Sleep is mysterious. For some, the mystery is wondering what's really going on in our minds when we slip into dream world. For others, it's a mystery figuring out how to get enough or how to fall asleep in the first place.
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Enter: Yoga nidra. Or yogic sleep. An ancient practice, once reserved for royalty and leadership India, now making it's way into the mainstream.
So what is it? And how can it help?
What Is Yoga Nidra?
There are two things the term yoga nidra refers to: the set of techniques that comprise the practice and the actual state of yoga nidra.
The state can most closely be described as pure bliss, but trying to fully describe what this state feels like would be like trying to explain what a strawberry tastes like to someone who's never tried one. The experience itself will speak volumes, so best to try it out for yourself (see below for how to do just that).
To get there, practitioners follow a specific set of instructions (including breathing queues and mental focal points much like any other guided meditation) provided by a trained yoga nidra guide while lying on their backs in Savasana. This gives it an advantage over meditation, as lying down is generally more comfortable than sitting.
There are multiple yoga nidra techniques, but they all lead you to a moment of bliss… or into sleep if that's your goal. Think of it as an extended Savasana session at the end of yoga class with the world's most relaxing teacher coaching you through each moment.
Each step of the way carries you into deeper states of relaxation until the body falls asleep and awareness remains. As this happens, the brain wave pattern slows following very similar patterns observed in healthy sleepers. The magic of the practice is that it brings the brain hemispheres, heart and nervous system into a state of coherence.
Read more: 10 Yoga Poses for a Better Night Sleep
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
This guided practice is the perfect distraction to unlatch your attention from the 10,000 things that you likely have going on in your brain at any given moment. The deep state of relaxation, plus the breathing techniques, helps your body shut off the production off hormones like cortisol, which helps reduce stress.
Another one of the primary functions of the practice is to create balance and harmony in the nervous system by quieting the mind. When the brain and nervous system have a chance to sync up like this, you get the perfect dosage from the endocrine system to send you off to sleep where all your systems get a tune up!
Additionally, yoga nidra can be helpful in enhancing creativity, productivity and focus and even help with mental health concerns such as PTSD, depression and anxiety.
Read more: 13 Reasons to Start Practicing Yoga
How to Practice Yoga Nidra
There's no one right way to practice yoga nidra, but there are a variety of options available to you if you want to learn. You can check out your local yoga or meditation studio to see if they offer classes.
Or you can try it at home for yourself. As mentioned above, you'll start in Savasana. Then you can queue up a guided yoga nidra meditation like this one from Insight Timer.
What's the Best Time to Do Yoga Nidra?
The answer depends: If you're going to use yoga nidra to help you sleep, use it before bed. If you want to use yoga nidra to enhance your sleep, do it at any time during the day. Maybe even give it a shot as a 30-minute cat nap on your lunch break on days when you're feeling especially run down.