Chitra Malolan
Chitra is a Health Communicator and Wellness Coach based in India. She has a Masters in Professional and Technical Communication from New Jersey Institute of Technology(NJIT).

Chitra Malolan
Chitra is a Health Communicator and Wellness Coach based in India. She has a Masters in Professional and Technical Communication from New Jersey Institute of Technology(NJIT).

I walk into the waiting room of Lifecare Health services. There is a pervasively calm ambience. As I wait to meet Dr. Shanthi— a practicing Ayurvedic physician and yoga-based lifestyle coach— I flip through the pages of a coffee table book filled with images of people lying down and lost in calmness. They are images of yoga nidra sessions. 

What is yoga nidra?

An ancient Indian practice, yoga nidra is a tool to get good sleep and be well rested and rejuvenated. You guessed it right if you think it to be a form of yoga. However, yoga nidra doesn’t require you to move a limb. Instead, you are tactfully taken into a world of serene stillness.

How it works

In this form of yoga, all you need to do is lie flat and listen to a guided relaxation instruction. As you do this, you will be transported from a conscious, alert state to a relaxed state of semi-conscious awareness. This is achieved through a series of breath control and body focus techniques where you enter a state of non-doing and relaxation.  

The shavasana. Woman laying on mat in relaxing pose on the floor, front view, nidra yoga class. Fitness, stress, routine, mind body, rest, meditation, tranquility and deep breathing concept
Yoga nidra is a style of yoga that involves relaxing on a flat surface. It is known as “sleepless sleep” because you’re guided into a state between sleep and wakefulness without losing awareness.

Yoga nidra leads to “sleepless” or “conscious” sleep

Before we delve deep into this style of yoga, let me tell you that its main focus is not to put you in a state of unconscious sleep. Rather, it leads you into physiological sleep while maintaining awareness of yourself and your surroundings. It is known as “sleepless sleep” because you’re guided into a state between sleep and wakefulness without losing awareness. Satyananda Saraswati, who had repacked yoga nidra to suit contemporary needs, explains it as an activity or state of “conscious sleep” and says that it positively influences the quality of sleep. In its standard 30-min length, it can even compensate for lack of night sleep.  

Yoga nidra is not the same as meditation 

Meditation and yoga nidra both work on our consciousness albeit with a different focus and methodology. Yoga nidra’s goal is complete relaxation. While you usually sit upright during meditation, yoga nidra is done lying down. During meditation your focus is on the breath or a mantra. In contrast, yoga nidra is a guided practice, which means your thoughts are guided by an instructor. This makes it easier and less stressful to practice than meditation. Within a single session of meditation, you may experience multiple states of consciousness. In yoga nidra, you move through different states to achieve a state of deep sleep that is deeper than the dreaming state. This happens even as your mind is alert and your body is in a state of complete rest.

Yoga nidra might treat sleep disorders

This style of yoga has been found to be effective for insomnia. Dr. Shanthi believes in identifying the trigger factor for insomnia and addressing it through a yoga nidra practice. She guides her clients into a deep state of relaxation and slowly helps them traverse back to a conscious state. 

Sleepless woman suffering from insomnia, sleep apnea or stress. Tired and exhausted lady. Headache or migraine. Awake in the middle of the night. Frustrated person with problem. Alarm clock with time.
Yoga nidra can be an effective treatment for insomnia. It can also reduce stress and improve hypertension, mood and cognition.

Yoga nidra benefits health and well-being 

Dr. Shanthi says yoga nidra is more than a physical healer as it focuses on mental and spiritual health. Neuroimaging studies have shown that our central nervous system responds positively to yoga nidra and helps combat mild depression and anxiety.  Combining it with conventional medical treatment for depression improves the outcomes. Regular practice of yoga nidra improves blood glucose levels, reduces headaches and improves menstrual disorders, hypertension and diabetes. Even if you are already healthy, yoga nidra can reduce stress and improve mood and cognition.

The four stages of Yoga Nidra 

As you start practicing yoga nidra, the electrical activity in your brain will gradually slow down and traverse from operating in high-level beta waves, which reflect the most awakened state, down to delta waves where you experience the deepest sleep.

Veda Bharatı, an exponent of yoga nidra, brings forth a four- stage model that evolves with practice. It is not essential that you reach all four stages to reap the benefits. You can adapt and practice depending on your threshold and need, Dr. Shanthi says.

From beta to alpha

The first stage consists of preparatory relaxation exercises primarily engaging the physical body. This leads to alpha brain wave states. Alpha waves indicate a state of physical relaxation. 

From alpha to theta

As you calm down further, your brain operates in the theta state, which is when the REM dream state of sleep happens. 

The theta brain wave range is quite similar to clinical hypnosis. It is an intermediate state between waking and dreaming.

From theta to delta

In this third stage you reach the state of yoga nidra and produce delta waves. The delta state is the dreamless sleep cycle of the brain and is associated with deep and restorative sleep. At this stage, there is an awareness of breathing alone with no other thought or perception and the body is functionally asleep.

The fourth state

After thorough mastery of the preceding three stages, the deepest state of meditative awareness becomes one’s normal state of awareness. 

Brain waves abstract illustration with man profile, blue background.
Yoga nidra shifts your brain from operating in beta waves, which reflect the most awakened state, to delta waves where you experience the deepest sleep.

How to do yoga nidra?

Browse through a few audios and select the ones that you prefer. Start with a short 15-minute session and gradually extend the duration to 30 minutes. What if you get bored with the same audio after a while? Dr. Shanthi recommends you have a good collection and switch after a few sessions to sustain interest.

The audio will guide you through the following steps:


Find a comfortable space to lie down with or without a pillow, like a mat or a bed. Get into savasana (corpse pose) where you lie flat and let go of any thoughts in your mind. Try to keep your palms facing upward and prevent any contact between your limbs. Close your eyes and spread your legs and arms in a 45 degree angle.


Think about why you want to do this practice and establish a personal goal.

Rapid Shifting of Consciousness

The audio would guide you to shift your awareness throughout your entire body, focusing on each part.


You will shift awareness from your body to your breath, inhaling and exhaling in a controlled manner.


The audio will take you through imagery of scenes and emotions. 


Here you enter a deep state of rest where the sensation to body or mind disappears, and you enter the theta phase of your brain waves. Regain focus of your personal goal.

Awareness of surroundings

Bringing awareness back to the body and present moment.


At this point you may be asleep. If not, take a moment to reflect on the experience and go to bed. With a calmed brain and relaxed body, you will get a good night’s sleep.

The bottom line

Yoga nidra is a means to sleep and not sleep in itself. The ease to do, self-guided approach, with no hassle of travel, makes it a must try option in your wellness regimen. Remember, it may take a while to get successful at practicing it to its full potential, but it all begins with a start!

Giving this a try? Download LIFE Extend today to track your mindfulness, sleep and other healthy behaviors