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.
Yoga Nidra teacher and author, Tracee Stanley shares 5 simple steps to practice the deep relaxation of Yoga Nidra…
1. Find a comfortable position for your body where you can feel supported. Yoga Nidra is traditionally practised in Savasana (corpse pose) but can also be practised by lying on your side. You can support yourself with blankets, pillows, bolsters, and something to cover your eyes. This is a deep relaxation practice and the ultimate practise of non-doing. Remember that the core temperature of the body may drop when you become relaxed so make sure you will be warm enough. Your body may begin to feel very heavy, so make sure you have enough padding underneath, like a yoga mat or thick blanket. As you find your comfortable position scan through your body one time. Notice any places of discomfort and see if there is something more you need to adjust for maximum comfort.
2. Begin diaphragmatic breathing – Start to become aware of the breath. Without trying to change the breath, just notice your body breathing in and out.1 minute. Notice how your navel rises and falls naturally as you breathe in and out. Now begin to fill the belly as you inhale and let the belly fall as you exhale. Feel the chest becoming stiller and stiller. Like all of the breath is moving in the belly. For the next few minutes watch the belly rise and fall. Feel as though you can smooth out any jerks or hitches in the breath. Let the breath become equal on the inhale and exhale. You can count inhale 1,2,3,4 exhale 4,3,2,1. 3 minutes.
3. Systematically relax the body – Continue to feel the breath, even, smooth and moving the navel up and down for 1 minute. Starting at the feet begins to scan through the body moving toward the top of the head. As you move to each body part allow a wave of relaxation to move through that area as you exhale. 2 minutes
4. Counting backwards – Starting at the number 27 begin to count backward. Feeling as though you are releasing tension from both the body and mind each time you count down a number. By the time you get to zero your body and mind will feel relaxed. If you lose track of the counting, start again at 27.
5. Rest in Non-doing – Let the body rest, doing nothing, feel as though you are floating weightless and free. 5 minutes.
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