In our previous Sleep Health Guide posts, we discussed just how important sleep is for the body and mind. Without it, our cognitive functions suffer, we’re more prone to anxiety flare-ups, and we increase our risk of developing life-threatening conditions. Starting our day off on the right foot can do wonders for our productivity, mood, and health; a mere 7 or 8 hours of restful sleep is enough to achieve this. Despite a widespread awareness on the importance of sleep, many of us are simply unable to sleep soundly and consistently. Insomnia can make the natural and necessary function of sleep utterly daunting and often impossible. Enter: yoga nidra, a form of meditation that may very well rebuild the bridge between you and sleep. In this component of our Sleep Health Guide series, we will be reviewing this form of yogic meditation and help you get your sleep on with yoga nidra.
What is yoga nidra?
Yoga nidra, also commonly referred to as yogic sleep, is a form of meditation that teeters on the line between wakefulness and sleep. Typically prompted by a guided meditation, this state of consciousness is said to induce total relaxation of the body, mind, and soul. Yoga nidra is also described as a journey to the Self. Throughout the guided meditation session, you will be directed through all 5 layers, or koshas, of the Self that make up who we are:
The practice of yoga nidra is meant to harmonize these five layers so as to create a balanced and healthy body, mind, and spirit. As yogic sleep induces a halfway consciousness (with your mind remaining awake and aware as your body falls asleep), your guide will help you get in touch with your fundamental layers and grant you profound insight into who you are.
What’s the difference between yoga nidra and traditional meditation?
Although yoga nidra is a form of meditation, it sets itself from the standard meditation practice that most of us are familiar with. For one, yoga nidra is usually conducted from Savasana, or Corpse Pose. This entails lying flat on your back, either on a mat, the floor, or even your bed. In this sense, yoga nidra bears a contrast to traditional meditation, which is often practiced from Lotus Pose.
Another difference lies within the element of focus. Those who have practiced meditation know that it can be quite challenging to maintain focus, particularly for newbies. The mind is prone to wandering, whether it’s to a daydream, off creating mental task lists for the next day, or masochistically recalling the last awkward conversation you endured. Before a meditation session commences, we are often instructed to anchor the mind when our concentration begins to stray and bring our attention back to a dedicated focal point. As such, a standard meditation practice usually calls for self-discipline in order to remain present. In contrast, yoga nidra is characterized by its guided function; throughout a yoga nidra session, your focus will be on the consistent verbal instructions dictated by your guide. Having this structure often makes it easier to sink into and remain in a meditation session.
The most substantial distinction between traditional and nidra meditation lies in one’s state of consciousness. While we usually remain in a waking state of consciousness throughout a standard meditation session (albeit very relaxed), this does not hold true in the case of yogic sleep. Through yoga nidra, the body enters a state of deep sleep, but the mind is able to remain awake. As such, you essentially have one foot in a state of sleep and another in an awakened state of consciousness. This lucid state of mind combined with a sleeping body can grant entry to our subconscious mind and memories. It is during this contrary state of consciousness that we are able to tap into and explore our 5 layers of Self. When asked what this in-between consciousness actually feels like, the terms “blissful” and “euphoric” are often used.
How Yoga Nidra Can Help You Sleep
Much like traditional meditation, yoga nidra utilizes breath work and sincere awareness of the moment to induce a state of deep relaxation. However, in the case of yoga nidra, one of the primary goals is to facilitate a bodily state of sleep. The pinnacle of yogic sleep entails creating a dualistic state of unconscious body and conscious mind. When this pinnacle is reached, our brain waves notably slow down and reflect the wave patterns observed in healthy sleepers.
When our minds are awake and active, our brain waves are in beta state. As we begin to cycle through a yoga nidra session, our beta brain waves drop considerably.
As we enter the next stage of a yoga nidra session, notable upticks in serotonin levels (the brain’s “happy” neurotransmitter) and alpha waves occur. Serotonin can have a tremendously positive effect on our mood, sleep patterns, and even digestion.
Following this, your meditative process will likely lead to a state of extreme relaxation, which will cause your brain to produce more theta waves. Higher ranges of theta brain waves are associated with intense focus and problem-solving.
By the time we reach the last stage of a yoga nidra session, we will have entered delta state. Delta brain waves are usually present when we sleep or are in a state of deep relaxation, and are important for restoration of the mind and body. While active delta brain waves can benefit our overall health greatly, many people do not enter this stage during their sleep. The good news is, yoga nidra can help to promote delta brain waves while also lowering beta waves and regulating alpha and theta waves. Moreover, it has been reported that a mere half-hour session of yoga nidra can provide the same replenishment as 2-4 hours of sleep!
Studies have also been conducted to measure the effects of yoga nidra, specifically in the area of sleep induction. When observing the results of insomnia patients that practiced yoga nidra daily, it was objectively deduced that practicing yoga nidra not only improved their quality of sleep, but also led to a decrease in the severity of their insomnia. Research patients also reported that yoga nidra calmed their depression and anxiety, and lowered their objective stress scores.
What’s more to say? Yoga nidra can do it all: lull you to sleep, help you remain asleep, provide you with significant insight into your core self, induce deep relaxation and decrease stress levels – the list goes on! We urge all insomniacs and stressed individuals to take a chance on the well-kept secret that is yoga nidra and see if it can’t improve your quality of life. And to all the night owls in our midst: stay tuned for the next installment of our Sleep Health Guide series! For more resources, we welcome you to check out MixPose and join a live yoga class to see what all the hubbub is about!