Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice, first mentioned in the Upanishads. In modern times, the method was developed and popularised by Swami Satyananda, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. He developed an 8-stage Yoga Nidra with steps focusing on: Sankalpa, rotation of consciousness, breath awareness, manifestation of opposites, creative visualisation, Sankalpa and externalisation.
Practising Yoga Nidra brings about an experience of deep relaxation. And it enables access to the deeper levels of the mind, making healing and transformation possible at this level – as issues are addressed at their roots and the power of unconscious forces is harnessed to move towards goals.
The practice as we know it today is most commonly (although not always) practised lying down. It involves being guided into the relaxing state between sleep and wakefulness and then through various stages with a final stage integrating the gifts of the practice back into the waking state of consciousness.
Following on from Swami Satyananda other variations of Yoga Nidra have emerged. They tend to contain similar aspects – typically a body sensing phase and a breath sensing phase and some form of clarifying intention – but then there are variations between the approaches with each having a different focus or emphasis.
iRest Yoga Nidra
The yogic scholar, practitioner and clinical psychologist, Dr Richard Miller, developed iRest Yoga Nidra. He first experienced Yoga Nidra in 1970. The experience was so profound that he decided then he would devote his life to the practice.
iRest Yoga Nidra draws on the wisdom Richard Miller gained from many years of studying with teachers from different yogic and other spiritual traditions, from his scholarly explorations and also from his clinical training and experience as a psychologist.
iRest Yoga Nidra is a 10-step process with stages focussing on Inner Resource; Heart-felt desire; Intention; Body-sensing; Breath-sensing; Emotions, feelings and opposites; Thoughts, beliefs and opposites; Joy; Pure Awareness.
It is a very adaptable practice. The stages can be adapted to meet the needs of the individual. For example, the focus can be purely spiritual, or it can be used to improve mental health, recover from trauma, or manage persisting pain.
One of the significant differences between iRest and other types of Yoga Nidra is that it is trauma-sensitive. The practice of Yoga Nidra is so relaxing it can cause emotions to arise. This is one of the positive aspects as in this way, emotions can be resolved. But it can be difficult for people with trauma if things rise too quickly. iRest has methods in place to support people in this regard.
iRest Yoga Nidra is used in a wide range of settings, and the iRest Institute has invested in researching its efficacy in treating different presentations with various populations. The research has shown that it has helped to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia; deal with daily stresses; reduce the tendency for relapse in people with chemical dependency; manage chronic pain; overcome symptoms of trauma and increase the perception of quality of life. And with daily prolonged iRest Meditation, the need for night-time sleep can be reduced from 1 to 4 hours a night. The American Military has adopted iRest Yoga Nidra as a treatment for PTSD and pain management.
Whichever type of Yoga Nidra you choose it is extremely accessible. It can be a helpful way into practices like yoga and meditation. Most people can access Yoga Nidra without difficulty and find it beneficial. Even people who feel daunted by other meditation or yoga practices, because they think they are not flexible enough or that their minds won’t be able to be still enough, find they can benefit from Yoga Nidra. It is simple to learn, but it can then become a tool for life.