What's the Difference Between Yoga Nidra and Meditation?

3 Unique Qualities of Yoga Nidra Practice vs. Traditional Meditation

by Caroline Stewart

Yoga Nidra is quickly becoming a very popular Meditative practice.  And for good reason!  Yoga Nidra offers unique insight into our multi-layer, multi-dimensional Self.  The practice also provides deep relaxation and opportunity for reworking belief patterns that are limiting.

The wisdom teaching of Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation practice that leads you on a journey of expanded consciousness, through the 5 sheaths/koshas of Self - physical, energetic/subtle, mental, wisdom, and bliss. Rather than focusing on the development of just one, the practice of Yoga Nidra provides you with a direct experience with all layers of Self.

The deep relaxation offered by Yoga Nidra creates a quiet and receptive brain state, which is fertile ground for revealing and releasing deeply held limiting beliefs (samskaras). Through use of a Sankalpa or personal resolve, the practice provides space to rework the inner programming we create through our lives. Through Yoga Nidra, when we see that we hold beliefs that are limiting, we can offer them up for change so that we operate from a more open and honest way of being.

The Benefits of Yoga Nidra Practice

Beyond the obvious benefits of Yoga Nidra Practice including deep rest and relaxation, Yoga Nidra has also been found to:

  • Improve sleep

  • Decrease anxiety and experience of depression

  • Alleviates stress

  • Direct experience with all layers of Self

  • Gain clarity and focus

  • Greater experience of presence

  • Helps to rework limiting beliefs, patterns and habits


What is Meditation?

First off, let’s clear something up.  Meditation can be described in MANY different ways.  Meditation is a practice AND it’s a state of mind.  Meditation is used as a tool AND and also as devotional offering.  There isn’t a neat little box that we can put Meditation into and call it a day.  With so many ways to describe Meditation, and even to practice, it is helpful to touch on the foundations of meaning first so that we’re all on the same page.

My favourite definition of Meditation is…”to bring the body and the mind into the same place at the same time”.  This encompasses so much of what Meditation is into a few simple words.

Uniting the body and the mind is a concept that is very familiar to those who practice Yoga.  The literal translation of Yoga is ‘to yoke’, or ‘to unite’.  Uniting the body, the mind, and the Spirit.  And yes, this means that Yoga IS a Meditative practice.

The next part of the definition of Meditation is about space and time.  “The same place, at the same time” has a lot to do with attention and awareness.  When we focus our attention on the fullness of our physical, mental and energetic experience, whether that is via breath-work, guided practice, or even open awareness, we immediately drop into the present moment.

This quality of presence opens us up to an awareness of the reality of our experience - right here, right now.  Ultimately, we drop into the deep NOW.  And as Eckhart Tolle puts it, the Now is our only true reality and the place where our attention is most needed.

Realise deeply that the present moment is all that you ever have.  Make the Now the primary focus of your life.
— Eckhart Tolle

When you learn about the practice of Yoga Nidra, it may not seem to fit into the traditional definition of Meditation.  And that’s ok!  As we’re learning together, Meditation is about so much more than silent sits and focusing on your breath.

So, let’s talk about what makes Yoga Nidra unique from traditional seated Meditation and learn a little bit more about why Yoga Nidra is such a popular practice.


3 Unique Qualities of Yoga Nidra Practice vs. Traditional Meditation

1. Practiced Laying Down

Traditional Meditation is practiced seated.

Yoga Nidra is practiced in the posture of Savasana - laying down on your back with as many comfort items and as much support as needed.  In this posture, you maintain complete stillness throughout the practice so that focus is on your inner experience.

2. Fully Guided Practice

Traditional Meditation involves placing your attention on an anchor, such as breath, mantra or other focal point.  Much of the practice is then self-guided.

For the full length of Yoga Nidra practice you are guided by voice.  The Meditation Guide speaks through the practice, helping you to maintain connection to the outer world while exploring the depths of your inner layers of Self.


3. Exploration of the Layers of Self (Koshas)

Traditional Meditation is most often experienced in the ‘waking state’, associated with the Beta and Alpha wave brain states.

Yoga Nidra explores the deeper layers of Self, moving beyond the waking states into the more subtle layers of Self.

When asking ourselves ‘Who am I?’ we often focus on 1 aspect of Self. It might be the physical, mental or even spiritual. These identifications lack integration and fail to explain the full experience and breadth of Self.

A more comprehensive way to understand the fullness of our being is via the 5 Koshas. We can think of these sheaths as almost like nesting dolls. While at any time we can experience each of the sheaths, the more subtle sheaths are accessible as we move through the outermost sheaths.


And here’s a BONUS one…

Yoga Nidra offers us the opportunity to work with a Sankalpa, or personal resolve.  This personal resolve is typically linked to a limiting belief that we are reworking. A limiting belief is a belief that we hold that is no longer benefiting us.

In Yoga Nidra, we implant this personal resolve deeply into our subconscious, while in Meditative practice.  Beliefs are formed in the subconscious, and when we make changes at this level, we effectively create new belief patterns and ultimately experiences in our life.


What will I experience in a Yoga Nidra Practice?

A full Yoga Nidra practice includes guidance through all of the layers of

Self.  Before even beginning, we set up a Sankalpa (that’s the personal resolve I was talking about). Then, guidance begins with the outermost layer of Self and moves inwards.

Here’s what you’ll experience each step of the way:

1 - Physical Layer (Annamaya Kosha)

In Yoga Nidra, we engage with the Annamaya Kosha through the rotation of consciousness. This practice helps us develop sensitivity to our body and re-awaken the feeling of presence that is easily lost in our busy lives.

2 - Energy Layer (Pranamaya Kosha)

In Yoga Nidra, Prana represents the positive energy in the body and is typically explored through breath and visualizing movement of light or other symbols of dynamic energy. As prana is ESSENTIAL for health, being the source of physical life and governing our biological processes, when we gain direct experience with the Pranamaya Kosha, we gain wisdom on the movement, growth, creation of life.

3 - Mind Layer (Manomaya Kosha)

In the Yoga Nidra practice, we utilize opposite sensations to experience the mind in it’s fullest capacity - by awakening thought, exploring its seeming opposite, and then harmonizing the experience through acceptance and release.

4 - Creative Layer (Vijnanomaya Kosha)

Through visualization and imagery, we access deeper parts of Self that are BEYOND limited thought patterns.  Visualization is a powerful tool to help us release old limiting patterns/beliefs (samskaras) and to see with clear sight (clarity). Engaging with layer of Self through Yoga Nidra helps us to realize liberation of mind/consciousness and understand the transformative and creative fire that exists within us.

5 - Bliss Layer (Anandamaya Kosha)

In the timeless moment of Now, we take our seat as the Witness. Only truth, only Unity, exists within this deepest layer of Self.  The more that we practice Yoga Nidra, and other such Wisdom practices, the more that we touch into this Universal Self. It is from this SOURCE that we are created. Tracking time and experience in this space offers us the perspective of Truth, and of realization of our purpose as BEings of the Divine.

Each step of the Yoga Nidra practice takes you deeper and deeper into your innermost layers of Self.  In this space, you will find a wonderful sense of calm, relaxation and clarity.

While Yoga Nidra practice generally follows the format I’ve shared, there are many unique practices out there.  Check out the many offerings available in my Meditation Library, and also check out Insight Timer, the FREE Meditation app.