I consider myself somewhat of an experienced beginner yogi and of course, I had heard of Yoga Nidra before. I knew that it meant ‘yogic sleep’ but I had added it into the category as ‘just’ another form of relaxation. Boy was I wrong!
In my quest to learn as much as I can about yoga, I have sought every opportunity to experience it. I’ve sweated on a rooftop class in Portugal overlooking the ocean; rolled my mat out on a tiny balcony in Spain; confronted my fears at an Aerial Yoga class; and my personal favourite a Hot Yoga class held in a studio above a pizza parlour! I used all these classes as a chance to learn as much as I could about yoga, and to help me better understand how it could benefit my life. I was, mostly, focussed on the physical aspects of yoga – asana, and hadn’t really came face to face with any of the other aspects which make up the diverse definition of yoga.
But this quest for knowledge shifted dramatically during my first weekend of Yoga Teacher Training. ‘Now lay down on your mat and prepare for Yoga Nidra,’ my teacher instructed us. The next 30 minutes were a blur of sheer bliss.
Despite my yogic experiences, and throughout all the classes I’ve attended the one constant remained – I was unable to relax properly in public. Anyone who knows me will agree that I find it challenging to relax at the best of times, never mind when I could benefit from it. No matter how hard I didn’t try, I have always had a fear of relaxing (read sleeping) in public. This extended to savasana at the end of a yoga class – I just didn’t get it and resisted the opportunity to surrender with every breath.
My first Yoga Nidra experience cured this instantly and allowed me to experience a proper sense of what relaxation was. I didn’t fall asleep, but afterwards I felt the most profound sense of peace and internal stillness. Having never experienced this before, I initially felt lost coming out of the deep relaxation I had experienced, and I instantly wanted more.
The main benefits
Swami Satananyanada explains that 1 hour of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 4 hours of deep sleep. The brain waves monitored in this deep state of relaxation are the same as those experienced in the deepest sleep cycles, yet in Yoga Nidra we remain completely conscious. This technique can be used by those seeking spiritual enlightenment or by practitioners, like myself, who lead busy daily lives and need extra help switching their mind to the mute position.
There are many benefits to regularly including Yoga Nidra into your life, studies suggest that an improvement in our general wellbeing through the reduction of stress and anxiety can be attributed to Yoga Nidra (Kamakhya, K 2004.) While other research noted encouraging improvement in the area of cardiovascular disease (Cooper, MJ 1979, Erskine-Milliss, J & Schonell M, 1981.)
So how does this work? Well the science shows that it affects the consciousness of the practitioner, basically altering their brainwaves to the same pattern observed during deep sleep, all while they remain fully conscious. This makes Yoga Nidra a very effective form of deep relaxation, which is easily accessible by anyone.
To practice Yoga Nidra, you need a recording of an appropriate script. Swami recommends a practise of 20 minutes or more to attain maximum benefits, but 10 minutes is a good place to start. A quick search of Amazon, iTunes or Google Play will give you plenty of apps or CDs to choose from. You may need to experiment with the time of day you incorporate this into your routine, some have found maximum benefits from an early morning practice, while others enjoy listening before heading to bed. I’ve used a few different versions from You Tube, but I can’t vouch for the end of any of the them, as I’ve always fallen asleep. Looks like I’ve still got some learning to do!