Many people ask me how yoga nidra differs from simply taking a nap or going to sleep for the night. Our brains and minds are so very complex, that it can be a little tricky to explain.
When we go to sleep, our consciousness disconnects itself from both the sensory and motor channels of experience. Progressively, there becomes an absence of conscious thought, sensation, and movement as the connection between the brain and the external world dissolves. We gradually lose sensory awareness. Most events during sleep is passive, automatic (bodily functions) and beyond our control (dreams, sleepwalking). In sleep, we disconnect from the outer world and connect with the inner mind, however there is no conscious awareness of the true nature of the self at a deeper level .
In Yoga Nidra, which translates to "yogic sleep," or in my teacher Jennifer Reis's words "Divine Sleep," while it may appear that an individual is taking a nap, their consciousness is actually functioning at a level of deep conscious awareness. The goal is to reach that delicate state between being awake and asleep. The mind functions in a complex and dynamic way, and the senses continue to be activated.
Once a level of deep yet wakeful relaxation is achieved, it then becomes possible for a person to be led through the physical body, energy body, the emotional body, the wisdom/witness body, and the bliss body-- all of which are called "koshas," or sheaths encompassing your true self. In visual terms, it is like peeling an onion layer by layer, or opening a flower to reach the delicate center. That delicate center is the essence of our being, the Self. In divine sleep, we can examine our limiting beliefs and preconceived notions, and in so doing, bring awareness, compassion, and healing to our deepest wounds.
Amazingly, despite (or maybe because of) the mind's hard work in yoga nidra, we come out of the practice feeling healed, renewed, and energized. In Divine Sleep we notice and acknowledge all the layers of our being in order to bring balance and harmony to our true self, and in so doing, can bring this mindful awareness to our thoughts and actions in the waking world.