Picture a person doing yoga, and your first image might be something like the downward-facing dog or wheel poses, where your hands and feet touch the floor while your torso is in the air.
Yoga nidra is different. It's commonly used to achieve a state called non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR, according to Stanford neuroscience professor Dr. Andrew Huberman, who coined the acronym. NSDR has been hailed by Google CEO Sundar Pichai as his trusty relaxation method.
"While I find it difficult to meditate, I can go to YouTube, find an NSDR video," Pichai recently told The Wall Street Journal. "They're available in 10, 20, or 30 minutes, so I do that occasionally."
Unlike traditional yoga, the practice of yoga nidra is stationary. You lie on your back on the ground and follow guided instructions like focusing on your breathing or bringing attention to various parts of the body. You're meant to fall into "a liminal space between being awake and falling asleep," yoga nidra instructor Tracee Stanley previously told Insider.
Yoga nidra was popularized by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, who called it a kind of "conscious sleep," in the 1960s.
It has been said to produce a variety of benefits. One study of more than 700 people from September 2020 found that those who tried yoga nidra "showed lower stress, higher well-being, and improved sleep quality" compared to their peers in the control group.
NSDR can also helpreduce anxiety, ease pain, and even accelerate learning, according to Huberman.
After learning more about it, I tried yoga nidra for a week.
It was pretty hit or miss for me
On my first day of trying it, I eased into it with a 10-minute yoga nidra that Huberman includes on his website. The guidance was highly specific: At one point, while asking listeners to focus on various parts of the body, the instructor listed each finger and toe individually. I hadn't expected this level of specificity, but I found the instructions throughout the week were generally just as granular.
People sometimes fall asleep during yoga nidra, and instructors in many of the videos I tried this week would preface their videos by saying not to do so.
Besides Huberman's recommendation, I also searched yoga nidra on YouTube, as Pichai says he does, and tried videos that popped up. Many involved things like paying attention to your breathing, focusing on different body parts and nearby sounds, visualizing yourself and your environment, and setting and repeating a Sankalpa, which is an intention or resolution you want to come to fruition.
Throughout the week, I struggled to calm racing thoughts in my mind and get into the right mindset for these slow guided videos; my mind would sometimes linger on things I had just finished doing beforehand or wander to things I had to do later.
Another obstacle was the noise around me. Though there are sections of the video dedicated to focusing on sound, I'd sometimes find my mind still preoccupied with nearby noises even after we'd moved on, which distracted me from the new instructions at hand. I think I need an extremely quiet environment for yoga nidra.
There were some minor successes, though
One video seemed to do the trick for me. As it played, I felt I was in a kind of limbo, as if my body really had fallen asleep somehow while my mind remained awake. I almost felt like I was conscious of myself sleeping. I noticed my breathing and heart rate change. Opening my eyes afterwards, I felt as if I was waking up from a night's sleep, except I felt much better and more alert.
After the end of the week, yoga nidra was a mixed bag. I may just need more time to get used to the slow pace and stillness of the practice. A few videos were relaxing at times, but only because of the speaker's voice or the video's music; I didn't notice slowed breathing or a slowed heart rate or any other clues that I'd achieved NSDR. When it worked for me, it was a wholly unique experience but that was rare.