Calming the mind is something you may strive to do but don’t know where to begin. Allow me to introduce to you the beautiful practice of yoga nidra. The literal meaning translates to yogic, also known as psychic sleep. While anyone can practice yoga nidra, it can especially beneficial when you are struggling with ongoing stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, trauma or grief and loss.
If you are familiar with meditation, you will be happy to know yoga nidra has many overlaps with this form of mind-body mindfulness. They both allow you to slow down and ultimately cultivate peace and space for spiritual growth, however, yoga nidra takes it a step further..
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is a method of Pratyahara - which literally means the withdrawal of the senses. Throughout this form of guided meditation, it allows you to take on a deep state of consciousness within your mind, between a place of waking and sleeping. You eventually want to get to a state of relaxation in the sense of mental, emotional, and physical. During your practice, your entire mind, body, and nervous system enter a state of complete rest through deep relaxation - all the while you remain conscious.
During traditional meditation, you are seated in a waking state of consciousness allowing thoughts to come and go by focusing the mind. With yoga nidra, you are lying down in a total relaxed conscious awareness sleep. The goal is to get to the delta state, which is the place of the deepest sleep cycle. This state is known to be a profound healing state.
While yoga nidra mimics a state of deep sleep, you’re actually awake during the entire practice. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), your body’s rest and digest state, you’re allowing your heart, blood pressure, and breathing rates to slow down. Once the PSNS is initiated, our body then enters a state of relaxation that helps aid in recovery. Because you’re conscious, you’re able to access subconscious thoughts which allows you to process memories from the past, much like we do in EMDR therapy.
The Many Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Reducing stress, improving sleep, and decreasing anxiety are only a few of the key benefits to incorporating yoga nidra into your routine. Using this relaxation technique alongside therapy can provide significant support along your healing journey, and increase your window of tolerance for emotions. An increase in our window of tolerance helps support our ability to move through emotional states, and return to a neutral state where we can fully digest, learn, and respond (if needed) with access to all the insight and information available to us. A narrow window of tolerance to emotion can lead us to feel easily overwhelmed by emotion and respond with survival strategies (fight-flight-freeze-fawn) when they are not necessary or when we have other viable strategies available to us for support and soothing.
The practice of yoga nidra allows your mind to access delta brainwaves. The delta state is the deepest healing state and is responsible for the restoration that occurs in our bodies as we deeply sleep. As serotonin is released, you will begin to feel more at ease, which helps you reach a place of ultimate inner calm and tranquility.
How to Incorporate Yoga Nidra Into Your Daily Routine
When practicing yoga nidra, you begin in Savasana where your brain will naturally be in a state of active beta waves. Through meditation, you will get to the alpha state which will begin to link conscious thoughts to the subconscious mind, which is the delta state. As mentioned earlier, serotonin is released in the alpha state which helps prompt an inner calmness. As you begin to relax and fall deeper, your brain begins to release delta waves which imitates a deep restful sleep while remaining awake. It’s important to transition from each state slowly while allowing your mind to reflect on your feelings in the moment.
Yoga nidra can be practiced at any time. However, it’s recommended to wait until after you’ve digested a meal so you’re less tired. To get started, you can explore Insight Timer which is a free app for all forms of meditation and mindfulness. If you’re looking for a virtual or in-person session - one of my favorite yoga teachers, Kelly, sends me to the stars through her practice. I encourage you to check her out if you’re ready to explore the powerful benefits of yoga nidra.
I’d love to hear about your experience if you give the beautiful practice of yoga nidra a try.