What is Yoga Nidra | World News Dock
What mental image does the word yoga evoke in you? Probably a person wearing spandex in a downward dog pose or balancing on one leg in a tree pose. Or maybe they are in an intricate whole body knot that requires five times more flexibility than you’ll ever have? Does it feel like hard work?
This is certainly one of the versions of yoga that dominates the modern idea of yoga in the West, but this is not at all what we are talking about today.
What if I told you that there is another kind of yoga where you don’t move at all? You don’t even sit or stand; you lie all the time. This is yoga nidra. “Yoga Nidra” literally means “yogic sleep”, sometimes translated as “conscious sleep”. The goal of yoga nidra is to achieve an altered state of consciousness where you are not awake and not sleeping, but are in the borderline space between them – or maybe transcend both. (Technically, this term refers to a state of consciousness outside of wakefulness or sleep. That is, “yoga nidra” is a destination, not a path that must be traveled to get there. But colloquially, people use it to refer to the entire practice.)
Yoga Nidra offers the opportunity to go beyond your body, thoughts and emotions. It is a state of deep relaxation and, as proponents say, deep healing, when your subconscious becomes more open to learning and establishing new patterns of thought and behavior, stress dissipates and you move towards physical health and homeostasis. “Equivalent to four hours of deep sleep!” is a common selling point.
The latter may or may not be true, but it is clear that yoga nidra has a lot to offer in promoting relaxation, better sleep, and even recovery from severe stress and injury. There is no person in today’s world who cannot benefit from slowing down and deliberately using relaxing, restorative practices. Is yoga nidra right for you?
A Brief History of Yoga Nidra
Modern yoga nidra practices are rooted in many of the ancient traditions of yoga and meditation. In ancient texts, yoga nidra or yoganidra sometimes referred to this sleep-wake level of consciousness, or to the yoga nidra goddess Shakti. Yoga nidra has often been described as a higher state of being in which normal mental and bodily activity ceases and the yogi achieves a state of bliss.
The type of yoga nidra practice that you are likely to encounter today was probably inspired by the “relaxationists” and hypnotists of the 19th and 20th centuries, who scientists believe were interested in harnessing the healing power of relaxation, but it really got its start thanks to the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, Satyananda developed a method of using breathing techniques and body scanning to achieve gradual relaxation and connection to yoga nidra. If you go to a yoga nidra class today, chances are good that you will follow his method or something similar.
Since then, yoga nidra has gained a resurgence in popularity as well as academic interest. In the 2000s, clinical psychologist and yoga researcher Dr. Richard Miller developed his iRest protocol – a version of yoga nidra – and the institute of the same name to help people facing problems ranging from “normal” stress to severe post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disturbances. and mental disorders. chronic health problems. More recently, Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman coined the term sleepless deep rest (NSDR) to encompass practices that can promote stress relief, neuroplasticity, more effective learning, and better sleep, among other benefits. Huberman considers yoga nidra, hypnosis or self-hypnosis, and daytime naps to be types of NSDR.
What happens during yoga nidra practice?
Yoga Nidra involves a guided meditation practice designed to achieve a deep state of relaxation as you move beyond the waking, sleeping and dreaming states to reach a deeper level of consciousness. You are still aware of the outside world (unlike when you are sleeping), but you are completely detached from it. You are aware, but not really awake. There, but not there. In the true state of yoga nidra, you are reported to experience not only deep relaxation, but also a sense of interconnectedness with the universe.
This is where yoga nidra differs significantly from traditional meditation. During meditation, you usually sit and focus intensely, sometimes on your breath, chant, or mental image. You are very awake and your consciousness is very “on”. In yoga nidra, conscious thinking is “turned off”, replaced by an awareness that is neither focused nor intentional. As yoga scholars Dr. Stephen Parker and Swami Veda Bharati describe it, “There are no thoughts or images, and the practitioner experiences a conscious, deep, dreamless sleep, aware of the surroundings, but not thinking about it or interacting with it.”
As with all forms of yoga or meditation, the specifics of your practice will depend on who guides you. Depending on how your guide or teacher has been trained, they may follow the script or use a more intuitive flow during the session. Either way, it will probably involve a similar series of steps, something like this:
You begin by lying on your back in shavasana or corpse pose. Set the intention, or sankalpa, for practice. It can be something as simple as “I’m going to relax” or something more that you’re trying to achieve like “I’ll sleep well at night” or “I’ll stop drinking alcohol.” This is followed by a series of visualizations and breathing exercises. The goal is to take you through the various layers of the personality to the state of yoga nidra. Typically, you begin with a body scan, moving your awareness to different points around the body, followed by instructions to become aware of your breathing, your feelings, and your thoughts, often with specific visualization cues. Ultimately, you reach the desired state of deep relaxation. Finally, you confirm your intention or sankalpa before returning to the waking state.
Benefits of yoga nidra
According to traditional wisdom, yoga nidra is a deeply healing state. Yoga Nidra is especially touted as an effective way to relieve stress, improve sleep, and improve overall well-being. And there are many studies that support these claims, such as:
Yoga Nidra has reduced stress and anxiety in college students, nursing students, and teachers. Adults with chronic insomnia were randomly assigned to receive CBT or yoga nidra at home (using a recording) for five weeks. Overall sleep time and sleep efficiency improved in both groups, but yoga nidra outperformed CBT in terms of changes in slow-wave sleep and overall severity of insomnia. Four weeks of yoga nidra was found to be more effective than progressive muscle relaxation in improving sleep quality in male athletes (although both were beneficial). Two studies found that depression and anxiety decreased and psychological well-being improved in women with menstrual problems after six months of yoga nidra. (Interestingly, yoga nidra also affects reproductive hormone levels.) Yoga nidra can be an effective tool in helping veterans (and possibly others) manage PTSD symptoms. The US Army Surgeon General endorsed yoga nidra as an effective pain management strategy.
Scientific studies (albeit small) provide some evidence for the physiological effects underlying the mental and physical health benefits observed by practitioners.
For example, according to one study, yoga nidra can activate the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and digestion, as evidenced by higher heart rate variability (HRV). Another group of researchers performed PET scans on eight experienced yoga teachers and asked them to perform a yoga nidra practice, during which they showed a 65 percent increase in brain dopamine release. Other studies show that regular practice of yoga nidra can reduce blood pressure, inflammation as measured by CRP, and blood glucose levels.
There is no doubt that all forms of yoga and meditation can offer tremendous physical, mental and even spiritual benefits for people who practice regularly. However, other forms of yoga have barriers to entry—fears that you might not be strong enough or flexible enough, for example—that can put people off. And many people give up meditation because it is too difficult for them to calm the monkey mind and achieve the desired concentration (although this becomes easier with time).
The beauty of yoga nidra is that anyone can practice it anywhere. No special equipment or physical training is required. There are many free yoga nidra exercises on the internet, and many yoga studios offer in-person classes. Some of them last only 10 minutes, which is very convenient when you need to take a short break. However, to really reap the benefits, most yoga nidra practices last between 30 and 45 minutes or so.
If the idea of disconnecting from the conscious mind while maintaining awareness, “surfing the border between sleeping and waking consciousness” (a common yoga nidra slogan) sounds too abstract to you, I encourage you to give it a try nonetheless. All you have to do is lie still and listen to the teacher’s voice. Consider this a deep relaxation practice to begin with. Who could not benefit from this?
about the author
Lindsey Taylor, Ph.D., Primal Nutrition Senior Writer and Community Manager, Primal Health Certified Trainer, and co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsey’s job is to help people learn the what, why, and how to lead a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she completed her Masters and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and lecturer.
Lindsey lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her spare time, she enjoys ultra-running, triathlons, hiking and game nights. Follow the news on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsey tries to balance work, family and endurance training while maintaining a healthy balance and, most importantly, enjoying life.
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