A beginner’s guide to Yoga Nidra – the ultimate art of relaxation.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra, otherwise known as ‘Yogic sleep’, is an ancient practice that’s finally making it on to the mainstream. Dating back to the earliest written yogic texts, Yoga Nidra is beneficial for both body and the mind. From improving focus and attention, alleviating sleep issues, tension, anxiety, stress, chronic pain to helping you connect back to your higher self, this deep state of conscious rest (the bit between waking and sleeping) is the perfect antidote to hectic modern life. Take the leap and give it a go…
Who’s it for?
Not to be confused with traditional meditation, where attention is placed on a single focus. Instead, Yoga Nidra is about withdrawing focus and shutting off the senses (only hearing is left open) to reach a higher conscious state of rest via systematic guided relaxation.
What to expect:
In a guided class your teacher will take you through various story-telling, breathing instructions and visual imagery which are all designed to facilitate deep healing, knowledge, growth and offer a window into exploring the true Self. On the surface, Nidra seems like a fairly simple and effortless practice. Yet modern day living has put us into a constant stress state of fight or flight (our sympathetic nervous system is on high alert), so switching off and achieving deep relaxation can prove challenging. That being said you don’t have to be a ‘master yogi’ to have a go and benefit. It’s really accessible to everyone and easy to replicate at home with a free guided audio download.
Possibly the best natural, free medicine you can take for optimal health. Stress reduction, improved sleep, boosted immunity and healing and slowed premature ageing are some of its victory highlights:
Most crucially, Nidra has been shown to combat stress which has become a daily battle facing us in modern life; the ‘city that never sleeps’ description is now the norm for most major cities around the world. Whilst appearing at a physical and emotional surface level in the form of muscle tension or anxiety, stress can also foster at a deeper level in subtler layers and which left unnoticed build up over time. Nidra enables us to go below the surface to release these issues. In deep relaxation we activate our parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ nervous system which helps to rebalance hormones, dampen inflammation, repair damaged cells and quells the amygdala (our danger alarm bell in the brain) and thus our anxiety.
Likewise, Nidra’s powerful effects on sleep are widely lauded; forty-five minutes is said to be equal to up to 3 hours of sleep, due to the changes in brain-waves that take place during Yoga Nidra. There are five brain waves (Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta and Gamma) which we all experience. Each comes with its own characteristics that dominate a specific state of consciousness and brain activity. In Yoga Nidra, the Theta and Delta waves dominate. At optimal Theta frequency you are at your most creative, inspired, insightful and spiritually connected, deeply relaxed, yet still conscious of your surroundings. Delta waves are the slowest recorded brain waves in humans and associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and healing. They are the gateway to the universal unconscious mind where information received is otherwise unavailable at the conscious level. Below Delta, your brain is thoughtless and this state of lost consciousness where you remain awake is the ultimate point you are trying to touch into with Nidra. This state trains the body and mind to enter into deep relaxation and therefore achieve good quality deep sleep.
Other benefits include increased melatonin production (via the Pineal gland by focusing on the Third Eye area in Nidra) crucial to restorative sleep as well as playing a role in cancer prevention and neuroprotection. Nidra is also prescribed to chronic pain patients as it is conducive to providing the body with rest and recovery to reduce inflammation, pain sensation, increase dopamine production (our happy hormone) and boost immunity. Even diabetics can benefit since Nidra’s powers to control blood glucose levels have been well researched.
How to do it
- Lie down and make yourself as cosy and as comfortable as possible.
- Begin by setting a personal intention for your practice. This can also be linked to a deeper intention you have for your life as a whole.
- Tuck yourself in, close your eyes and turn your attention inward as you drop into the space between waking and sleeping; notice the breath, your thoughts, body sensations and emotions arising as the senses offer a window into your true being.
- Listen to your teacher who will guide you with stories and instructions as experiences and emotions emerge in this rested, neutral state. They could be feelings that you have consciously repressed or left lying under the surface unknowingly.
- Stay present as the mind unravels. Observe and be with your thoughts without getting caught up in judgements or any inner dialogue.
- After touching into this state of consciousness, let yourself be guided back to a waking state (bringing some of this peaceful state back with you). Over time the more you practise, the more you will experience space between emotions and thoughts and freedom in the mind.
If you’re a bit sceptical, try a class out with a friend or two – just think of it as a yoga-themed slumber party… And don’t worry if you fall asleep during your first practices! This is simply a sign from your body and mind that you need a rest – so embrace it.
Where to do it:
Plenty of yoga studios are now offering Yoga Nidra. Here is our pick of some of the best in town…
TRIYOGA – https://triyoga.co.uk/class-schedule/
The Life Centre – http://www.thelifecentre.com/classes/schedule
Prana Yoga Space, Aldgate – http://www.pranayogaspace.com/classes/
Yoga Works London – https://www.yogaworkslondon.co.uk/meditation-and-nidra/
The Shala London – https://www.theshalalondon.com/workshop/id/2222/Yoga-Nidra-South-London
words by Sophie Heywood
Founder of double shot https://doubleshotcollective.com, @double.shot.collective