Yoga Nidra and Meditation – what’s the difference?

Yoga Nidra and Meditation – what’s the difference?

Monday, August 8, 2022

The key differences between Yoga Nidra and meditation

Both meditation and Yoga Nidra have similar aims – to still the mind and body, and develop a heightened sense of awareness, but there are some key differences between the two practices. 

The most obvious differences are:

Traditionally meditation is practiced in a seated position, ideally cross-legged. The positives for those able to maintain a long spine, open shoulders, chest, heart and lungs are a strong back and core, improved respiration and concentration, and an open heart.  

The challenge for many is to be comfortable for long enough to still the body and mind. 

Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down, unless this is physically impossible.

The positive of supine meditation is the surrender that comes from not working with gravity to maintain an upright position, which for most immediately brings a level of relaxation. 

The challenge for most beginners is to remain awake and aware throughout the practice, since the association with sleep when lying down is strong.

Meditation is usually self-guided.

This works well for those who have found the right style of meditation for them.

Yoga Nidra is usually guided by a recorded script or live voice. 

This works well for most people, simply following the directions to guide the body (and therefore the mind), through systematic deep relaxation.

Less obvious differences are:

In meditation, we remain in the waking state of consciousness, and gradually allow the unconscious and subconscious layers to manifest themselves.  We can then observe these layers from a state of single-pointed concentration and non-attachment.

In Yoga Nidra we leave the waking state of consciousness, and go to the Deep Sleep state of consciousness, but, paradoxically, remain fully awake. It is a deeply relaxing state, where the strength of samskaras (impressions or memories) of attachment and fear is reduced.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  Albert Einstein

Meditation and Yoga Nidra work very well together as companion practices, enabling us to purify the deepest levels of the mind, and to allow what was previously unconscious into an expanded conscious state. This expansion includes the realization of the pure consciousness that permeates all levels. Both practices bring many benefits.

Yoga Nidra brings incredible calmness, quietness and clarity; it is one of the deepest of all meditations, leading awareness through many levels of mental process to a place of absolute stillness and insight.  A sense of calm detachment arises when we step back from our dualistic feelings of attachment and aversion, by becoming witnesses. We are able to observe the data without experiencing emotions habitually associated with memories and events.

I find seated meditation impossible. Is it worth trying Yoga Nidra instead?

Many people don’t get on with seated meditation, for all kinds of valid reasons. Yoga Nidra is a great way for those who fall into this category to experience deep relaxation and meditative awareness without having to sit with their thoughts, a process some find so difficult or unhelpful they abandon the practice.

People experiencing anxiety, stress or depression who find seated meditation impossible often find Yoga Nidra helps, and are happy to discover how simple it is. Also known as extreme meditation, it is the easiest, most effective way to create a bridge between conscious awareness and the subconscious mind, to access the strengths and talents that usually lie hidden within, buried under old patterns.

How long does it take for Yoga Nidra practice to work?

You will feel relaxed after just one practice, but to experience life-changing benefits, Yoga Nidra needs to be embedded like any form of meditation. This comes after weeks, months or years of sustained daily practice, it doesn’t happen over the course of a weekend.

‘When mind has transcended maya (delusion), when ego has become static, when senses are no more functioning, and when all communications between the mind and the senses have been cut, when you and I no longer exist for a period of time, that is when Yoga Nidra starts.’ Yoga Nidra – (Adi Sankara’s Yoga Taravali, 8th century Vedanta master) translation by T.K.V. Desikachar

 “Our essential nature is boundless consciousness.  We are rooted in it when the mind focuses and settles.” 

Yoga Sutras 1.3