By Gopi Rao, CYT 500
Yoga Nidra, also known as sleep with awareness or yogic sleep, is a state of consciousness in which the practitioner is deeply relaxed, but remains fully conscious. In this yogic practice, the body is relaxed and the senses turned inward following a series of audio instructions. This assists in identifying sensations throughout the body and focusing on the breathing, while remaining in a state of relaxed awareness and releasing deeply held tensions. While similar to meditation, it differs in that there is no single focus. It differs from lucid dreaming in that the practitioner maintains awareness of their surrounding environment.
The deep relaxation of Yoga Nidra has been reported to have multiple positive effects on the body, including reduced tension and anxiety, improvements in sleep, and reported improvements in coping with issues such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and digestive disorders. The results of a recently published clinical trial in the Journal of Caring Sciences (Rani et al, 2016) found that women suffering from menstrual irregularities reported statistically significant improvement in well-being scores when Yoga Nidra was combined with standard medical therapy versus medical therapy alone. This yogic methodology has also been included in the integrative wellness program being studied by the US Department of Veteran Affairs.
Yoga Nidra may be practiced in a formal class or individually with the assistance of an audio recording. In both instances, the first step is to find a comfortable lying down position. Props such as bolsters or blankets may aid in this. Teachers may then use various techniques such as guided imagery, body scanning, or the use of various soothing sounds (bells, singing bowls, or a light gong) to encourage relaxation. The practitioner is directed to consciously take the attention to different parts of the body, which activates the nerves in those areas. Unlike Savasana (Corpse pose) at the end of an asana practice, Yoga Nidra is generally practiced at least 20 to 45 minutes to allow enough time for practitioners to physiologically and psychologically sink into the experience. It is not unusual to fall asleep when first beginning to practice this method due to the level of relaxation, but advanced practitioners will, over time, develop the ability to quiet the mind and move into a meditative state that allows the brain waves to slow down and a subtle euphoric feeling to emerge.
When consulting with Paul Jerard before writing this article, he suggested that what you do before Yoga Nidra practice was very important and it depends on the timing of practice, the season, and your sleep cycle. Here are the events suggested before an evening nidra session in a studio and commuting home afterward.
1. Lightly warm up your body for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Mild ground based (seated, supine, kneeling, or prone) asanas are recommended for 10 minutes.
3. Mild pranayama techniques, such as: Bhramari, Ujjayi, Nadi Shodhana, or Dirgha are recommended for 5 to 10 minutes.