‘Yoga Nidra’ is a guided deep relaxation practice in which you are verbally guided to attend to each part of your body in turn. In this supported body scan, touch is also used to draw the attention to different parts of the body. During Yoga Nidra, the entire body relaxes, bit by bit (sending it to sleep / ‘Nidra’) whilst the mind remains awake and aware (although often people do relax so much that they enter a much-needed healing sleep).
Touching, pressing and squeezing parts of the body stimulates nerves and this can strengthen neural pathways between the brain and different parts of the body. When a part of the body is touched, our mind usually automatically goes to that area. Exploring the entire body with kind attention gives us a sense of ourselves as a whole. As our attention is brought into an area we may consciously or unconsciously soften and let go of unnecessary and unconscious tension or holding, simply by becoming aware.
What you need
Before you start make sure that the person is lying comfortably on their back with whatever support they need to rest as fully as possible. The supported body scan can also be carried out with the person on their front or side, or sat in a chair. For this practice, it is not necessary to be positioned symmetrically. Ensure that they are at a comfortable temperature and continue checking throughout. You will need to have enough space to move around them.
Guidance and instructions
- Sit yourself comfortably by the person’s side. Take a few moments to relax and settle into your posture. Feel your sit bones, at the base of your pelvis, and become aware of your own breathing. You might like to practice one of the 5 minute breathing practices to settle the body and mind before you start the supported body scan that can be found here
- Choose a time of day when the person is least likely to fall asleep (although falling asleep is fine). Check that the room temperature is comfortable (you can use blankets if necessary), the lighting is soft and there is little distraction or chance of being interrupted for the next 15 minutes. You can use relaxing music if you wish (this can be helpful if there is any background noise). It is a good idea to use the same music when repeating the practice so that the person may learn to associate the music with the practice.
- Communicate what is about to happen in whatever way is appropriate i.e. that you are going to name parts of their body and as you do so, you will touch or squeeze that part of the body. They do not need to help, just rest and enjoy the changing sensations as much as they can.
- Only touch one part of the body at a time (for example, try not to lift the arm to touch the hand, if at all possible). This ensures all of the attention and focus is on one part of the body.
- Very slowly increase the pressure of your touch, as much as is appropriate and safe for the person, until you feel bone or muscle (this might be quite a firm squeeze). Firm pressure gives clearer feedback to the nervous system and when contracted (tight) muscle is met with firm pressure it can encourage it to let go and relax. Then very slowly release the pressure. You can’t go too slowly as going slow draws the attention and allows time for processing. Observe the person’s reactions at all times to check that what you are doing is ok. If you notice any concerning changes in skin colour, breathing or non-verbal communication, pause and give time for the person to settle and then resume if it is ok to do so.
- Starting on one side of the body, name the body part (as shown below), intermittently including which side of the body you are focusing on, touch, then slowly squeeze (or just touch if squeezing is not appropriate) the body part in the following order:- Left thumb
– Left index finger
– Left middle Finger
– Left little finger
– Left hand
– Left wrist
– Left forearm
– Left elbow
– Left upper arm
– Left shoulder
– Left upper chest
– Left side of the ribs (keep a hand pressing lightly here for a few breaths, drawing their attention into the movement of their ribs as they breathe)
– Left belly (Just rest the weight of your hand WITHOUT PRESSING)
– Left side of the waist (as above)
– Left side of the pelvis
– Left thigh, from hip to knee
– Left knee (just cup the knee cap)
– Left lower leg
– Left ankle
– Left heel
– Inner and the outer edges of the left foot (squeezed towards each other)
– Top and bottom of the left foot (squeezed towards each other)
– The toes (squeeze and gently tug)
– Left big toe
– Left second toe
– Left third toe
– Left fourth toe
– Left little toe
- Take your hands away and give the person time to process, take in and notice any differences between the two sides of the body.
- Communicate to the person that you are going to move to the other side of their body and repeat from step 6.
- End the body scan by encouraging (in whatever way is best to communicate) them to notice any changes they feel in their body and let them know what the body scan is finishing.
What to observe, assess and record
Consider observing, assessing and recording before, during and after:
- Facial expressions before, during and after the body scan
- Muscle tone and posture, looking and feeling for signs of relaxation and tension and comfort and discomfort
- Changes in skin colour
- Levels of energy
- Behaviours before and after the body scan
- Effect on sleep
- Effect on appetite
- Effect on co-ordination
- Ability to concentrate
- Eye contact (where applicable)
© Amber Ward, Specialist Yoga Teacher
Created October 2020