Yoga Nidra or ‘sleep yoga’ is something you may never have come across but it’s about to get big! As more and more research has been done, (not just on yoga nidra but also meditation and guided relaxation), the benefits of this ancient practice are slowly coming to light and my oh my is it a powerful tool to have in your toolkit!
What is Yoga Nidra and how does it work?
Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice- a form of guided relaxation that can last anywhere from 5 -50 mins (sometimes longer). It is becoming more and more popular as a form of meditation or mind-body therapy and practitioners typically note a sense of calm, less anxiety, less stress and better sleep as a consequence of the practice! But it’s not all anecdotal! Here’s some of the science:
Many practitioners will fall asleep at some point (or many points) during the practice and although Yoga Nidra is often called yogic sleep, it is not actually sleep. Yoga Nidra brings you to a state between wakefulness and sleep allowing you to explore states of consciousness and to get deep rest whilst retaining a sense of awareness. How does this work I hear you ask? And why won’t you let me sleep!?! Well, let’s start with a brief summary of brainwave activity…
What are brainwaves? A quick google search will tell you that brainwaves are synchronised electrical impulses in the brain as a result of masses of neurons communicating with one another; our emotions, thoughts and behaviour. Now there is a lot you can tell about someone’s state from their brainwaves…
- Wakefulness: Fast waves as we are thinking a lot here. We are judging, deciding and intellectualising. These waves are called Beta Waves.
- Deep sleep: Very slow waves as we’re not active cognitively. This is a time for repairing and restoring the body. These are Delta Waves.
- Dreaming/ REM sleep: These are Theta Waves. This state is just below the conscious mind. The subconscious. It’s where we are busy processing emotions and events. The speed of these theta waves is somewhere between wakefulness and deep sleep.
- Hypnogogic state: Each night on our journey to sleep we will pass through this hypnogogic state, somewhere between wakefulness and dreaming. It will only last a few minutes typically but a lot can happen here that you’re aware of! Ever felt like you’re falling and your body has jerked to ‘save your life’ or have you ever sworn you heard someone say something when really there was silence? Well these are hypnogogic state experiences. This is where the body starts to shut down before sleep…the senses shut off one by one…but the last one to go is hearing; which is why yoga nidra is a verbal practice. These waves are called Alpha Waves.
Wakefulness – Hypnogogic - Dreaming/REM - Deep Sleep
So, in yoga nidra we’re trying to extend this hypnogogic state, between wakefulness and dreaming, to bring a sense of harmony between the two states: the cognitive self and the felt-sense subconscious self. This can be tremendously healing as any subconscious emotions come to the fore and are acknowledged and accepted.
Now for many of us this may just mean a letting go of any anxieties or stress or unwanted rage, giving us that feeling of calm and peace, but yoga nidra is now being tested and used in clinical populations and has had incredible results for those working with PTSD, addiction and insomnia (not to mention a bunch of other things).
In 2004, a team at the Samueli Institute, a non-profit research institute, conducted a study with active-service duty members with PTSD. The results of that study were so successful that the military is still offering this form of yoga nidra (known as iRest) to many veteran’s facilities across the US. The veterans reported some of the most troubling PTSD symptoms such as hyper-alertness, anxiety and sleep disturbances have significantly diminished as a result of the practice!
A study conducted by a researcher (Leslie Temme) from the social work department of Western Carolina University found that participants, from a chemical dependency treatment centre, who practiced yoga nidra had fewer negative moods and a reduced risk of relapse! They suggested that this was due to the emphasis on self-awareness, helping recovering addicts ‘feel more comfortable in their own skin, cope better with difficult emotions and make better choices’.
Insomnia Datta, Tripathi and Mallick (2017) worked together to develop a yoga nidra model to help with the management and treatment of chronic insomnia!! And guess what they found…yup, you guessed it…’Yoga nidra can be used as an important adjunct in management of chronic insomnia patients.’ Another win for yoga nidra!
So, my friends, will you join me for some yoga nidra? It is the most accessible form of yoga as it is typically done lying down and listening (easy!). If so, click here! I hope you find it helpful in these stressful times. They were made with love!
‘Most people are trying to change themselves. Yoga nidra asks them to welcome themselves. That moment of true welcoming is where profound transformation takes place.’ Richard Miller