Yoga nidra: what do people think? (or Rachel’s mini-research project)

By nature, I am incredibly nosy. I am fascinated by other people, their lives, their thoughts, their conversations. On the tube, I am attracted to people’s conversations instead of my book or music. I am even known to get distracted by conversations at the neighbouring table in restaurants, which seem far more interesting than anything I have to say.

In my other life, one of the tools we use to better understand what it’s like living with a chronic disease is in essence a version of my restaurant nosiness, but on social media – that’s any public forum (not your private Facebook page!), from Reddit to Mumsnet to the cesspool that is Twitter. You can learn a lot from reading what people post online. So I decided that a fun little research project would be to look at what people think of yoga nidra – what do they think it is, why they decide to try it and what have they experienced through it. Brace yourself, this is a fairly long post.

You can find out how I did it by scrolling to the bottom of the page, but for now, to the interesting stuff:

Mental wellbeing is the primary goal for practice

Most people seek out yoga nidra to feel more released, tackle stress, release emotions and calm the mind. In some cases, this is to help them sleep (more on sleep below, that’s where it gets interesting). Great, because we know that it can help with all of these things.

But…

Although most research has focused on the benefits of yoga nidra on clinically diagnosed conditions (like anxiety and depression), there are few people with a clinically diagnosed condition practicing, at least online anyway. I don’t really know what to make of that. Maybe we need to build a bit more awareness and create more specific resources for those with such conditions (and to be honest, any chronic condition, as there is always some sort of psychological involvement).

A profound state of relaxation is the most cited experience

People report feeling a state of relaxation they have never felt before, with both body and mind feeling restored, calmer and clearer than ever before. I particularly liked the description of feeling “like jello“.

So relaxed, he can chill everywhere

A deep meditative state is an unexpected bonus

However, when discussing experiences, deep meditation or altered state of consciousness are also common topics of conversations. In some instances, people talk about experiencing hallucinations or strange sensations in their bodies that they cannot rationally explain. Some discuss feeling a deep sense of connection with the universe and other human beings – in essence, a spiritual experience.

I see myself floating in space. It’s weird, but I love it, and it makes me feel like a part of something greater than myself. Nothing else in life has given me that sort of spiritual feeling and I am a pretty staunch non-spiritual person.

I should point out for those of you who have never tried it that you shouldn’t expect to get all trippy with the yoga nidra. It can happen but it most likely won’t.

Other positive experiences include:

  • Increased creativity
  • Increased interoception (being more aware of what’s happening inside the body)
  • Improved mental wellbeing

Notably, in some instances people noted that they particularly enjoyed the guided element of yoga nidra and found it a lot more engaging that other forms of meditation – definitely a bonus!

But it’s not all positive

Many reported negative experiences either during or following a yoga nidra, and reached out online to find out if this is ‘normal’ and what to do next time. Examples of negative experiences include:

  • Increased tension
  • Anxiety
  • Even a sense of panic
  • Appearance of deep-seated memories they can’t really handle

No benefit was also reported. You can’t win them all, can you? It’s not like it’s a panacea.

Sleep

This was an interesting topic in itself, spanning goals, experienced and perceptions of what yoga nidra is. It’s pretty much the biggest topic overall, so I felt that it deserved its own little section.

Yoga nidra = sleep

The perception is that yoga nidra is either:

  • A tool to fall asleep/have better sleep
  • or a deep meditative state that is similar to sleep

I wonder how much the sleep association is due to the English translation of yogic sleep? One person said they believed that this is the ‘Western influence’ on yoga nidra and the original and untainted practice was very much focused on deep meditation and altered consciousness. What original and untainted practice they are talking about I’m not sure, given that it’s a beautiful blend of Western and Eastern practices.

It’s not that people don’t talk about it as a form of meditation (in fact, one of the most common questions novices had was “what’s the difference with meditation?“. It’s just that the majority approach yoga nidra as a way to fall asleep or in general experience that it helps them fall asleep – likely because it helps them relax and quietens the mind. Many of those who suffer from insomnia also use yoga nidra as a way to get through the day after a night of little sleep. As mentioned above, the deep meditative state and altered consciousness experiences come as a bonus with practice.

Kitty definitely won’t give up sleep. It’s his spiritual experience.

And here’s something a little weirder

The really interesting, but slightly disturbing, discussion though centres around using yoga nidra as a sleep replacement – either to be able to sleep less (and do more) or to bypass sleep altogether. I’m not making it up, people wan’t to stop sleeping. Here’s one example:

Has anybody here become proficient to the point of severely reduced/removed need for sleep through yoga nidra?

Which was followed by an equally weird response:

Spiritual progress can also remove your need for sleep

Where does this crazy notion come from you ask? You may have heard the urban legend (“it is said”, “they say” etc, you know the drill) that one short session of yoga nidra equals 2 hours, 4 hours or, in some variants, up to 5 hours of sleep. If you Google this now, there’s one prominent YouTube video that claims to offer you 5 hours of sleep through a 10 min practice (so not even a nice long yoga nidra session).

Most of us sleep about 7 hours every night so maybe, at a push, when you get really ‘good’ at yoga nidra, you just skip sleeping altogether. More time for scrolling the internet and buying shit online.

As my yoga nidra teacher pointed out, if you can find the scientific reference (as opposed to random websites and “it is said”, “they say”, “my teacher said” etc that supports this claim), I would love to see it. God, now I’m thinking I should do a whole post on bullshit yoga claims, now that would be fun.

Some other interesting bits

The majority practice yoga nidra with recordings, with only about 1/4 of people stating they practice in-person with a teacher (is that bad? I don’t know. I don’t really practice with a teacher very often either). Of recording resources, youtube was the most popular one, followed by insight timer. Other apps or unknown or misc recordings were also mentioned, including some that I’d never heard of before like Yoga Nidra app, I AM Yoga Nidra app and Simple Habit. The lovely Yoga Nidra Network also go a shout-out.

There are also some misconceptions that the Bihar school is the only real yoga nidra out there and that what makes yoga nidra different from meditation is the setting of an intention, or a sankalpa.

How do these findings compare with your experiences?

Methodology

Methodology

I collected posts from 2019 and 2020 from Reddit and Mumsnet by putting in the search term “yoga nidra” and collating responses. I only analysed posts that were non-promotional and had one or more comments (which is indicative of some sort of conversation/discussion). Reddit posts were specifically from the sub-Reddits Yoga, Meditation, Yoga Nidra and Eradicate Insomnia (that should tell you how much yoga nidra is associated with sleep!).

I analysed 42 conversations from Reddit and 11 posts from Mumsnet using thematic analysis and a qualitative analysis software to make life easier. Tags related to:

  • goals
  • experiences
  • perceptions
  • common questions
  • access

Limitations

This is obviously a tiny little analysis that I did for fun over the past couple of days – as per my usual commentary of others’ work, the number of conversations analysed is way too small. Would love to do more should I get the time and resources to do so.

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