make yourself as comfortable as possible, adjusting the temperature and covering yourself with blankets — you’ll be lying still the entire time and may get chilly. 

You might also take a few deep breaths here to calm yourself. However, breathing exercises aren’t the primary focus during this stage — it’s all about nestling in and getting cozy, baby.

2. Sankalpa

The second stage of yoga nidra is Sankalpa. It’s part of the yoga philosophy that refers to a heartfelt desire, solemn vow or, in psychological terms, a deeply held core belief. 

Sankalpa is often referred to as intention-setting, but unlike a personal goal, it doesn’t center on what you hope to achieve. Rather, it is a statement of what is, a positive declaration of your true nature. For example: 

  • Not Sankalpa: I want to reach deep rest. 
  • Is Sankalpa: I am resting deeply to heal my body and mind. 

3. Rotation of Consciousness

The next stage of yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety is the rotation of consciousness. This process is very similar to a meditative body scan but much more intense. For example, you might begin by drawing awareness first to the minute sensations within your mouth:

  • The tip of your tongue
  • The root of your tongue 
  • The roof of your mouth
  • Your teeth and gums
  • Inside the right cheek
  • Inside the left cheek

This stage is one of the longer ones, and many practitioners fall into a deep sleep before ever progressing to the latter phases. If this happens to you, rejoice! You’ve successfully used yoga nidra for sleep and should enjoy a good night’s rest. You can repeat the process if you wake up halfway through the night. 

4. Breath and Energy Awareness

Here’s where you’ll use breath awareness to further induce deep relaxation. However, you need not follow any prescribed pattern other than consciously focusing on the rise and fall of your navel. From here, count your breaths backward, starting from 27 and working your way to one. If you become distracted and catch your mind wandering, start over with your count. However, don’t be surprised if you fall asleep here (if you haven’t already). 

5. Sense Perception 

By now, you will have been in yoga nidra for more than ten minutes, sufficient time to ease anxiety and induce a quieter, more meditative brain state. Now that you are receptive, it’s time for an advanced yoga technique. 

This stage entails sitting with both positive and negative sensations and emotions. Here’s where using yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety diverges. If using it for sleep, you’ll focus more on sensations, such as hot and cold, by recalling a time you felt chilly, reliving those sensations in your body. Then, you’ll remember feeling comfortable and warm, indulging and savoring that cozy feeling.

If you use yoga nidra for anxiety, you might choose to bring up whatever is triggering intense fear and panic. Your goal is to simply sit with this feeling, then let it go. Follow it with a recollection of a happy, carefree time, reliving those sensations and emotions to rebalance your brain. 

A word of warning: This process can be intense. If you work with a therapist, you may wish to go through it with them or have them ready for your call if you experience severe emotional upset. However, getting your brain into this deep resting state first can also be an extremely powerful way of achieving breakthroughs and promoting true healing and freedom from anxiety, so keep an open mind and approach it when ready. 

6. Visualization 

This stage helps dissipate any lingering mental tension. You’ll visualize a random series of objects — for example, a green butterfly, a burning candle or a hopping rabbit. The images generally inspire inner peace and tranquility and always end with such a visualization to restore your sense of inner peace and balance. 

7. Sankalpa

After visualization, you’ll return to your Sankalpa. Your mind is now more relaxed and receptive, so restate it affirmatively three times with intention. 

8. Return to Consciousness or Externalization

Returning from this deep resting state takes time, so wake yourself up gently. You might take a few deep inhales through your nose, exhaling through your mouth. Begin to wiggle your fingers and toes and do whatever gentle stretching motions feel natural as you gradually return to a regular state of consciousness. 

The Primary Difference Between Using Yoga Nidra for Sleep and Anxiety

The primary difference between using yoga nidra for sleep or anxiety lies in the intent. You’ll reflect this in your Sankalpa. However, again, it is crucial to make it a positive, affirmative statement of what is, not a wish or desire.

For example, if using yoga nidra for anxiety, your Sankalpa might be:

  • I am strong enough to handle powerful emotions. 
  • Not: I will work through X trauma today. 

Yoga nidra is not a cognitive process. Although it involves your mind, it isn’t CBT or DBT. Yoga nidra for anxiety works differently, preparing your body and physiology to weather tough feelings at an emotional level. There’s no “thinking” about it — you feel your way, which is why it is healing at such a deep level. 

Getting Started With Yoga Nidra

It’s best to practice yoga nidra with a trained practitioner at first. Search Google for your local listings or contact yoga studios in your area — they may refer you to someone even if they don’t offer this service as part of their regular schedule. 

However, there are also DIY resources you can use. Ally Boothroyd has an amazing YouTube channel with dozens of yoga nidra recordings you can use for free. You can also find paid yoga nidra recordings wherever you buy music or podcasts. 

Yoga Nidra as Complementary Therapy

Most people have fabulous results from using yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety. It can also be an effective complementary therapy if you are in treatment. However, talking with your therapist is essential if you intend to try healing work and not simply achieve a deep resting state. 

Real talk moment. In a perfect world, everyone who needed one would have a therapist they could trust. However, mental health care can be challenging to get, especially in the United States. Yoga nidra can deeply heal you, but it can also open up old wounds. If you try it at home for anxiety, practice other positive self-care like having a trusted person you can talk to and process tough feelings that come up that you don’t feel prepared to handle alone. 

Using Yoga Nidra for Sleep and Anxiety

Yoga nidra sounds esoteric, but this ancient practice of yogic sleep is a potent remedy for sleeplessness and anxiety. Nestling in and tuning into a recording is one of the best ways to get quality rest and induce deep slumber. 

Follow the above guide to using yoga nidra for sleep and anxiety. This practice can help you learn to sit with difficult emotions with a greater sense of inner peace or ease you into dreamland. 

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