Meditation for Relaxation and Stress Relief
Our page on an introduction to yoga gives you a background to yoga and highlights many of its benefits for physical and mental wellbeing.
This page focuses purely on yoga for relaxation, introducing a guided meditation that can have profound calming and stress-relieving benefits.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra (sometimes called “yogic sleep” or “dynamic sleep”) is a guided meditation technique involving conscious, systematic relaxation and breath awareness.
Yoga nidra allows the body to relax deeply while allowing the mind to stay inwardly alert. It will often come at the end of a physical or restorative yoga class, whilst you lie on your back in savasana (corpse pose), or can be the focus of a class in its own right. (For more on different styles of yoga see our page on an introduction to yoga). There are many guided meditation, relaxation and yoga nidra apps available and it can be as long or as short as you want it to be. You can even make it a part of your daily bedtime routine. It requires no effort to focus as yoga nidra is always guided.
Typically, you will focus your awareness on your breath, bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. The teacher (or guide) will not always use the same spoken relaxation routine, but a guided scan of your body is usually included. The teacher instructs you to bring your awareness to parts of your body in turn, as you consciously relax them. The practice may include visualisation, such as a safe haven or place of peace, focusing on your heart’s desires or feelings, or simply concentrating on the breath, counting up or down with the inhale and exhale.
You consciously focus on your teacher’s instructions, but allow your body to fall into a state of deep relaxation. It is not designed specifically to induce sleep (in fact yoga nidra falls somewhere between the states of wakefulness and dreaming), but it can do if you are relaxed enough.
As you relax, your heart rate slows and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The results can be manyfold, including reducing stress, alleviating muscular tension, inducing a sense of calm, and bringing quiet to a busy or over-worked mind. The technique has even been used to complement mainstream treatments of depression and anxiety.
Preparation for guided relaxation
The following section provides the script for a guided relaxation, typical of a basic yoga nidra practice. It allows the whole body to fully relax, it is beneficial for clearing your mind, relieving stress, eliminating tension and aiding peaceful sleep.
Make a recording of yourself (or a willing volunteer) reading this script in a slow and calming tone of voice, leaving a few seconds between each stage, for you to play back to yourself during your relaxation time.
You will be lying in the yoga pose called Savasana (corpse pose). Ensure that you are warm and comfortable and have somewhere quiet to lie flat on your back on a firm surface, such as a yoga mat on the floor or your bed.
Is this practice suitable for me?
While the strenuous, dynamic Vinyasa practice or prolonged holding of postures in an Iyengar class might not be for everyone, yoga nidra is something that virtually everyone, from children to seniors, can practise and benefit from. However, if you have any concerns about whether this is suitable for you then you should consult your health professional before trying it.
If you have any discomfort in your lower back whilst lying flat, you can try bending your knees and keeping your feet on the floor about hip distance apart, or use a bolster or pillow underneath your knees.
During pregnancy, it is advisable not to lie flat on your back for prolonged periods of time. This guided relaxation can be done whilst lying comfortably on your side with pillows for support, or whilst seated. If in any doubt, seek professional medical advice.
Guided Relaxation Script
Lie flat on your back with a neutral spine, keeping the back of your neck relaxed and long and in line with your spine.
Allow your legs to stretch out along the mat, then relax your legs and allow your feet to drop out to the sides. Relax your arms by your sides, slightly away from your body, with the palms of your hands facing up to the ceiling, making sure that your shoulders are away from your ears and you are not hunched.
Start to relax your body, breathing gently in and out through your nose. Try not to be distracted by any thoughts or sounds.
Take your time, there is no need to rush.
Flex both feet, pull your toes towards you, push your heels away, hold for a few seconds, then release.
Point your toes, then release.
Tighten the muscles around your hips and buttocks, then release.
Push your shoulder blades together, feel a stretch across your chest, then release.
Push your shoulders forwards, feeling a stretch across your upper back, then release.
Lift your arms off the floor, straighten your arms, make tight fists with your hands, then stretch out your fingers, and release, allowing your arms to relax by your sides, turn your palms to face up to the ceiling.
Tense your facial muscles, your eyes, lips, mouth, forehead, cheeks and nose, squeeze tight, then release.
Stretch open your mouth and stick out your tongue, then release.
Take a deep breath in, then exhale with a sigh. Repeat twice more, then go back to normal breathing, gently in and out through your nose.
Now take your awareness to each part of your body, starting with the back of your head.
Imagine your head softening into the floor, releasing tension, your hair flowing freely from your scalp, your facial muscles, eyes, lips, cheeks and chin, soft and relaxed.
Now your neck and shoulders, relax the muscles and soften into the floor.
Now allow your chest and back to relax and soften into the floor.
Now your arms, wrists, hands, fingers and thumbs, rolling out and softening into the floor.
Now your hips and pelvis, rolling out and softening into the floor.
Now your thighs, knees, lower legs, ankles and feet, rolling out and softening into the floor.
Now release your whole body, and imagine it softening and spreading into the floor, as you continue to breathe gently in through your nose…..and out through your nose, allowing your belly to gently rise….and gently fall.
Coming back from deep relaxation
You can stay in deep relaxation for as long as you like. Try to make it at least a few minutes.
When you are ready to come out of your relaxation, gradually begin by moving your fingers and toes, then stretch your legs, flex your feet, point your toes, and stretch your arms over your head. Take a deep breath in and out. Gently and slowly roll over onto your side, before pushing yourself slowly up and into a comfortable sitting position. Take care not to stand too quickly.
You will hopefully return from your relaxation feeling calm and refreshed.