Yoga nidra: the dream practice

Tap into the magic of your dreams and creativity with yoga nidra, an ancient practice with powerful benefits. By Shuntao Li

I’ve been practicing something special that most people take for granted…the practice of dreams. To be specific, I explore the swirling state just before falling asleep. It’s called yoga nidra.

Yoga nidra comes from the ancient tantric tradition, and nidra means sleep. It’s usually practiced lying down, say in a savasana pose, or in any other position that you’re comfortable to stay still in. The teacher will guide you into a deep relaxation state, where you still have awareness but are very close to sleep. The name might throw some people off, maybe it gives off the impression that it’s some crazy new age practice, but it’s really simple and accessible. It’s just a type of liminal dreaming, a non-sleep deep rest.

We can, of course, arrive in this state without any guide, and we’ve all been there. Think of a time you doze off on a train or when you are fighting to stay awake in front of a boring TV show. Your consciousness meanders among a mixture of sound, random images, visions or memories. Unlike REM sleep, it goes so fast you won’t be able to recall anything when you wake up.

Group of young sporty people practicing yoga lesson, doing Savasana pose, Corpse exercise, Dead Body, working out, indoor full length, students training in sport club, studio

"Yoga nidra involves not just self-inducing calm, but also involves directing our focus on something."

The experience is wonderful and bizarre and the only thing it requires is for you to surrender, give up any focus and let go. It sounds easy but a lot of people have trouble relaxing or sleeping right? Well, the practice of yoga nidra has a systematic process to relax the body: from getting into a comfortable position, breathing, body scan to awakening of opposite senses and the use of visualisation.

It’s difficult to describe it because every experience is different and you may have a deeper or shallower state each time. As you practice more, you’ll develop a more sensitive awareness of what’s going on in your consciousness and be able to hold a longer and more vivid practice.

Group of young sporty people practicing yoga lesson with instructor in gym, lying in Dead Body pose, doing Savasana, Corpse exercise, friends relaxing after working out in sport club, indoor image

Needless to say, yoga nidra allows you to sleep better at night. I love Dr Andrew Huberman’s explanation: “Yoga nidra involves not just self-inducing calm, but also involves directing our focus on something. People generally struggle to fall asleep because they think we need to turn off our thoughts completely like a switch. But the transition to sleep involves allowing your thoughts to be fragmented and then we become relaxed, then the brain enters a state where space and time become fluid and are not under our conscious control.”

It’s also a rather remarkable way to channel for creativity and problem solving. The best way I can describe it is it’s like a fermentation process; during daytime, our mind collects everything we experience consciously and subconsciously. During the nidra state, everything randomly floats up to the surface and becomes fermented in weird and wonderful ways. This is when the magic of creativity happens. I often go to the practice with a question and am able to come out with an answer. It sounds crazy but there are many famous stories about this. Just google: “How scientists use dreams for creative problem solving”.

Ever since I come across yoga nidra, I’ve been looking forward to sleep or naps, because every time it’s a new nidra practice and experience for me. When you have 10 minutes next time, why don’t you find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down and listen to a nidra to experience it for yourself?

Shuntao Li is a qualified yoga instructor and yoga nidra teacher. Find her on Instagram: @_taosyoga_

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