Yoga Nidra, also called Yogic Sleep, is as old as Yoga itself. It is a thousand years old meditation and relaxation technique from India that works by taking you to the border state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.
I recently finished a 14-day Yoga Nidra challenge and here are some highlights from the experiment if you are thinking to give it a try and curious about the benefits and the technique.
HOW I DID IT
Every day I practiced Yoga Nidra between 4 and 40 minutes each session. On average, I meditated for 20 minutes, mostly at bedtime. Since this practice is not compatible with alcohol or any other mind altering substances, on days when I was going out, the practice shifted to mornings or afternoons.
Update: Since I first wrote this article and continued with my meditation practices, I have completely stopped drinking alcohol and have been alcohol free for over a year.
I used various guided Yoga Nidra recordings, with and without visualizations: from YouTube, some of my favorite yoga teachers and the free version of the Insight Timer app. Experimented with Chidakasha - observing the “inner space” in the mind located behind the Ajna Chakra (aka third eye). I did not set any Sankalpas (intentions) for the practice as I believe those kinds of shortcuts to programming the subconscious mind can do more harm than good long term. The only intention that I create is usually a very simple “I am deeply relaxed, calm and blissful.”
THE LEARNINGS AND INSIGHTS
- The benefits were pretty much immediate: I noticed an increase in my energy level, focus and ability to get more things done while having more fun in the process. My anxiety went down and I felt more calm.
- It is said that a 30-minute Yoga Nidra practice is equivalent to 2-4 hours of quality sleep. While it does not replace sleep, I did notice that I needed less sleep than I normally do, while my energy was staying high throughout the day. I was waking up before the alarm and 6 hours of sleep felt sufficient.
- Yoga Nidra flows deeper after a physical activity. My deepest sessions were after surfing or lifting at the gym.
- Increased Synchronicity: various lucky events started to occur here and there without me manifesting anything, just going about my day.
- Involuntary body movements: they do happen! It’s a known phenomenon one may experience during spiritual practices such as Yoga Nidra, meditation or breathwork. I felt muscle spasms and twitches in my legs. They say those are energetic releases of unresolved tension or energy blocks stored in the body. Felt a bit creepy and funky at first, but I just observed and let it do its thing. There was a sense of deep, profound peace afterwards.
- Yoga Nidra + alcohol is a bad idea. During my 2-week experiment, I felt especially strong how depleting alcohol can be. It’s like you’re working on your mindset and building yourself up, then you have just one or two drinks at a music festival (but of course, everyone else around are on something!), and it goes down the drain very quickly so you have to start over again.
- The experience of dropping into a Gap of Nothingness. Yoga Nidra works by taking us into conscious sleep states, progressively moving through the same brainwave states as sleep, until eventually we disengage from the thoughts and self identification. It feels like completely letting go of identity or sense of self for a moment and becoming no one, nowhere. It is similar to what Dr Joe Dispenza, a famous meditation teacher and neuroscientist, describes as one of the key elements of his method.
- Yoga Nidra neutralizes stress and can potentially have anti-aging effect on the body. When you enter a Gap of nothingness, it means you are in a deeper state of Yoga Nidra, somewhere between Theta and Delta brainwave states. This is where the real work begins.
According to sleep EEG research, Theta and Delta activity tend to decrease as we age, and the tendency to stay in upper Alpha increases. "Yoga Nidra can help reverse this tendency and the sleep problems that can result. In Delta states of Yoga Nidra, human growth hormone is released, which enables the growth and regeneration of all the organs in the body, including the brain," Kamini Desai, PhD and yoga nidra authority, writes in her book Yoga Nidra: the Art of Transformational Sleep.
Can Yoga Nidra have real anti-aging benefits?
While we are still in the early stages of researching and understanding the long term effects of Yoga Nidra and other mindfulness practices, there's a strong neuroscience evidence that suggests that it helps us better manage stress. Chronic stress leads to physical and mental health problems so by learning deep relaxation in Yoga Nidra, we train our minds to regulate stress better. Delta brainwave states also reduce the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the system. Cortisol accelerates the aging process so the reduction of cortisol can reduce the rate at which we age.
Bottom line, learning to relax the body is powerful and Yoga Nidra is one of the best techniques for mastering the art of non-doing and simply being. I would recommend it as a daily mental training habit and investment in your health and well-being.
How to get started with Yoga Nidra at Home
- Yoga Nidra is about letting go of any control and simply following the voice instructions as you are being guided deeper and deeper into a meditative state. Finding a meditation teacher whose voice you like and that helps you feel more relaxed is a great first step. Here are some ideas to explore:
- Hilary Jackendoff, one of my favorite yoga teachers on the Insight Timer
- NSDR / Yoga Nidra with Kamini Desai - Relax & Respond
- A science-backed Non Sleep Deep Rest Yoga Nidra by yours truly on the Insight Timer
- A slower version of my Yoga Nidra on YouTube - 27 minutes of relaxation
- Find a comfortable quiet place where you won't be disturbed or distracted.
- Make yourself supremely comfortable. Lie down on your back in a position that support your body. Use a blanket or pillow under your head or knees for support if necessary. Feel free to use any props that help you relax deeper: an eye mask if practicing during the day, cozy socks, headphones to zone out of external sounds and so on. Make it your personal meditation cocoon leaving everything else aside for the duration of the practice.
- Set your intention for the practice: Start by setting an intention for your practice. This could be something like "I release stress and anxiety" or "I feel inner peace and calm."
- Listen to the meditation and enjoy your journey within. If you fall asleep, that's okay, simply come back to the sound of your guide's voice.
- Come back: As your practice comes to an end, slowly come back to your awareness of your surroundings. Take a few deep breaths and wiggle your toes and fingers.
- Rest: Take a few moments to rest in silence and enjoy the benefits of your practice.
Let me know in the comments if you practice or are interested in practicing Yoga Nidra and what your experience has been like. I will continue to incorporate it in my wellness rituals as I do see positive results when practicing consistently.