By Leah Zerbe, MS, NASM-CPT/CES
If you crave those last few minutes of yoga class when you settle into savasana for stillness and relaxation, meet your new best friend: the little-known practice of yoga nidra. An ancient practice to tame the nervous system, you’ll find your mind in a more collected, peaceful state as a result of the exercise.
So what does a yoga nidra session look like? At first glance, the practice may seem like nothing more than lying on the floor wrapped up in super comfy clothing and blankets. (And socks. You’ve got to wear fuzzy socks.)
But there’s a power in stillness. And modern-day science is catching up to what yogis have known for ages: yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, improves your health, and in all sorts of surprising ways. Hint: Many who practice yoga nidra report feeling fully rested in as little as 30 to 120 minutes of practice. That’s a lot shorter than the eight hours of sleep usually required for that type of restoration. And then there’s the 65 dopamine boost. More on that later…
What Is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is a powerful relaxation practice that can act as a natural stress reliever. Some people use yoga nidra for sleep improvement, although when practicing correctly, you don’t actually fall asleep. The ancient yoga practice helps you draw your consciousness inward so you can move into a more self-aware form of “sleep.”
“It’s the same process as meditation,” explains tantra yogi Michele D’Agostino, instructor of kinesiology at Penn State University. “You are completely relaxed on the physical level but the mind remains alert.”
Yoga nidra helps shift your brain into the zone between sleeping and waking states; it’s like your body sleeps while your mind remains conscious and clear. Brainwave studies show higher alpha and theta brainwave power in yogis who practice yoga nidra. This refers to brain waves shifting to beta ways, which reflect high levels of thought, to being completely relaxed, alert and hanging on the edge just before entering sleep. (1)
Can you meditate to sleep?
While meditation and relaxation like yoga nidra can help you ultimately achieve better sleep, you shouldn’t actually fall asleep practicing meditation or yoga nidra. You want to train your brain to stay awake and alert during these practices.
What is sleep yoga?
Because yoga nidra translates to yogic sleep, some people think it’s a yoga practice you do as you fall asleep at night. In reality, D’Agostino says it’s better to practice yoga nidra earlier in the day because you don’t want to train your brain to associate the practice with slipping into an all-out slumber. (2)
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
It’s Accessible to Everyone
Perhaps the most important benefits of yoga nidra is that it’s a practice available to all of us. (No crazy twists or standing on your head!) It’s also one of the easiest yoga practices to develop and maintain, according to Yoga International. (3)
Since it’s practiced entirely in savasana, which means you’re lying down, there’s really no “wrong” way to do it. And since it’s guided, you’ll probably have less frustration compared to sitting down and trying to meditate cold turkey.
PMS Mood Balancer
If you find yourself Googling “how to get rid of period cramps,” it may be time to give yoga nidra, a super relaxing type of yoga, a try.
A study of 150 females with period irregularities (severe pain, unpredictable cycles) found that women who took meds and practiced yoga nidra for for 35 to 40 minutes five days a week experienced fewer symptoms like painful cramps, anxiety and depression compared to women who took medication alone. (4)
We already know that yoga changes your brain, In a first of its kind study in 2002, scientists used brain scan imaging to confirm the natural dopamine-boosting effect of yoga nidra. In fact, a single yoga nidra session resulted in a 65 percent increase in dopamine release, showing the practice regulates conscious states at the synaptic level. (5)
Science also suggests yoga nidra practice is beneficial for these ailments:
- Back pain(6)
- Stress (7)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (8)
- Insomnia (9)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (10, 11)
- Type 2 diabetes (12)
- Tinnitus (13)
A Yoga Nidra Practice + Best Yoga Nidra Exercises
Now that you know about yoga nidra’s health benefits, it’s time to give it a try. Here, D’Agostino leads a condensed yoga nidra session to give you a tast of what it’s all about. A traditional yoga nidra practice in the Himalayan tradition takes about an hour and a half, but doing even shorter versions can bring brain benefits.
Yoga Nidra Precautions
Yoga nidra is scientifically proven to lower stress, along with many other health benefits. Because it requires no strenuous yoga poses, it’s really accessible for almost everyone. However, if you experience back pain while lying on your back, be sure to put a blanket, foam roller or bolster under your knees to eradicate any lower back pain or discomfort.
- Yoga nidra is an ancient practice that is often referred to as “yogic sleep.”
- You don’t fall asleep during the guided relaxation of yoga nidra, but use the practice to tune out external stressors and look within.
- The ancient practice calms the brain and creates almost a sleep-like state while the brain remains clear and alert. This has been confirmed by brainwave studies.
- Scientific studies suggest yoga nidra is beneficial in reducing symptoms of stress, PTSD, insomnia, rhematoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.
- Many consider yoga nidra easier to practice compared to jumping straight into meditation.
- Because you lie on your back in savasana pose for the duration of yoga nidra, it’s considered accessible for almost everyone.
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