The word yoga means inner communion; the process that leads to this state. Nidra means sleep. Thus yoga nidra can be defined as ‘yogic sleep’. It is both the name of a specific yogic practice and a state of being. The mechanics of the practice are easy to understand and define, but the state of yoga nidra will be understood differently by different people as follows:
Sleep: to a person who is tired, exhausted and constantly worried, the state of yoga nidra will mean only one thing … a deep, refreshing sleep. Nothing more, nothing less. Many are the people who practise yoga nidra alone or attend yoga nidra classes only for one purpose: to sink into the oblivion of sleep. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, since your deep sleep will bring many benefits. In yoga nidra lessons one is generally asked to remain wakeful, but if you cannot do this, do not worry . . . enjoy your sleep. Sometime in the future you can try to remain awake.
Psychic sleep: to other people, possibly those who have been practising yoga for a few years, yoga nidra will mean a state of conscious dreaming, where one will see visions of the subconscious mind. One will seem to hover in a state midway between sleep and wakefulness. In this state one will confront subconscious problems, suppressions, fears, etc. Regular practice will slowly clean and polish the mind.
Sleepless sleep: this is the highest state of yoga nidra where one balances on the razor’s edge between introversion and extroversion. This is the path of sushumna and corresponds to the awakening of the kundalini2. This is the blissful and mystical state of ‘yoga’ that corresponds to superconsciousness. It has been described by innumerable yogis, saints, bhaktas and sages throughout history. In the great yogic scripture called Yogataravali, Shankaracharya has written: “When sankalpa (desires) and vikalpa (fancies and imaginations) are rooted out then one is influenced no more by karma. When sankalpa and vikalpa are removed by constant yogic practice the ever-blissful state of yoga nidra dawns.”
We have defined three specific states of yoga nidra. As a practice we can describe it as a method of inducing physical and nervous tranquillity, as a method of ridding the mind of chronic tension, and of inducing inner knowledge and meditation. It nulls the rational thought processes and brings inner peace.