Yoga Nidra VS Meditation.
It is necessary before we can even begin the conversation about the differences between the practices of Yoga Nidra and Meditation, to define both of these terms.
Surprisingly, that may just be the hardest part. Defining meditation can be not unlike defining “life”. Ask 3 different people to define life and you will get 4 different answers.
We arrive at the same problem when it comes to meditation.
The most common and all-encompassing definition would probably be “the act of giving your attention to only one thing” but that sounds suspiciously like concentration. And concentration is not meditation. Then perhaps “a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention” would work better.
We mustn’t forget that meditation is as much a practice, as a mental state, a habit, a religious practice and etc.
Defining yoga nidra is easier, yoga nidra is “yogic sleep” but of course, nothing comes as easy as that because of course in yoga nidra we don’t actually sleep in the general sense of the world but actually fall into a meditative state where we remain conscious even as our body fully relaxes.
With all of that in mind, we can begin to discuss how these two practices differ and how they align.
The physical is easiest to compare as all traditional versions of meditation are practiced seated with the back straight in padmasana. On the other hand, Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down in savasana. This is the main physical difference.
As for the practices themselves, you might be thinking the big question:
Can Yoga Nidra be considered a type of meditation?
Well yes and no. If we take into account the fact that meditation has become a blanket term for many of the practices which involve concentration, focusing the mind inwards, and stilling its fluctuations then yes, Yoga Nidra can be considered a guided meditation. In the traditional sense, Yoga Nidra is neither meditation nor anything else – it is simply Yoga Nidra.
As we already mentioned Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down in savasana, at this point an instructor will guide the practitioners through a series of mental exercises which include moving awareness around the body, focusing on the breath, visualization, and more.
These practices allow the practitioner to withdraw the awareness. Thus entering us into a state of pratyahara, the fifth limb on Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga.
The last limb of Patanjali's yoga is Samadhi, enlightenment, nirvana. During a session of Yoga Nidra, when we make our sankalpa (our resolution) we stress that the greatest of all sankalpas is “the resolve to awaken kundalini who dwells in the Moolandara chakra and makes its headway through the Sushumna to the Sahasrara” and if we simplify quite a bit the Sankalpa means the same thing, “to reach enlightenment”.
That is the core of it all. As with meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices, the essence of Yoga Nidra is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, it is the health and wellness of the body and above all else, it is the goal of reaching into the forever no longer weighed down by the limited conditional existence of this world.
That is the sanklapa.