Mapping and Mastering Your Senses with Yoga Nidra

The “Little Man” in Your Brain

Your brain has a map of your body that may look very different from the reflection you see in the mirror. The 19th Century idea of “The Homunculous” which means “Little Man” in Latin, is that if your brain could draw your body based on the amount of tissue dedicated to each body part without visual reference, your body proportions would be measured by how many sensory nerves are contained in various parts. The more nerves, the larger the body part would be. Your hands, eyes, nose, face, lips, tongue, and genitalia would make the rest of your torso and limbs look tiny. 


Visual representation of the brain’s interpretation of the body in terms of nerve proportion, from

The somatosensory cortex and motor cortex connect to these instruments of the body like a map.  You can read and follow this map from head to toe. These tissues help us tell where our bodies are in space, what’s happening in our environment inside and out, and how to direct functions in response to that.

*Note, this image does not completely acknowledge the complex interactions of multiple brain structures involved in how we sense and move through our world. It is a clever way to get our attention and help us consider the deep landscape beneath the layers of our everyday conscious awareness of how our brains ‘see’ our inner and outer worlds.

Turning your Sensory Awareness Inward

In Yoga Nidra, by rotating awareness systematically through the map of the motor and somatosensory cortexes, your sensory awareness is turned inwards. As these body parts rest, they are no longer seeking information and behaviors to avoid danger and seek pleasure from the outside world. But rather than just sleep, Yoga Nidra guidance has you rotate consciousness, part-by-part, systematically, that helps us integrate the sensory system of our own bodies. 

Rotating awareness through the homunculi is a perfectly boring part of the practice. Why is that a good thing? Right-hand thumb. First finger. Second finger. Middle finger. Boring topics to the egotistical mind… But incredibly interesting to the brain as it gets to lope along the trail of its own sensory-motor map. This seduces the brain into a powerful state of sensory withdrawal and heightened awareness at the same time. 

Yoga Nidra Uses Cognitive Engagement for Somatic Mapping

Unlike other forms of Non Sleep Deep Rest or NSDR (more on this below), Yoga Nidra uses cognitive engagement in a systematic way with your internal sensory world to light up these areas of the brain in relationship to the resting body. Somatic mapping ensues. 

What does this even mean? It means practicing Nidra helps you become aware in control of these seriously sensitive parts of your body-mind complex. 

Stress comes through the senses, and arousal follows. How much arousal depends on the situation and your perception of it. Sounds simple enough, right? But if you haven’t spent time mastering awareness and connection to your own senses, you are at their whimsy. They will sense danger, and a cascade of reactions will occur that you feel are happening ‘to’ you. With a regular Nidra practice, you invest in the skill of interoception; sensing yourself. Trusting yourself. 

Mapping senses with Yoga Nidra Deactivates Stress Response

A Yoga Nidra practice helps you deactivate your stress response and master your connection to the sensory system. This enables you to trust your own senses and understand more clearly what they are picking up.

If you work in Fire, Law Enforcement, Military, or EMS, having mastery over your senses is important. A tool like SH//FT’s Neuro Nidra™ requires no training to practice, and can not only help deactivate and master stress, but can also repay sleep debt in the process. 

This sensitivity is a secret weapon that allows you to pick up on stress cues before they cascade into reactivity. This allows you to manage how you choose to interpret the signals, and better choose how you will respond. 

Non Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)

NSDR is a term coined by Dr. Andrew Huberman, and includes various practices such as Yoga Nidra, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Hypnosis and more. Yoga Nidra was developed in the 20th century by Swami Satyananda Saraswati using Yoga’s ancient practices of Pratyahara or sensory withdrawal.

You can learn more about Neuro Nidra™ here. Neuro Nidra™ was created by Emily Hightower and combines the practice of Yoga Nidra with principles from neuroscience. Emily is not a neuroscientist, but a trained Yoga Nidra expert and Teacher Trainer studying applied neuro somatics.

How and Why NOT to Fall Asleep During Yoga Nidra

How and Why NOT to Fall Asleep During Yoga Nidra

If you’ve been to a group guided Yoga Nidra class, you’ve likely been jarred out of the blissful state by someone snoring nearby. Maybe you use Nidra downloads to fall asleep yourself. Any sleep seems welcome if you suffer from insomnia, however, the more you nod off during practice the more you train yourself to do so, missing the real benefits of the Yoga Nidra. 

What is the Yoga Nidra Hypnagogic State?

Yoga Nidra is a guided practice that brings about the hypnagogic state, which is unique to states we encounter during actual sleep. In this state, we are semi-conscious in a dynamic rest that engages the parasympathetic nervous system in deep healing activity. Being semi-conscious allows us to participate with the healing and learn how to toggle various states of consciousness in waking life. This translates to better self-regulation and performance under stress. 

Ideally, we do not fall into actual sleep during practice. Sleep has its own benefits, but regular sleep does not engage our consciousness in the way Yoga Nidra does. If you have ever been in a hypnagogic state, you know what I’m talking about. You drift in and out of hearing the guide’s voice, but you have complete awareness coursing through your body

Why is Yoga Nidra Beneficial?

When immersed in Yoga Nidra, you are in a slow conscious condition that allows you to master your ‘observer’; the part of you that narrates your life as you live it. This observer is engaged when awareness and relaxation occur together. It is the witness we encounter in meditation. Being in touch with this aspect of ourselves is essential to self-mastery and behavioral health.

If you have patterns of reactivity or addiction, it is your observer who can disrupt that without judgment to help you see alternative response options. This part of our consciousness has an elevated perspective on our daily desires and aversions. Being connected to that invites mastery over the push and pull of our physical experience. 

Withdrawing from Your Senses

Yoga Nidra is a conscious practice of withdrawing the senses from the constant game of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. In this sensory withdrawal, we hone the ability to stay with something uncomfortable and understand that our preferences and aversions are not who we are. We can more readily choose to see things and do things that are outside our normal reactive patterns.

Sleep has its own benefits to be discussed in future posts. But it does not curate the same level of conscious, intentional healing states as Yoga Nidra. Plus, if you do fall asleep in a Nidra practice, it can create grogginess when you emerge, depending on what sleep state you fell into. The hypnagogic state will not leave you feeling groggy after practice. Usually, you’ll feel more alive awareness; a kind of calm coursing energy flowing through you. 

If You Fall Asleep During Yoga Nidra

If you do fall asleep during Yoga Nidra, try practicing first thing in the morning. This is especially great if you wake up an hour before you were intending to. You have the time, and you have the ideal state of having rested all night but still not having engaged with your daily stories and stressors. You can also try Nidra in the afternoons. If you’ve mastered the state, you can practice before bed and when complete, drift into the various stages of real sleep. 

Lastly, if you do fall asleep during practice, notice the conditions that put you there. Try a shorter guided session next time, or a different time of day, or after exercise when you’ve ramped up some sympathetic stress that can keep you in more of an aroused state while still welcoming the release of Nidra. 

If you’re interested in exploring Yoga Nidra, look into SH//FT’s Neuro Nidra™ guided audio practices