Anyone who has been to my yoga classes, visited my website or spoken to me in person will know that I am a huge advocate of a yoga practice called Yoga Nidra. Many of you may think 'yoga what?' It is a strangely well-kept secret of the yoga world but one that I am on a mission to share with as many people as possible.
Loosely translated, Yoga Nidra means 'Yogic Sleep' or 'the sleep of the yogis'. Sounds fab right - well it is. Yoga Nidra is basically a form of guided relaxation or guided meditation traditionally practiced lying down. In practical terms what happens is you lie down on the floor and listen to either a yoga teacher or recording of a teacher guiding you through the various stages of the relaxation. The aim is to reach a type of state between being asleep and being awake. I often joke that this is my advanced sleeping class!
It is such a powerful practice and one that is currently not as well-known as other things such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga in general. So in this blog I wanted to share with you some of the main reasons why I feel that it is essential for everyone to try out Yoga Nidra.
1. It is really easy to do - there is no wrong
The first reason for you to try out Yoga Nidra is that it is really easy to do. You don't need to think or work hard - simply lie down, get comfy and listen. Most people coming to meditation classes for the first time find it really hard - sitting cross-legged for any period of time can be really uncomfortable and telling the mind just to stop is actually quite a challenge too! Some yoga poses (asanas) I would do in my Hatha Yoga classes are also hard to access and this can be too taxing on the body for those that have never tried it before or those who have injuries or other disabilities.
The main way to listen to Yoga Nidra is lying down and getting really comfortable. Traditionally it is done in Savasana (corpse pose - lying on your back with eyes closed) but we also add blankets, cushions, bolsters, eye pillows, essential oils and anything that helps you to get really comfy. Once comfortable you simply listen. Whether you fall asleep straight away, listen to all of the words or anything in between, every experience is valid. There is no wrong experience in Yoga Nidra - you literally can't do it wrong or mess up. If you mind continues to race, that's ok. If you need to move to get more comfortable, that's ok. Even if you start snoring - that's ok - you clearly need the rest!
2. Promotes better sleep
Yoga Nidra is known as yogic sleep, so it only makes sense that listening to Yoga Nidra encourages better sleep. It is however important to note that doing Yoga Nidra isn't actually sleeping - even if you don't remember anything when you wake up from the meditation. Instead it is the deeply restful space between awake and asleep - I've seen it described as the 'dance between the conscious and the unconscious.' Any sort of relaxation practice such as this when done regularly will help the brain to decompress, relax and unwind ready for a good nights sleep - especially when used right before bed.
Yoga Nidra can even be practiced therapeutically for sleep based disorders such as insomnia. You can even find Nidras that don't include the instructions to wake up so that you can listen when in bed to help you get into a deep sleep state.
3. Helps to reduce stress
Although a normal yoga practice or a meditation practice will help to reduce stress nothing quite does the job like Yoga Nidra. It is a supercharged-boost for the parasympathetic nervous system (the 'rest and digest' system responsible for relaxing the body). It is almost hypnotic in its delivery and takes you through a set structure including things like breath awareness and a body scan that are well-known tools for stress reduction. The whole experience of Yoga Nidra helps to calm the nervous system, trigger the relaxation response and promote the 'powering down' of a busy brain. It literally takes you through the different brain wave states from beta, an awakened state with lots of brain activity, to alpha, a more relaxed state. From alpha, you go into a deep alpha and high theta brain-wave state, the dream state, REM sleep. After theta, you are guided to delta (the state you would be in during a coma or under anesthesia) in which your organs regenerate and the stress hormone cortisol is removed from your system. And removing stress hormones can only be good for stress reduction!
4. Helps with problem solving and creativity
Yoga Nidra often has the ability to help people problem solve or boost creativity. These practical uses come from the brain clearing and resetting, therefore creating space for creative solutions to present themselves. There are so many instances of people solving problems or coming up with ideas as they wake up from sleep whether in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning and Yoga Nidra has this same effect. The brain has a chance to de-clutter, organise and connect deeply with your inner wishes and desires at the time. Sometimes this is a surprising benefit of the practice and one I have found very powerful myself.
Many forms of Yoga Nidra also include something called a Sankalpa which is an intention or resolution in the form of a short statement or phrase and when practiced regularly it can help the practitioner to focus and achieve this. The word Sankalpa, săn-kăl-pə in Sanskrit means intention and resolve. San= born of the heart, kalpa= way of being. This can be a way to find or achieve life goals or intentions and is also a highly effective way of re-training the mind.
5. Promotes physical relaxation
Asking the mind to relax in Nidra of course promotes physical relaxation of the body too. There is a specific stage of the practice where a body scan is done and this often allows the body itself to relax very deeply, removing pockets of tension that often creep in - especially to areas such as the hips, neck and shoulders. This is great for those who have muscular tension of powerful muscles from exercise, from stress and even involuntary muscles such as the gut - another area where stress can cause serious digestive problems.
6. Can be done by anyone, anywhere!
And finally - it can be done by anyone, anywhere. Whether you are a child, an adult, young or not so young, healthy or carrying any physical or mental illnesses - you can still do Yoga Nidra. All you need is somewhere to lie down (or sit) and off you go. You may be able to find a local class or you can listen to a recording in the comfort of your own home. No equipment is needed, unless you class a few cushions and a blanket - but even these are optional and not essential. This is one of the most wonderful things about the practice - it is great for everyone and makes it accessible for even those that cannot access a regular yoga class. In my own Yoga Nidra classes for example I get a real mixture of people - something that I find so rewarding and enjoyable as a teacher.
Note: Sometimes you will find Yoga Nidra recordings that are tailored for certain situations - for example for helping those with insomnia, for pregnant ladies or for those suffering with stress or with themes such as grounding or balancing.
Fancy trying some Yoga Nidra?
So I hope that these six fantastic reasons will encourage you to give Yoga Nidra a try - or use it a little more!
For more information on the Yoga Nidra I offer at Susan's World of Yoga please see the links below.
- Local to me in Woking? If you are local to me in Woking I run a monthly Friday night Yoga Nidra class - details here
- Want to give Nidra a try from home? then take a look at my shop where I sell Yoga Nidra recordings from 5-30 mins - details here
- Pregnant? I have a special online course in Yoga Nidra and breathing that is perfect for pregnant mamas - details here
- New Mummy? I have a 6 week course in guided relaxations for new mamas - details here